For those of you not following the minutiae of the Liberal Democrat party at the moment, which I imagine is almost all of you, Ed Davey is leading many members of his brigade, MPs and councillors, to fast for Ramadan. Your first question here should be: why exactly? Has Ed Davey and many other Lib Dems converted to Islam? Well, no.
They appear to be doing it as some sort of solidarity gesture with British Muslims. In the tweets and videos on the subject, they keep referring to “showing Muslims they aren’t alone” in what they are doing. This is a bad idea for a lot of reasons and instructive of how, months after running the most disastrous political campaign in history, the Lib Dems are bad at politics fought anywhere other than the local level.
The right who have bothered to pay attention to the stunt are attacking it for being a virtue signalling exercise. For being a cynical attempt by the Lib Dems to try and take the Muslim vote from Labour. And I can see their point. Yet if this was the worst thing about the Ramadan solidarity exercise, I would give it a pass. No, the worst thing about it is that it is patronising, not just to Muslims but to anyone who is religious. It misunderstands religion so completely as to be embarrassing. And I say all this as an atheist.
This line about “showing Muslims they aren’t alone” in pursuing a fast at Ramadan is embarrassing. The fast hasn’t been forced upon them. It is not something that some other group of people is oppressing them with. They have done it by choice as an act of faith. It is religiously significant for them to do it every year. You cannot “show them they are not alone” in enacting the rituals of Ramadan; by the very definition of what any religious faith is, they are completely alone in this. It is part of what makes a Muslim a Muslim, just as taking communion is part of what makes a Christian a Christian. Christians don’t feel “alone” in taking communion, at least in any pejorative sense.
I very much hesitate to use the term “cultural appropriation” in any context seeing as how ridiculously it has been used in the past decade. But I think it is the only term that applies here. Indulging in a Muslim ritual, visibly labelling it as such, while not converting to the religion is weird and creepy. Imagine for a moment if Sajid Javid decided he wanted to take communion for a month to “show Christians they are not alone” while not converting to Christianity. It would piss a lot of people off and I don’t need to be religious to understand why. Religion is a deeply important part of religious people’s lives, not some random lifestyle accoutrement. Its symbols and rituals have a deep meaning to believers. To casually dip in and out of a religion’s rituals in a visible, public way, particularly for a political organisation whose motivations in taking part in such a thing needs to be robustly questioned, seems offensive to me. It is patronising of Islam, in my opinion. I mean, I’m not a Muslim so I have no idea if any Muslims will be offended. I just know they probably should be, at least as much as they can work themselves up to be offended by anything the Lib Dems do.
Why are the Lib Dems so bad at this stuff? As I saw Lib Dem after Lib Dem appear on my Twitter feed yesterday talking about how spiritually meaningful they found taking part in Ramadan was for them, I had horrible flashbacks to the general election campaign. Build a Better Future and a pathological avoidance of challenging the Tory Brexit line. It isn’t that they are bad at politics – it’s like they are supernaturally bad at it. In the Ramadan stunt, they have found something that will come across as pandering, virtue signalling and hucksterish to a large section of the electorate, and yet also manages to miss its intended target and potentially offend the people it was being used to suck up to. In other words, it is perfectly bad politics; the kind of thing you would do if you were an enemy of a political party and somehow infiltrated its HQ.
This stuff hurts my heart. We need a liberal party in Britain, badly. The Lib Dems not only don’t seem up to it, but don’t seem to even want to do the job.
I have a new book out now. It’s called “Politics is Murder” and follows the tale of a woman named Charlotte working at a failing think tank who has got ahead in her career in a novel way – she is a serial killer. One day, the police turn up at her door and tell her she is a suspect in a murder – only thing is, it is one she had nothing to do with. The plot takes in Conservative Party conference, a plot against the Foreign Secretary and some gangsters while Charlotte tries to find out who is trying to frame her for a murder she didn’t commit.
Also: there is a subplot around the government trying to built a stupid bridge, which now seems a charming echo of a more innocent time!
It’s available here: