While it is true that Galloway has used mosques and aroused emotional sentiments of Muslim Britons against British foreign policy to “out-Muslim Labour’s Muslim British-Pakistani candidate,” as Jemima puts it, I couldn’t help but wonder if Jemima had ever heard Imran speak at any of his fabled rallies?
On 7th February 2012, Pakistani talk show host, Najam Sethi, made a reference to Jemima Khan’s Jewish heritage on his show. The comment was made in connection with Sethi’s daily round-up of political developments in Pakistan. Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, leader of the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI-F), had made some scathing remarks about Imran Khan being an agent of the Jewish lobby in response to Imran’s criticism of his politics. Sethi rubbished the allegation of Imran being an agent of the Jewish lobby in his analysis but did point out that prior to his marriage Imran used to say that he would opt to marry a conservative and religious Pakistani girl. “It doesn’t matter,” Sethi, who had earlier been described by Imran as “liberal scum” in an interview with Barkha Dutt on Indian NDTV, said, “he fell in love.”
What ensued following the show was a public altercation between Sethi and Jemima on twitter. Jemima, apparently riled up by Sethi’s mention of her Jewishness, protested on several counts. “Pathetic and irresponsible that you should use your position to play the race/religion card & stir up the fanatics,” read one tweet. Jemima also objected to her father being categorised as Jewish. “Not that it should matter but the Jewish religion goes through the mother-My father’s mother was a French Catholic,” she wrote in another.
Sethi also responded in a tweet. “Brit media described Jemima as a “Jewish heiress”. Google her. But it doesn’t matter. Love transcends. Didn’t she convert to Islam?” he wrote. Sethi had a point. In fact, an August 15, 2008 article in The Jewish Chronicle, entitled, “Jemima Khan rediscovers her Jewishness,” notes that Sir James Goldsmith “seemed comfortable with his Jewish background.” His 21 July 1997 obituary in The Independent moreover states that when Goldsmith wanted to marry his first wife, the daughter of a Bolivian millionaire, his prospective father-in-law objected by saying, “It is not the habit of our family to marry Jews.” To which Goldsmith famously replied, “It is not our habit to marry Red Indians.”
Jemima does not seem to have objected to either of these media reports linking her to a Jewish background but appeared most disturbed by Sethi’s comments. Why? The reason is simple. Jemima knows that this information is damaging for Imran’s political career. It is therefore most ironic that Jemima would hone in on George Galloway’s religion in her 26 April 2012 piece for the New Statesman. “George Galloway, MP for Bradford West is a Muslim,” Jemima writes, “He converted more than ten years ago…Those close to him know this. The rest of the world, including his Muslim constituents, does not.”
Unsurprisingly, Galloway’s reaction to Jemima’s story was not dissimilar to Jemima’s reaction to Sethi’s show. The Guardian reported that Galloway accused Jemima of reporting “deliberate falsehoods” and “making schoolgirl howlers which would earn banishment from a first-year journalism class.” Unlike Sethi’s passing remark on his show however, Jemima had persisted to corner Galloway in her face-to-face interview.
“I know someone who attended your shahada,” she claimed. Galloway refuted any shahada ceremony but refused to divulge his faith. Jemima is unrelenting however. Writing about his marriages to Muslim women, she claims “a Muslim woman is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim man—although the other way round is allowed.” Jemima’s interpretation of what is permissible according to Islam is fairly sexist here and not entirely accurate. Yet she makes the case that because George Galloway’s present wife and two previous wives belong to the Muslim faith, he too must be Muslim. She goes on to critique his campaign for using the mosque as a campaign hub, with his “speeches full of ‘inhallahs’, his invocations of the Quran….and his smattering of Arabic words.” While it is true that Galloway has used mosques and aroused emotional sentiments of Muslim Britons against British foreign policy to “out-Muslim Labour’s Muslim British-Pakistani candidate,” as Jemima puts it, I couldn’t help but wonder if Jemima had ever heard Imran speak at any of his fabled rallies? His dharna, or sit-in, against drones in April 2011 commenced at a controversial religious seminary, members of his party have shared platforms with and made speeches alongside those vowing to protect a blasphemy law that has resulted in harassment of religious minorities in Pakistan and most alarmingly, in an interview with talk show host Nasim Zehra, when asked if he would make alliances with other politicians, he repeatedly said in Urdu “only if they become Muslim,” insinuating that only Muslims can be good people.
Yet while Imran uses religious symbolism to stir up the emotions of those belonging to the majority faith in Pakistan, Galloway is using similar means to rally together a disgruntled minority in Britain. Not every Muslim in Britain is impressed. There are many Muslims in Britain who refrain from supporting Galloway’s Respect Party because although they may agree with his criticisms of British foreign policy, they don’t appreciate his campaign style of mixing religion and politics and see this as inflammatory and even dangerous, adding fuel to the Islamophobic fire that could potentially surround them. Yet if religion and politics should not mix then Galloway is not obligated to reveal his faith to Jemima or anyone else. Her insistence on this matter is in poor taste and her tweet following Galloway’s objections, “Funny thing is I actually had a soft spot for @georgegalloway besides what’s wrong with being a Muslim? My 2 boys are v proud to be Muslims,” belies a deliberate misunderstanding of why Galloway is upset with her piece.
For as she wrote in the article, “There must have been some white constituents in Bradford, who, although natural Labour supporters, preferred to vote for the white Catholic candidate rather than the brown Muslim one representing Labour.” So Jemima realizes that race and religion do play a part in political preferences. Isn’t it a bit silly then to compare Galloway’s refusal to publicly profess his faith with her sons’ ability to do so. Besides, what would Jemima’s reaction be if a Pakistani reporter forced Imran to divulge whether Jemima was still Muslim or not?
Writer’s website: www.ayeshaijazkhan.com