Layla Moran: British-Palestinian, Liberal Democrat, and running for government
"My Palestinian background has made me interested at a global level. Politics was always at the dinner table, it primed me to engage," says Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat candidate standing for the Oxford West and Abingdon seat.
Born to a British father and a Palestinian mother from Jerusalem, Moran will be the only standing MP with Arab heritage in the June 8 general election, a fact she carries with both pride and a sense of responsibility.
"De facto, I will be a representative of our community in parliament, and it will be a great honour which I take humbly," she told The New Arab.
Together with her Palestinian background, Moran's international upbringing has had a profound influence on her politics. She grew up in Belgium, Greece, Ethiopia, and Jordan as a result of her father's career as an international diplomat, and speaks French, Arabic, Spanish and some Greek.
Her worldview of tolerance and diversity found a natural home in the Liberal Democrats, but is also an unbroken thread running throughout her family history.
|My Palestinian background has made me interested at a global level. Politics was always at the dinner table, it primed me to engage.
Moran's great-grandfather, Wasif Jawhariyyeh, wrote extensive memoirs about Palestinian life under Ottoman and British rule, before fleeing after the State of Israel was created.
As a child in Jerusalem's Old City, his Palestinian-Christian parents insisted he read the Quran in respect of the purity and lyricism of the Arabic language, a testament to the lost pluralism and diversity which once symbolised the Holy City.
"He describes a Jerusalem where you had Jews, Christians, and Muslim communities coming together, who were respectful of each other," she says.
"That's the kind of vision I want for the world, where differences are respected and we are open and tolerant of each other's views. I continue to believe that a society like that is possible."
As such, the lack of international focus in the UK's general election worries the parliamentary hopeful. Wider values are at stake with Brexit, she says, a political earthquake which will determine how Britain engages with the outside world.
Troubled by Theresa May's "cosying up" to Trump, a mercurial ally far removed from the multilateral approach taken within the EU, Moran is also worried that the UK’s relationship with the US is unbalanced. But she believes Britain can use its soft power to influence how the Trump administration approaches the Middle East.
In their manifesto, the Liberal Democrats have laid out a comprehensive foreign policy rooted in international law. While safeguarding foreign aid spending at 0.7 percent of gross national income, they would control arms exports to countries listed as human rights priorities, while suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
|That's the kind of vision I want for the world, where differences are respected and we are open and tolerant of each other's views.|
The party would also offer sanctuary to 50,000 Syrian refugees and 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children making the perilous journey across Europe.
"Liberal Democrats are by design internationalist. As Liberals we believe the path to a good society is through understanding and mutual respect. It is always better to work in cooperation with others," she told The New Arab.
At home, the rhetoric of the 'Leave campaign' has left her deeply worried, the antithesis of everything she, and the Liberal Democrats, stand for. British values, she says, are to value everyone in your community, an ethos where difference "brings strength, not weakness".
Moran is also an active community activist, and has campaigned to save local businesses, fight insensitive planning applications, and fight for better schools provision.
As a school governor, and holding an MA in Comparative Education, education is one of her passions, but an area in which she believes "selection and competition" is leading to societal inequality.
One key issue to both her, and the Liberal Democrats, is the government's counter-terrorism Prevent strategy, a policy she sees as flawed and counterproductive. She says the strategy of "watching ethnic minority children" to prevent radicalisation is singling people from a certain background out in a negative way.
"Let's celebrate people for the positive aspects they bring. I would like to see it removed. We need to prioritise community engagement and support communities in developing their own approach to tackling the dangers of violent extremism."
The Conservative push, meanwhile, for white and middle class values is not representative of the wider community in Britain, she adds, and their policies on immigration and asylum are leaving many feeling ostracised.
"Our assessment is that the Conservatives have been taken over by UKIP," she told The New Arab.