Tory Islamophobia inquiry runs into trouble as Conservative peer criticises academic appointed to head it

Sayeeda Warsi raises questions about professor's comments about conflict in Kashmir

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Tuesday 17 December 2019 20:29 GMT
Boris Johnson apologises for 'hurt and offence' caused by Islamophobia in Tory Party

The launch of an independent inquiry into the handling of Islamophobia and other discrimination in the Conservative Party ran into immediate trouble as prominent Muslim peer Sayeeda Warsi questioned the suitability of the academic chosen to lead the probe.

Baroness Warsi highlighted an article by Professor Sarwan Singh in which he accused Muslims of driving other communities out of Indian Kashmir.

And the Muslim Council of Britain warned that the inquiry risked being a "whitewash" under Prof Singh's leadership.

The UK’s first female Muslim cabinet minister, Lady Warsi has been the loudest voice in the Conservative party calling for an investigation into Islamophobia and was critical of Boris Johnson’s decision to water it down into a probe into discrimination of all kinds.

Within minutes of Prof Singh being named as head of the inquiry, she posted quotes from an article he wrote for online magazine Spiked in August, in which he suggested that attention was paid only to the suffering of Muslims in Kashmir because “Kashmiri Sikhs and Pandits don’t meet the criteria of victimhood” and said that “one community has driven the other two out of the land”, leaving the area “ethnically cleansed” of its non-Muslim population.

Discussing international media coverage of Kashmir, he wrote: “Since India is supposedly in the grip of Hindu nationalists, any suffering Hindu group can be ignored, akin to the idea that Jews can only be oppressors because of the plight of Palestinians. The victimhood of Palestinians automatically places Jews in the oppressor box.”

Lady Warsi said: “Ladies and Gentlemen I give you some views of the newly appointed Chairman of the ‘Independent review into all forms of discrimination and prejudice including Islamophobia’. I will let you make your own mind up.”

The appointment of Prof Singh, a former commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, comes after a rash of complaints of prejudice against Muslims by party activists and elected representatives.

Mr Johnson agreed to launch an inquiry into Islamophobia when he and other leadership candidates were put on the spot in June by Sajid Javid, a cabinet minister of Muslim background, during a televised debate in the battle to succeed Theresa May.

But he later made a point of expanding the remit of the inquiry to include not only prejudice against Muslims, but discrimination of all kinds, in what critics have said amounts to a watering down of the original proposal.

Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “This appointment is at risk of being seen in the same light as the Conservative Party’s customary approach to Islamophobia, that of denial, dismissal and deceit.

“We were promised an independent inquiry into Islamophobia specifically. Now we have a review that aims to broaden the scope to examine discrimination more generally. A laudable aim if it were not for the fact that the Conservative Party is afflicted with a particular type of bigotry which it refuses to countenance. The appointment of Professor Singh does not instil huge confidence in the process.”

Johnson himself has repeatedly come under fire for describing Muslim women who wear the veil as looking like "letterboxes" or "bank robbers".

A recent report by the Muslim Engagement and Development group (MEND) listed more than 120 examples of alleged Islamophobia within the Conservative party.

The list included Mr Johnson himself, for his comments about the burqa, as well as other members of the cabinet.

The report also complained of MP Bob Blackman hosting an anti-Islam extremist in parliament, and listed scores of instances of Tory representatives or activists posting, sharing or liking social media comments linking Muslims to crime or accusing them of being un-British or wishing to take over the UK and install Shariah law.

Prof Singh, who served on the EHRC from 2016-19 and is currently Professor of Social and Community Psychiatry at the University of Warwick, said: “I am privileged to have been appointed to chair the independent review into improving handling of complaints of prejudice and discrimination in the Conservative Party.”

The timetable of the report is to be determined by Prof Singh.

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