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Politiciams Wooing A Muslim Electorate That Feels Slighted

March 31, 1992

LONDON (AP) _ Men streaming out of the East London Mosque after noon prayers looked confused by the flurry of leaflets and political rhetoric just beyond the gates.

Conservative Party candidate Jane Emmerson was shaking hands and distributing campaign literature printed in Bengali.

Labor Party incumbent Peter Shore was using a public address system rigged to the top of a car to urge everyone to vote in the April 9 national election.

″Every person should vote,″ Shore admonished the men leaving the large, red brick mosque. He added: ″I hope ... you see to it that the women vote.″

The Muslim vote is crucial in Shore’s constituency, where a fourth of the voters are members of ethnic minorities.

Labor once took the Muslim vote for granted, but many in the community have become disenchanted with all the major parties.

In a race that is expected to be close, the candidates are fighting some outright hostility, as well as apathy.

Britain’s 2 million Muslims were virtually silent on the national political scene until 1989, when they gained sudden and widespread attention with the Salman Rushdie affair.

The British writer, an Indian-born Muslim, has been in hiding under police protection since February 1989, when Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini denounced Rushdie’s novel ″The Satanic Verses″ as blasphemy and called for his death.

Angered by all three major parties’ support for Rushdie, the community is further aggrieved by the paucity of Muslim candidates. The Conservative Party is fielding four, the Liberal Democrats one, Labor none.

″The fact that there is unlikely to be a Muslim MP in the next Parliament, they feel quite hard done by on that,″ said Kaushika Amin, a researcher at the Runnymede Trust which specializes in minority issues.

The Islamic Party of Great Britain, formed in 1989, is fielding five candidates. The party’s general secretary, Sahib Bleher, said working within the three major parties has not been successful.

″You can’t reform them from inside. You have to challenge them,″ Bleher said.

For Farouk Shahnan, who runs an employment agency for Bangladeshis, the economy is the priority. ″The most important thing for a small business is to lift it up,″ said Shahnan, a Conservative Party supporter.

Shahab Euddin, who owns an East End leather factory, said he would vote for Labor because of the party’s liberal immigration policy.

″The government makes it very tight for everyone. The Bangladeshis come and have their wife and children and then they want their mothers and brothers here,″ Euddin said.

Labor’s recent decision to support separate Muslim schools was seen by some as an effort to secure Muslim votes once taken for granted.

″The Roman Catholic Church can have schools, the Church of England has the same, Jews have the same. So we believe it should be the same with Muslims,″ said Shore.

″The Muslims seem to love the Labor Party but I’ve never seen Peter Shore in the last four years,″ said Abu Mumin, as he left the East London mosque, tucking his prayer cap in his pocket.

″I don’t think I’m voting. It doesn’t make any difference,″ he said.

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