I was recently horrified to discover that the anti-Islam extremist, Anne Marie Waters, is considered one of the front-runners to be Labour’s candidate for Brighton Pavilion, for the next general election. Indeed, because alongside her bigoted anti-religious views she is also a pro-NHS campaigner, there is a danger that the left and some unions may support her for the Labour candidacy.
I first came across Anne Marie Waters when she put herself forwards for the South Swindon selection, and very unusually for a Labour politician Waters gave as her personal reference a Central Committee member of the Worker Communist Party of Iran, Maryam Namazie. It was also very difficult to get a straight answer from Ms Waters what she actually does for a living, and how it is funded.
Both Namazie and Anne Marie Waters signed a letter in 2010 to the Guardian opposing the state visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the UK.
In February 2013 Anne Marie Waters appeared in a short Channel 4 film, where she made alarmist, ill-informed and dangerous remarks about immigration – view it here. Anne Marie Waters self-describes herself in the film as “an anti-Sharia campaigner”, and says that Islam is a religion that, in her words, is “new to Europe”, and that she “is frightened of”. In the film she makes it clear that she thinks that religiously observant Muslims should leave the UK.
The campaign that Waters is co-director of, One Law for All, wants to see Sharia law outlawed in the UK, as Anne Marie Waters makes clear in this article from February 2013. Her arguments for it are completely inflammatory, implying that the most extremist views of some Muslims characterise all who hold that faith. It is clear from this article that the views of Anne Marie Waters are as ignorant and extreme as those of “Tommy Robinson” of the EDL.
Bizarrely, Waters knows very little about the subject she has devoted her life to. She seems to believe that Female Genital Mutilation is a practice deriving from Islam, when it is actually a cultural practice dating back some millennia, and practised in a wide arc across North Africa, by people of many different religions, including Christianity. It is in any event already illegal in the UK, and all that is needed is for the current law to be enforced.
She seems to believe that women are coerced into using Sharia courts, but actually for someone who – for example – wants to remarry within her own religious community, getting an Islamic divorce may be a prerequisite. I discussed this question in this article from 2008, in response to very cogently argued remarks by Dr Rowan Williams.
To outlaw the exercise of religious authority within a faith community would be tantamount to a state ban on organised religions.
We must recognise that people who choose to self-identify with a religious community, and its associated laws and ethics have a right to do so. The actual, and so far relatively successful, experience of multi-culturalism and convergence towards consensual liberal values in British society has not been on the basis of any campaign for secularism, but has succeeded by offering choice and empowerment.
The issue here is not only that the views of the One Law for All campaign are dangerous in a society experiencing a rising tide of Islamophobia and intolerance – giving a cod-leftist gloss to the rantings of the ‘counter-Jihad’ movement and the street thugs of the EDL – but that someone who defines their main political priority as being an “anti-Sharia” campaigner and promotes extremist intolerance against not only Islam but all religions, and who also uses dog whistle comments opposing immigration, is a very unsuitable person to be a Labour candidate for parliament.
There is no doubt that any election campaign, especially one for Westminster, that Anne Marie Waters was involved with would be dragged into distracting controversy, and she would be actively opposed by immigrant communities and faith groups, thus alienating a wide swathe of Labour voters.