The run up to the general election, due to take place in December, in the United Kingdom has brought to the forefront again the question of political loyalties of Muslims.
Conservative candidate for South Cambridgeshire and former aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson Anthony Browne is facing calls to stand down after the Guardian brought to light some of his writing which accused Muslims of having divided loyalties. In response to Muslim leaders warning that social unrest could result from the Iraq war, he wrote “Whatever the merits or demerits of war on Iraq, it is hardly a national strength to have a large minority with such divided loyalties during war.” Miqdaad Versi, media spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain criticised the “truly disgusting and unacceptable racism”, asking why “such Islamophobia allowed from a candidate for the Conservative Party?”
Accusations of ‘divided loyalties’ of Muslims in the UK is not a new one. In 2015, Nigel Farage, then leader of the far right UKIP party, said that a problem of the Muslim community in the UK is that they experienced “tremendous conflict and a split of loyalties”, when he suggested that many had sympathy with the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks. His comments then were strongly condemned by all three of the main political parties in the UK. Farage has gone as far as describing Muslims in the UK as a “fifth column”, who were “living within our country, who hate us and want to kill us”. Harun Khan, deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, criticised these comments, stating that most Muslims in Britain are second and third generation and “proudly identify themselves as British”, condemning violence committed in their name and working hard to build bridges.
In the United States, the idea that Muslims are not faithful to the countries in which they reside has also become a mainstream trope, with President Trump and the Right in American politics continuously accusing Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib of anti-Americaness. For example,
The Muslim Brotherhood is now part of Congress. New Reps. like @IlhanMN @RashidaTlaib are known as #AntiSemitic and Anti #Israel. Moreover, they both are representatives of #CAIR and #MuslimBrotherhood and their values clash with American values https://t.co/WsDcMie4z1 pic.twitter.com/M8MbOEAuob
— Adam Milstein (@AdamMilstein) March 18, 2019
This follows previous comments which were directed at Omar and Tleib by Trump, telling them to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came”. That Muslims with a differing political opinions are accused of disloyalty in contrast to their white and non-Muslim compatriots reflect racist undertones that has been called out by Bernie Sanders and others from the Democratic party. Akbar Shahid Ahmed, in the Huffington Post, writes that Muslim Americans, especially those who run for political office, face this charge of dual loyalty every day. He points out that by trying to link Omar and Tlaib to the Council on American Islamic Relations, a civil rights group, and to the transnational Muslim Brotherhood movement, the implicit suggestion is that the three million Muslims in America are “more closely tied to the 1.6 billion Muslims globally than they are to anyone else and that their faith makes them less committed to America.”
While Ahmed shows how some Muslims involved in politics have sought to distance themselves from “Muslim” causes such as Palestine, Jacob T. Levy, Tomlinson professor of political theory at McGill University, writing for The Washington Post, critiques that this may inherently be a bad thing because “Dual loyalty doesn’t have to mean disloyalty.” He instead argues for a wider understanding of belonging beyond a rigid, nationalist conception, but to understand that “people in complex modern societies have loyalties to their religions and identity groups, their families, their cities and states, their parties and political causes, their associations or unions or professions”, which they balance all the time, and while “these loyalties may require trade-offs, but they rarely come into real conflict.”