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Brexit Divides British Muslims

LONDON – As Britain prepares to go to polls tomorrow to voice their opinion whether the nation should ‘Remain’ in or ‘Leave’ the European Union, Muslim and Arab voters are divided on the poll, leaving it to the boxes.

“I don’t understand why Britain wants to leave the European Union,” Hamid Beloushi, 27-year-old chemical engineer, told Gulf News on Wednesday, June 22.

“There’s nothing like it anywhere else. You can move freely. No visas. No paperwork or waiting to get things done. You don’t need to pay a bribe to make things happen.”

Decided on June 23, the vote was set after Prime Minister David Cameron was unable to bring unity within his Conservative Party, and thus decided to seek public opinion on the issue.

While Cameron wishes his country remain in the EU, former London Mayor and MP Boris Johnson campaigns for Britain’s exit, or Brexit as it is being referred to.

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The Labour Party too is divided. While the Labour chief Jeremy Corbyn supports staying with the EU, a group calling itself Lexit (Left for Exit) is campaigning for leaving the bloc citing the EU’s Cold War origins and pro-market stand.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) also bats for ‘Remain’, while hardline UK Independence Party (UKIP) wants exit from the EU.

Organizations such as the Muslim Council of Britain have chosen not to take a position, though prominent British Muslims such as London mayor Sadiq Khan are campaigning for Remain.

“The idea of a homogenous, Muslim vote does not really exist,” Miqdaad Versi, assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, told Irish Times.

“In general, the concerns that occupy the Muslim community are similar to those held by the wider community.”

While MCB did not announce an official position of the vote, Versi supports remaining in the EU, citing some issues of particular concerns to Muslims.

“Take the European Court of Human Rights, for example. Although it is separate to the EU, membership of the Council of Europe is required for all EU members, and therefore members must be party to the ECHR,” he said.

“Britain has been to the forefront in developing human rights legislation in the EU. When you have people like Donald Trump making comments about Muslims, it is very reassuring that there is an external checks and balance system when it comes to human rights.”

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Saqib Bhatti is a Birmingham-based chartered accountant campaigning for Britain to leave the EU.

“What we are saying is, why limit ourselves to trading and interacting with one market, when there are huge opportunities in growing economies such as China, India and other emerging economies,” Bhatti, joint secretary general of Muslims for Britain, an organization set up earlier this year to campaign for a British exit from the EU, said.

“To shackle ourselves to one continent that is dying seems to me bizarre.”

Meanwhile, he cited a specific problem facing many immigrants from the Commonwealth.

“There are huge restrictions on people who want to come to Britain to see family members who have already moved here, for example,” he said.

“Similarly, people from Commonwealth countries who speak the language, who have historic links with Britain, and are often highly, skilled find it much more difficult to come into the country than individuals from Europe who may not have the language, a shared culture or the skills.”

Others shared some concerns on how the referendum vote will affect the new generation.

“For people my age, we will probably be okay, but I’m looking at what the best outcome will be for my young children,” Abu, 36, a chartered surveyor who is married with three children, said.

“I think one of the main reasons most Muslims will vote to stay is that many of them are in business. A lot of the British Muslim community and their parents who came from India, Bangladesh, were small business owners and that has continued. Some of my friends have a couple of buy-to-let properties as well as their main jobs. I don’t think they want to jeopardize this by voting to leave.”