Respect Party candidate Salma Yaqoob spearheads quiet revolution to get Muslim women involved in politics

Salma Yaqoob is one of the most prominent Muslim woman in British public life. She wears a headscarf, a powerful symbol of a faith she has accommodated with her passionate left-wing politics. She is standing as a candidate for the tiny and fractured Respect Party.

In some streets around the new constituency of Hall Green in Birmingham, her poster is on every window. Since her narrow defeat for Westminster in 2005, she has built up support through her work as a local councilor, as well as building a national profile through her appearances on BBC’s Question Time.

Yaqoob was wooed by Labour after 2005. She acknowledges that “My values are traditional Labour, but New Labour has gone to the right”. She was even courted by the Liberal Democrats and the Tories, a tribute to her rare capacity for fair-minded plain speaking, most evident in her Question Time appearance earlier this year, at Wootton Bassett, when she earned respect for her handling of questions about British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, a war she opposes.

Yaqoob is well aware that she is a challenge to traditional Muslim political culture – not just because she is a woman, but because she is not afraid to speak her mind.

Islamist Anjem Choudary plans a protest march through Wootton Bassett

The extremist organization Al-Muhajiroun, also operating under the name Islam4UK and headed by radical Anjem Choudary, plans a protest march through Wootton Bassett, an English town that has become famous with public mourning ceremonies for British soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Islamist organization now wants to carry 500 coffins through Wootton Bassett in memory of Muslims “murdered in the name of democracy and freedom”. Anjem Choudary claims that those who honor the soldiers are no different to those who support the 7/7 bombers – in fact, Choudary himself has never explicitly denied his support for the 7/7 attacks.

Moderate Muslim groups meanwhile urged the police to stop the protest to prevent a backlash against British Muslims by right-wing British extremist groups. Gordon Brown condemned the plans as “abhorrent and offensive”, while senior police officer Sir Hugh Orde claims it would be better not to stop the march in order to avoid tension. So far, Choudary has made no attempt to withdraw from the plans, despite largest opposition.