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Tories must get house in order over Islamophobia

18th Jun 2021
Tories must get house in order over Islamophobia

Boris Johnson was criticised in the report for his comment likening Muslim women who wear the niqab to letter boxes (Credit: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street)

On the hoof has become an unseemly characteristic of Boris Johnson’s Government. So many things appear to be done with little forethought.

Carrying out an independent inquiry into the extent of Islamophobia within his ruling party was one such pledge the PM was never likely to adequately honour, having been made on the spur of the moment during a televised Tory leadership debate two years ago. Sajid Javid, the most senior minister to resign from Johnson’s cabinet with his integrity at stake, was responsible for initiating the commitment, having experienced anti-Muslim bigotry inside the party.

“Prejudice towards Muslims is significantly more widespread than for other minorities,” the former Chancellor wrote about his tribulations in an article for The Times last month.

“Becoming a Conservative candidate is difficult at the best of times. Aspiring MPs must deliver speeches, write essays and survive being cross-examined by their future colleagues. Those who succeed are allowed to attempt the final stage: auditioning at a local Conservative association,” his testimony said.

“Associations are notoriously unpredictable, with applicants often rejected for their politics or personality. This is to be expected. What I didn’t expect was to be rejected by one association because, as its chairman later explained, ‘some members didn’t think locals would vote for a Muslim to be their MP’.”

Javid also recited damning research from the think-tank British Future that suggested a quarter of the public would still feel uncomfortable being represented by a Muslim MP. The magnitude of Islamophobia within the Tories is undisputed and has been documented for several years. Even Professor Singh’s superficial investigation found that “anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem.” The admission was that “discriminatory behaviours occur, especially in relation to people of [the] Islamic faith.”

The tip of the iceberg showed that 1,418 complaints relating to 727 incidents of alleged discrimination were recorded to the Tories’ central database, an average of more than four a week for the past six years. No less than two-thirds are related to Islam. Around a third of cases — 231 — resulted in a sanction, with 50 per cent resulting in a suspension and 29 per cent an expulsion from the party. But no action was taken in 418 incidents.

A YouGov poll last year for Hope Not Hate found that 47 per cent of Conservative Party members believed that Islam is “a threat to the British way of life”, while 58 per cent believed that “there are no-go areas in Britain where Sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter.”

One of the most damning indictments is the Conservatives’ refusal to even accept a definition of Islamophobia as if non-acceptance eradicates the existence of the crises. In one of the most high profile cases, Zac Goldsmith appears to be still in denial with his anti-Muslim behaviour when losing the London Mayor elections to Sadiq Khan in 2016. An apology remains the hardest word when confessing only that his explicit intolerance towards Muslims has become “a source of major regret and sadness on my part.”

Similarly, Johnson is still “mealy-mouthed”- to quote the phrase of former party Chair Sayeeda Warsi – about his own insulting remarks about Muslim women. It is understandable why he did not want a full and independent investigation into the Islamophobic culture within his party when he has been reluctant to do any soul searching about his unacceptable conduct.

As Javid says, the temptation for Labour and Tory supporters has been to defend their anti-racist credentials by amplifying their opponents’ problems and glossing over their own. “By viewing this issue through a political rather than a moral lens, both sides have missed the point. Political parties are granted a rare standing in public life. They’re entrusted with extraordinary authority and responsibility. So it’s not enough to follow trends set by the rest of society,” said the former Chancellor.

“Discrimination, be it against Muslims or any other minority, is an issue where our parties must demonstrate leadership, not just at senior levels or from the dispatch box but as mass membership organisations. At every level and branch, our duty is to influence, not to be influenced. To set an example and hope that others will follow.”

Despite the Prime Minister’s non-response to the Singh report, further undermining it, Conservative Party Co-Chair, Amanda Milling, has at least said the party accepts all the recommendations. Javid said he had little doubt that implementing them would be “arduous, expensive and divert attention away from the party’s primary purpose: to campaign.” But he warned that “something greater is at stake.” Johnson’s vow to adopt them unconditionally should be seen as a “serious statement of intent and an indication of his strength of feeling when it comes to eradicating discrimination wherever it is found.”

It remains to be seen whether it is just another ruse by the party. Many will not bother to hold their breath and find that the report, even watered down, has effectively fallen on deaf ears and is eventually brushed under the carpet. Yet if the party is to bring about positive changes in society and return its policies towards why it has been so successful in being elected over the past 200 years, it needs to get its own house in order. Becoming truly inclusive would be a step in the right direction.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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