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Change UK candidate in Islamophobia row after Muslim terrorist and Tommy Robinson comments emerge

Muslim Council of Britain condemns candidate Nora Mulready as new centrist party plunged into third race row in 24 hours

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Wednesday 24 April 2019 21:45 BST
European elections are a chance to demand a People's Vote, says Change UK's Heidi Allen

Change UK has been dragged into yet another racism row after one of its candidates was accused of peddling “anti-Muslim tropes” and “legitimising the far right”.

Nora Mulready, who is standing for the party in the coming European parliament elections, had conflated Islam with terrorism, suggesting it was a “fallacy that Islamism is nothing to do with Islam” and that radical Islamism could be “Koranically justified”.

In separate comments she also said the concerns of far-right leader Tommy Robinson should be addressed because he had “hit [a] societal nerve and that needs to be acknowledged”.

The Muslim Council of Britain condemned the candidate, and was joined by anti-racism reporting service Tell Mama, which questioned why she was selected and said it was “a joke” for someone with her views to be put up as an MEP.

A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain said Ms Mulready had failed to meet the anti-racist standards the party claimed to hold itself to and was “all too ready in othering people, in this case, conflating Islam with terrorism”.

On another occasion in 2018 Ms Mulready drew links between religious unrest in Pakistan and immigration to Britain, warning that riots in favour of blasphemy laws in the country showed that some “immigration brings with it some very regressive cultural values”.

In the aftermath of the London Bridge terror attack in June 2017 she urged politicians to point the finger at Islam, tweeting: “Will Cobra meeting [in response to the attack] have integrity to call threat by its name? We cannot deal with it if we can’t even name it. Islamism, a strand of Islam.”

The latest race row is the fourth to hit the party in its short life. Earlier on Wednesday Change UK’s lead candidate in Scotland, Joseph Russo, was forced to resign after historic comments emerged in which he had said: “Black women scare me. I put this down to be chased through Amsterdam by a crazy black wh***”.

That came after events on Tuesday, just hours after the party unveiled its slate of candidates, when another prospective Change UK MEP, former Tory Ali Sadjady, had to resign over offensive comments about EU citizens. Mr Sadjady had said: “When I hear that 70% of pick pockets caught on the London Underground are Romanian it kind makes me want Brexit.”

The new centrist party’s original launch as the Independent Group earlier this year was also dogged by a race row after one of its MPs, Angela Smith, used the phrase “funny tinge” to refer to Bame people in a televised discussion about racism. She did not resign, but later apologised for having “misspoke”.

One person who unsuccessfully applied to be a candidate for Change UK told The Independent that they had had to submit all their social media profiles for examination by the party during the process – raising questions about its vetting procedure in light of the resignations.

Responding to the criticism of her social media posts, Ms Mulready said: "I have never – not once – expressed anti-Muslim hatred or bigotry.

"I have always been clear that I am talking about Islamism, and conservative Islamic cultures or beliefs, never Muslims. I am horrified, appalled and deeply upset to have been targeted by what appears to now be an active campaign of smears and lies from hard-left activists and the hard-line Muslim Council of Britain."

When confronted with her comments about Islam and Islamism on social media in January 2018, Ms Mulready, a former Labour activist in Haringey, said at that time: “So, is this an attempt to whip up hate against me? Or is it now Corbyn Labour policy that you are not permitted to criticise Islam?”

In May 2018 she said: “Half a million people signed ‘free #TommyRobinson’ petition in 48 hrs. He’s hit societal nerve and that needs to be acknowledged if we want his movement to stop growing. I think not calling liberals, Muslims and exMuslims who raise concerns about conservative Islam ‘racists’ may help.”

Iman Atta OBE, director of Tell Mama, told The Independent: “For a candidate in the MEP elections to cite Tommy Robinson as a benchmark for concern around radical Islamism is a joke.

“We in Tell Mama are concerned about extremism in all of its forms including that coming from al-Qaeda, Daesh etc since they kill our citizens in this country and there is a corresponding backlash against innocent, law-abiding Muslims.

“So it is essential we challenge all forms of extremist narrative, but citing Robinson as an example is short sighted and not appropriate when he has done much to divide communities, and doorstep and intimidate people.

“There is also a clear difference between Islamism and Islam. If the Change candidate cannot see that and infer that Muslims are somehow faulty because they follow Islam, then one has to question who selected her?”

A Muslim Council of Britain spokesperson said: “Nora Mulready falls foul of the standard rightly set at Change UK’s European election launch.

“There, Chuka Umunna rightly declared at the party’s European election launch that, ‘We won’t change our country by othering people of different nationalities and races and dividing our UK into them and us’.

“Ms Mulready, it seems, is all too ready in othering people, in this case, conflating Islam with terrorism.”

Naz Shah, Labour’s shadow women and equalities minister, who was herself suspended from her party in 2016 for comments about Jews and Israel she later admitted were “ignorant”, told The Independent: “It’s shocking that this Change UK candidate Nora Mulready tried to legitimise the far right. This kind of language serves to silence British Muslims from speaking out against the Islamophobia they face.

“Does she need reminding that Tommy Robinson was the leader of the English Defence League that targeted the Muslim community?

“While genuine criticisms of any religion can be made in a free society, to use that as a guise to attack its followers, and justify peddling anti-Muslim tropes or normalise hatred is wrong.”

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