THE BLOG
30/04/2012 06:23 BST | Updated 27/06/2012 06:12 BST

So What if George Galloway is a Muslim?

It shouldn't matter whether Galloway is a Muslim or not. As a politician, he should be judged by his policies, his pledges and his achievements, not by his religious beliefs.

It's been announced that George Galloway has converted to Islam. Galloway has responded by denying the alleged conversion ceremony took place, but not entirely ruling out the possibility that he has embraced Islam. It shouldn't matter whether Galloway is a Muslim or not. As a politician, he should be judged by his policies, his pledges and his achievements, not by his religious beliefs.

The debate about whether Galloway is a Muslim has been ongoing for several years and can be understood as reflecting something quite sinister. The insistence to 'out him' as a Muslim is tantamount to a witch hunt that is based on the premise that if he is a Muslim, it must be exposed as if it is something audacious. We've seen similar 'concerns' about the possibility of Barack Obama being a Muslim. These suspicions are related to an Islamophobic myth which suggests that Islam is slowly coming to dominate the West. It's part of a misconstrued belief that there is a #creepingshariah.

The desire to 'name and shame' is comparable to the McCarthyism that was widespread during the Cold War when people were regularly dismissed as 'commies'. Nowadays, as many experts have pointed out, it's Islam which is the Other rather than Communism, and therefore it's accusations of someone converting to Islam which can be used to suggest that they are traitorous usurpers who need to be 'outed'.

It is of course a xenophobic myth that Muslims are taking over the West. Rather, in Europe, Muslims are overwhelmingly poorer than the average citizen and face worse housing, education and healthcare opportunities. Furthermore, Muslims are over-represented in prisons and under-represented in influential and elite spheres of society such as in politics and the media. Muslims then, are far from in a position to enforce their will as some protagonists would have us believe.

In fact, although media reporting often insinuates that there is an 'Islamification of Britain', there's nothing of the sort occurring. Less than 0.1% of Britons have converted to Islam, and the number of young lifelong Muslims who abandon the faith are probably greater in number. Muslims themselves often unwittingly reinforce the misconception that Islam is a threatening force in the instances when they reassure themselves of their marginalised status by declaring the hyperbole that 'Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world!'. But if we deal with facts, it is an exaggeration to suggest that Islam is anywhere close to dominating Europe as Anders Breivik and countless others like him suggest is the case.

No doubt, there are tens of thousands of Muslim converts in Briton, and George Galloway may be one of them. But the fact that many Muslim converts feel they have to remain 'in the closet' is indicative of a wider climate of Islamophobia that makes them feel they cannot be candid about their personal beliefs. That is because there is a stigma attached to Islam due to a misunderstanding of what it means to be a Muslim. For the overwhelming majority of converts to Islam, becoming Muslim is synonymous with their efforts to become a better human, a better citizen, a better relative, a better friend and a better neighbour. That's why a substantial number of people choose to embrace Islam, not because they have a covert political agenda.

The debate about whether Galloway has converted to Islam reveals some deep seated anxieties surrounding the presence of Islam in the West, an anxiety which is both unnecessary and based on ignorance. Muslims are an undeniable part of our society so we should expect and accept Muslims in all spheres of society. Until we reach the stage where we don't raise our eyebrows even slightly when we find out a person is a Muslim, we cannot begin to talk about a fair, equal and tolerant society.