- The Washington Times - Friday, April 22, 2005

LONDON — British Muslims are furious with Prime Minister Tony Blair over the war in Iraq and his proposed anti-terrorism laws they say are aimed at least in part at them, but they are still expected to help elect him to a third term in office in two weeks.

Some 1.2 million Muslims are eligible to vote, and 75 percent of those who turned out lent their support to Mr. Blair’s landslide victory in 2001.

For the May 5 general election, however, their enthusiasm is far more subdued.

“Muslims here feel like an outcast community,” Inayat Bunglawala of the powerful Muslim Council of Britain told Reuters news agency.

Most opinion polls predict Mr. Blair and his ruling Labor Party are headed toward a comfortable win, and Muslim ire is unlikely to make a big difference.

The quandary for Muslim voters is that the opposition Conservative Party is viewed by many of them as far worse. The Conservatives favor even tougher anti-immigration legislation and lend their own support to the Iraq war.

“The time has come for the Muslim vote … to be taken seriously,” says the Muslim Association of Britain, which has ordered its supporters to refuse to back any sitting member of Parliament who voted for the war and anti-terrorism legislation. The group says the Muslim community could influence the outcome in more than 40 constituencies.

The 40 seats are little more than a drop in the bucket of 646 seats that will make up the new House of Commons in Parliament — and there is almost no likelihood that Muslims would replace any of them with Conservatives.

On the contrary, political analyst Eric Shaw says that in marginal seats where the Conservatives have a chance of winning, the Muslim vote could swing back behind Labor.

Mr. Blair also continues to enjoy traditional support among older Muslims.

Whatever dissident Muslim vote there is probably would go to the third party, the Liberal Democrats — whose chances of running the next government are near zero — or to lesser splinter groups such as Respect, a party organized by a renegade Laborite, George Galloway.

Mr. Galloway was expelled from the Labor Party for describing Mr. Blair and President Bush as “wolves” for the war in Iraq.

The election even has a terrorism suspect among the candidates. Computer expert Babar Ahmad, 30, who is running his campaign from a prison cell, has been indicted in the United States for running an Internet site aimed at raising funds for Muslim militants in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

Ahmad, who is fighting against a U.S. attempt to extradite him, is bidding for election in Brent North, a London constituency with a sizeable Muslim population.

“Muslims can’t forget Iraq, and they’re fed up with being harassed by the police and viewed as terrorists all the time,” conceded London bus driver Anwar Ali.

“But I don’t blame Blair because George Bush had already made up his mind over the war. And at least Blair’s kept the economy strong. Religion can’t feed you, can it?”

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