Conservatives hoping Islamophobia issue 'will magically go away', warns senior party activist

Exclusive: Mohammed Amin, chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, says the party fears 'rocking the boat'

Tuesday 05 June 2018 20:41
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Mohammed Amin, chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum, claimed repeated warnings about the problem had been ignored
Mohammed Amin, chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum, claimed repeated warnings about the problem had been ignored

The chairman of the Conservative Party’s own Muslim forum has accused the Tories of failing to root out Islamophobia because they are scared of damaging their own political power.

Mohammed Amin said the party does not want to “rock the boat” with a contentious racism probe at a time when it lacks a Commons majority, and instead is hoping the issue “will magically go away”.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent, the chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum (CMF), itself comprising party members and set up to encourage Islamic people to stand for office under the Tory banner, claimed repeated warnings about the problem had been ignored.

It comes as further evidence of Islamophobia came to light, including:

  • Five BME Tory members being seated on a single table at the back of a room at a Conservative association dinner
  • One Muslim member telling how a councillor had told him he was “not welcome” in the party
  • The same member later being told during a candidate’s interview that “naturally in your core belief women are not allowed to work”

The CMF has now echoed calls made by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and 11 other Muslim councils across the UK – representing more than 500 mosques, organisations and schools – for an inquiry into the issue.

In the light of Mr Amin’s interview and the new evidence, Conservative HQ said that it take all claims of racism seriously and had acted quickly to respond when it was reported.

But Mr Amin said the CMF had received “several approaches” about Islamophobia to party leaders, and that despite raising the issue repeatedly they had not received “a satisfactory set of outcomes”.

“The Conservative Party seems to be taking the approach that if it keeps quiet and does nothing the issue of anti-Muslim sentiment by some members of the party will somehow magically go away,” he told The Independent.

“Right now the Conservative Party does not want to create political problems or rock the boat.

“It is challenging when you have no majority at all as you don’t want to alienate individual MPs, but the consequence has been that the party has failed to take sufficiently strong action.”

In one example, Mr Amin said that when Bob Blackman MP hosted an event in parliament in which controversial Hindu nationalist Tapan Ghosh – who praised the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Myanmar – spoke, the CMF wrote to his office to voice their concern.

He said the CMF was ignored by both the party and Mr Blackman, and after repeated failed attempts for dialogue over a five-month period, they were forced to publicly criticise the decision to host the event.

Mr Blackman denied that he invited Mr Ghosh and said he was brought in to speak at the event he was hosting “without his knowledge”.

He did however acknowledge being contacted by the CMF.

Mr Blackman told The Independent: “I have found an email from the Conservative Muslim Forum to which I thought my office had replied.

“If they would still like to meet, I ask they telephone my office to make an appointment.”

It is not the first time the party has faced claims of Islamophobia – Zac Goldsmith’s London mayoral campaign in 2016 was heavily criticised for the rhetoric used.

In response to recent accusations, home secretary Sajid Javid argued that the party had no particular problem and cited his position in the cabinet as proof.

“For a start, let’s just look at who the home secretary is in this country. My name is Sajid Javid, I’m the home secretary,” he said.

In an attempt to bat away the issue, Mr Javid also attacked the MCB, which was the first group to write to the party calling for an inquiry, claiming they had associations with extremism and did not represent British Muslims.

But Mr Amin said the same argument could not possibly be used against the Conservative Muslim Forum.

He went on: “The CMF has members who are as integrated as you can get. We are lawyers, accountants, bankers and doctors.

“We cannot be disparaged as closet extremists – if we are concerned then it is a serious problem.”

In recent days a number of current and former Tory members have also contacted The Independent about their personal experiences of Islamophobia and racism in the party.

A current activist in London, who has been a member for four years, said he has experienced discrimination throughout that time.

In one example who said that a dinner hosted by his local Conservative association, five BME attendees were placed on one table at the far end of the room.

When a complaint was raised the deputy leader of the group replied “he could not be racist because his girlfriend is black”.

A former Tory activist from Ealing said he experienced harassment because of his faith which ultimately led him to leave the party.

When he applied to be a councillor he was asked to attend a selection interview and, upon hearing that he had volunteered at a Muslim-led community organisation, one of the interviewers asked “if there was something he was not telling them”.

Another interviewer quizzed the activist on his position on women participating in politics and being members of the workforce.

“Naturally in your core belief women are not allowed to work – what is your opinion on that?” the activist said he was asked.

He said he could not believe the line of questioning and after the interview no longer had a desire to represent the party.

In another shocking anecdote, he said a councillor regularly “swore at him” and told him he was “not welcome” in the Conservatives.

“I just remember feeling terrible when I walked out of there. It just was not a pleasant experience,” the activist told The Independent.

“I’ve been bullied and harassed and I am mentally tired from this.”

There have also been a number of incidents of Islamophobic and racist content posted on social media by councillors and party members, with 12 reports in the past two months.

Stephen Ardley, a councillor on the Waveney District Council, was suspended after The Independent revealed he allegedly said it was “unbelievable” that a Muslim had been elected mayor of London and went on to describe those who voted for him as “blind”.

“I think it’s unbelievable that a Muslim was actually elected the mayor of this great Christian country – oh wait, he’s Labour so the blind just vote red and left,” he apparently posted on Facebook.

Councillor Ian Hibberd from Southampton was also suspended after he commented on a picture posted on social media uploaded by fellow Tory councillor Harmeet Singh Brar asking: “Why are you dressed like a p***?”

Mr Brar, who is not Muslim, has now left the Conservative Party altogether saying it was due to “two years of bullying, harassment and racism”.

He said the party’s decision to “investigate” the matter was a “get out”.

“I felt when I spoke out about racism I was isolated and casted out. That was the major reason why I left” he told The Independent.

In response to calls for an inquiry, a Conservative Party spokesperson said: “We have introduced a new code of conduct covering all forms of discrimination and we take all allegations seriously.

“The party has acted quickly when presented with evidence of inappropriate behaviour, suspending those involved and launching immediate investigations.”

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