Interview with Salma Yaqoob, Leader of the Respect Party

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Election 2010 – Your Choice Your Vote

You have been targeted in the past for being a Muslim woman in the public eye. How do you feel about this? 

Yes. I have found myself on the receiving end of abuse from both religious and secular fundamentalists! The religious ones because they have a view of women as second-class citizens, and the secular ones because they have an almost blind hostility to Muslim women who choose to dress Islamically. I would rather both groupings were more tolerant in their outlook, but thankfully they express fringe viewpoints and do not hinder my work.

 

What is your stance on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Should our troops finally come home or are we duty bound to finish what we started?

Well, the troops have left Iraq. They were sent there on a lie and the consequence of the invasions has been death of least hundreds of thousands of innocent people and the entrenchment of sectarian divisions that will take generations to overcome. In Afghanistan, the presence of Western troops is only feeding the appeal of Al Qaeda extremists, destabilising neighbouring Pakistan, and encouraging anti-Western sentiment. Most nationalities simply do not want their country to be occupied by invaders. The Afghans are no different in this regard. It is only a question of time before Western soldiers negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban and other opposition forces and start to withdraw. They should never have invaded in the first place.

 

Muslims have been disproportionately affected by anti terror legislations, especially in stop and search procedures. What is your policy on this?

I fully understand that there is a threat of terrorism. That threat is real and we have to be alive to it. Unfortunately the unnecessary curtailment of civil liberties and targeting of an entire community just because of their religion inevitably only causes deep resentment, discourages cooperation with the authorities and leads to miscarriage of justice. It is bad policy all round. 

 

British Muslim students, especially of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, even though are performing better than a few years ago, are still underachieving more than any other ethnic communities, As a British born Asian why do you think this is so and what would your party do to combat this if it comes to power?

The answer is simple: institutional racism. These are real barriers, that exist in all spheres of life, and adversely impact on the life chances of Pakistani and Bangladeshi youth. To eradicate them we need strong and decisive government action. Respect is the only party, which unequivocally highlights the reality of institutional racism.

 

The highest number of the unemployed in this country are from the Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities; they’re two or three times more likely to be unemployed than their white British counterparts. How do you propose to make this fairer?

In communities which have suffered from decades of discrimination and disadvantage extra measures are required to even level the playing field. Again, the only solution is for politicians and the community to apply direct pressure for more government action on job creation and in overcoming barriers of racial discrimination.

 

You represent Birmingham, a city with a worrying upsurge in gun crime. How does your party anticipate combating this widespread problem? 

It is simple. Give people jobs, hope for the future, an alternative to drugs and hanging around on the streets, and you will find that the numbers attracted to the ‘bling bling’ gangster lifestyle, which just leads to nothing but violence and prison for most, will decline.

 

Some of your policies and campaigns seem to be specifically targeted at the Muslim community. Do you at all fear that the Respect Party maybe alienating the non Muslim electorate? 

I think if people are put off Respect because we have a high profile in the Muslim community because of our principled anti-war stances and our commitment to equality and tackling racism, then they are the ones with the problem, not us! I am proud of the fact that my campaign for MP is being backed by the local Birmingham MP Lynne Jones and Caroline Lucas, Leader of the Green Party. They would not be backing me if they saw me as a voice for Muslims. Respect is a party for ALL communities.

 

Why should we vote Respect in this election?

Because it really is time for change. Respect opposes the cuts agenda of the three main parties which, although they are not saying so, have a detrimental effect in poorer communities ad will hit especially hard Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. If you want a change from the politics of bombing, sleaze and sucking up to the bankers, vote Respect!

 

 Interview By Zeenat Moosa

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