Islamophobia: It's not just a Tory problem

British Muslims didn't need a report to tell us the Conservative Party has a deep rooted problem with Islamophobia
5 min read
03 Jun, 2021
Opinion: Anti-Muslim sentiment pervades the UK's political spectrum, media, foreign policy, and society at large, argues Aniqah Choudhri.
(L-R) Conservatives Boris Johnson, Zac Goldsmith, and then British Prime Minister David Cameron attend a mayoral campaign rally in London, England on 3 May, 2016. [Getty]

The long-awaited inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party was finally published in late May, and then promptly buried by the bombshells Dominic Cummings dropped in his seven-hour testimony on the government's handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The timing may be a coincidence, but the result is that the reaction to the Conservative Islamophobia report has been lacklustre across the board. 

However, it is unlikely that the report would have created waves, even in a slow news week. 

After all, much of the evidence that the report focused on has been widely known for years.

In 2019, Conservative peer Baroness Warsi, a longtime campaigner against Islamophobia, described that being in the Conservative party felt like an "abusive relationship," and spoke of having to drag her colleagues, "kicking and screaming," to address the issue. 

Even looking from the outside, polls show that over half of Conservative Party members believe Islam is a threat to the British way of life. The current Tory leader, Boris Johnson, has a long and worrying history of anti-Muslim sentiment. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to evidence in the public domain.

"Polls show that over half of Conservative Party members believe Islam is a threat to the British way of life"

The inquiry was led by Professor Swaran Singh, who has been previously criticised for writing for right-wing publications like Spiked - the editor of whom has been publicly scornful of Islamophobia, branding it "an invented term that is mainly designed to shut down critical discussion about Islam." 

Although the report stated that Boris Johnson's comments comparing women in burkas to letterboxes (leading to a surge in anti-Muslim attacks) and Zac Goldsmith's Mayoral Campaign which tried to link Labour candidate Sadiq Khan to Islamic extremists were "insensitive to Muslim communities," Singh claimed that the party did not have a case of institutional Islamophobia. 

He later stated: "I'm not saying that the party leadership is insensitive to Muslim communities. I'm saying that the perception is very strong."

This claim that the Tories are not institutionally Islamophobic has already been rebutted by high profile Muslim members of the party.

It is easy to find records of anti-Muslim language, often dehumanising language, on every level; from the leadership to the grassroots. 

In 2019, The Guardian revealed that 25 current and former Conservative councillors had posted Islamophobic content on social media - referring to Muslims as "barbarians," and the "enemy from within." 

Last year, the Muslim Council of Britain submitted a dossier on Islamophobia in the party to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) with evidence involving over 300 individuals; councillors, MPs, party members, and special advisors. 

Perspectives

The then Secretary-General, Harun Khan, stated:

"There is no doubt that the Conservative Party has an Islamophobia crisis: it is institutional, systemic, and widespread."

You might think with this mountain of evidence against the Tories, the Labour Party would be keen to keep this story in the public eye. However, their response has been limited.

The most likely reason for this is that Labour has its own issues with Islamophobia, going back decades.

The lack of faith Muslim members have in the current leadership to tackle stigma against them aside, the former Labour government introduced many key policies that have actively harmed British Muslims or threaten to, such as: the Prevent scheme, the illegal invasion of Iraq, and the attempt to extend the period of detention without charge to 90 days. 

"Less than 0.5% of journalists in the UK are Muslim"

Many of the people who supported these policies are still senior figures of the Labour party. 

Even smaller parties, such as the Green Party, have had issues with Islamophobia. The current co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, declared he supported banning halal meat on the BBC during the 2019 General Election, a bizarre but sadly familiar element to pick from the meat industry as a whole. 

For any of these parties to hold the Conservative Party to account, they would have to feel confident that those same prejudices do not exist in their own parties and for many of them, they do not.

The news cycle will likely swiftly move on from the Islamophobia report, as many do not see Islamophobia as a key issue. The fact is, less than 0.5% of journalists in the UK are Muslim. Uncomfortable as it is to acknowledge, this demography will shape the views of the public on the relevance of the topic.

Another unpleasant fact is that the British media in general tilts towards Islamophobia. A study found that most UK news coverage of Muslims is negative.

The New Labour government taught me, before I was even old enough to vote, how much a governing party can increase stigma against minorities in British society. For that reason, the Islamophobia report and how we respond to it, is a key issue for many British Muslims. 

But to truly get to the heart of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, we would have to analyse anti-Muslim sentiment across the political spectrum, the media, our foreign policy, and British society, and this is something few are prepared to do.

Aniqah is a freelance journalist based in Manchester. Her work has appeared in The Independent, gal-dem and Exeunt Magazine. She also writes fiction and poetry and has been published in several anthologies.

Follow her on Twitter: @aniqahc 

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.