After an internal inquiry by the Tory party – prompted by outrage over then foreign secretary Boris Johnson comparing women in burqas to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers” – found the comments to be “respectful and tolerant”, it should come as no surprise that a leading anti-racism charity has accused the Conservatives of failing to take complaints of Islamophobia against their members seriously.
To assert that the Tories were “in denial” about the extent of the rot within their ranks would be giving the benefit of the doubt to a party that seems to have written off British Muslims, and through inaction and indifference, signalled that engaging in it was acceptable conduct.
Leading Muslim groups and politicians, including Baroness Warsi, have long been calling for a full independent inquiry into Tory Islamophobia, but have always been rebuffed. It would be a bittersweet development if one is finally carried out now, since it would have required an intervention by a prominent charity from outside the Muslim community for any meaningful action to be taken.
Despite countless high-profile incidents that should leave no room for ambiguity, attempts to raise awareness of Islamophobia are often met with such dismissive responses and gaslighting that no one would be blamed for questioning their own position or beginning to wonder whether they were making mountains out of molehills.
Whether its conducting a mayoral campaign – the vilest in recent memory – that baselessly attempted to portray a Muslim candidate as an extremist after people’s jewellery; hosting anti Muslim hate preachers; or sharing overtly racist and Islamophobic memes, pictures and posts, the Tory party has consistently downplayed any concerns raised, and the perpetrators have by and large continued to operate without facing any serious repercussions.
Baroness Warsi famously claimed that hostility towards Muslims had now passed the dinner table test. Last year, the amount of abuse and disdain journalist Abi Wilkinson faced on Twitter when trying to highlight how inappropriate it was for a Tory peer and Times columnist, Daniel Finkelstein, to have been on the board of an allegedly Islamophobic and racist think tank, the Gatestone Institute, is only one recent example that goes to illustrate how entrenched it has become in certain quarters of mainstream society.
The fact that it needed pointing out that patronising a far right institute that has been accused of helping fan rumours of Muslim no go zones in Europe, indulging in fear mongering of Muslim migrants, and voicing support of notorious Islamophobes like Geert Wilders, should not be acceptable is disturbing.
Sadly, it is also very revealing that it took a white woman calling it out for the issue to gain any traction, despite Muslim journalists like Dr Nafeez Ahmed having written extensively on it since 2015, and even then, many people attempted to defend Finkelstein and saved their criticism for Wilkinson's language.
It sometimes feels that to be a Muslim in this day and age is a constant battle to prove your humanity and loyalty to the country.
Muslims have to go above and beyond to demonstrate that their values and beliefs are compatible with modern society and Britain, instead of it being a given.
I’ve learnt the hard way not to entertain questions asked in bad faith, because even when you talk about your passionate support for gender equality and the LGBT+ community, or your efforts in promoting interfaith harmony, at the end of the day you, as a Muslim, could be dismissed with baseless accusations.
I’ve been accused of practising “taqiyah” – a fringe concept that allows one to lie about their religious belief as a last resort under extreme duress, persecution or mortal danger, but wrongly defined by anti Muslim propaganda as a way for Muslims to lie to non Muslims.
This is a no win situation where even textbook, measured responses to accusations like these are rendered meaningless, feeding irrational narratives of Muslims being crafty and devious by default.
Even if, through some herculean effort, you manage to win them over and you’re labelled one of the few good ones – you’d still be an exception to the norm.
With many in the Conservative party outspoken in their criticism of Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints within the party, it is baffling to see them relinquish any sense of responsibility to combat Islamophobia amongst their own ranks.
Selective outrage over one form of bigotry while remaining completely unmoved by another might undermine any claim of moral high ground or sincerity, instead lending credence to accusations of using the cause – and people’s pain – for political point scoring.
It is understandable for Muslims to be frustrated with how little coverage the Islamophobia scandal gets, but it is also important not to indulge in comparisons with the coverage of antisemitism, as some are doing. Antisemitism is just as valid a concern and deserves as much attention as it can get.
As Muslims, we shouldn’t be competing with fellow targets of bigotry for media coverage. We can campaign for more coverage of Islamophobia in the Tory party or wider society without ever needing to pull anyone else down. Instead, we need to show solidarity with the Jewish community and all other groups affected by hate and discrimination. None of us should allow ourselves to be used in a political game of whataboutism.
The Tory party has a clear opportunity to re engage with British Muslims and demonstrate once and for all that it won’t tolerate Islamophobia. However, its recent trajectory even further to the right makes me believe that its disgraceful silence on the subject is a conscious decision based on cold political calculation. I sincerely hope I am proven wrong.
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