Over half of Muslim Labour members distrust party to tackle Islamophobia

27th Nov 2020
Over half of Muslim Labour members distrust party to tackle Islamophobia

(Photo credit: LabourMuslims.org)

Hamed Chapman

More than half of Labour’s Muslim members do not believe the leadership of the party can deal with Islamophobia; a similar number also thought the shadow cabinet team does not represent the community, according to a new poll.

A survey of 422 Muslim members or supporters of the party, commissioned and conducted by the Labour Muslim Network (LMN), found that 55% of respondents said they do not “trust the leadership of the Labour Party to tackle Islamophobia effectively.”

Nearly six in 10 — 59% also did not feel “well-represented by the leadership of the party”, nearly half — 48% did not have confidence in the party’s complaints procedure to deal with Islamophobia and nearly half — 44% — did not believe the party takes the issue of Islamophobia seriously.

Particular concern was voiced about the adoption of policy positions affecting Muslims and on foreign policy stances under Keir Starmer, including perceived change in policy relating to Kashmir, the ongoing situation and on counter-terrorism strategy, especially the positions the contentious Prevent extremism programme.

“Our research found that Labour’s connection to the Prevent programme (which was developed under former Prime Minister, Tony Blair’s Government) was influential in some respondents feeling not represented by the party,” it said.

“Like in most institutions within the UK, as a Muslim it often feels as though we are towards the bottom of the list when it comes to human rights, being respected and having our best interests heard/advocated. It feels as though within all institutions within the UK it has become increasingly acceptable to condemn and even abuse Muslims,” one supporter was quoted saying in the report.

More than a third of Muslim Labour Party members and supporters were found to have witnessed Islamophobia within the party while significant concern has also been voiced over the way Islamophobia complaints are handled, with no code of conduct comparable to that which has been put in place for dealing with anti-Semitism.

The parliamentary chair of LMN and MP for Manchester Gorton, Afzal Khan, said Islamophobia within the party was stark and a concern but had gone “unnoticed” and “deserved immediate attention.”

“Whilst the Labour Party has enjoyed the overwhelming support of the Muslim community for decades, we cannot take their support for granted,” Khan wrote. “The Labour Party must commit to a zero-tolerance of Islamophobia and rebuild confidence with its Muslim members.”

At the 2017 general elections, it was estimated that no less than 85% of Muslims supported the Labour Party compared to the support of 11% for the Conservatives.

The report made a series of recommendations including making a commitment to equality for Muslims in the fight for anti-racism, that all policies adopted to be equality impact assessed and that the party develops a new, transparent and impartial procedure which inspires faith and confidence in members.

There was no immediate response from the party to the finding other than a brief statement attributed to Starmer and his deputy, Angela Rayner that did not directly address the issues raised about the leadership but said they would work with LMN to implement its recommendations.

“We thank Labour Muslim Network for this important report, as well as their work to ensure our Muslim members are represented, included and heard. Islamophobia has no place in our party or society, and we are committed to rooting it out,” it said.

The findings were seen echoing complaints aired earlier this year by members of the party’s black and minority ethnic staff network that there is a perception of a “hierarchy of racism” within the party, wherein some forms of racism are regarded as more serious than others.

Muslim Labour MP Apsana Begum said she had faced similar issues and claimed the party “has been in denial” about the problem. “It’s quite regular to be asked questions and to constantly be asked to reaffirm my commitment towards British society as if in some way my identity and politics are not compatible,” she told ITV.

“As someone who has first-hand experience of the rise in Islamophobia over past decades, I know that every single day people of Muslim backgrounds like me face discrimination and prejudice,” she told The Muslim News.

“This report a well-needed opportunity to highlight the need to combat all forms of Islamophobia – from subtle and institutional Islamophobia to discrimination and hate crime to persecution and state violence,” she added.

Zarah Sultana, Labour MP for Coventry South, has also experienced Islamophobia. “Islamophobia is a pervasive bigotry and this report shows that the Labour Party is no exception. Its findings are shocking, but as a Muslim with years of activism in the party, I’m not surprised. I’ve both seen and experienced Islamophobia in the party, as have Muslim colleagues and friends.

As this report highlights, this is all too common an experience,” Sultana told The Muslim News. “The party must listen to this report, tackle Islamophobia in our own ranks, and live-up to the party’s mission to build a society where everyone lives with freedom and equality.”

Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, told The Muslim News Islamophobia and racism have no place in the Labour Party, “or in the society. “The findings of the report are very concerning; however, I am pleased to see that Keir Starmer has accepted the report’s recommendations and has committed to rooting out Islamophobia. To build a better society we must unite and stand together against all forms of racism, hate crime and discrimination.”

Additional report by Ahmed J Versi

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