I've been researching Islamophobia for years – don’t let anyone tell you there isn’t an epidemic within the Tory party

Sadly, anti-Muslim sentiment is an effective campaign strategy across political campaigns in the west. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to get the Conservatives to take it seriously

Mobashra Tazamal
Monday 18 November 2019 14:50 GMT
Matt Hancock says Sayeeda Warsi 'takes a particular view' on Islamophobia

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2019 began with calls for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. As we approach the final month of the year, the party is continuing to turn a blind eye.

This is all occurring against a backdrop of mounting evidence illustrating the pervasiveness of the issue; one could even call it an epidemic. Anti-Muslim rhetoric is present at all levels, from party members to elected representatives, and all the way to the top as exemplified by prime minister Boris Johnson’s history of offensive statements. Following Theresa May’s departure, Tory party candidates running for prime minister appeared to agree that an investigation into the problem was needed, only to backtrack and give the nod instead to an investigation into all types of “prejudice and discrimination, including antisemitism.”

The party is evading calls for a serious independent investigation into Islamophobia even as anti-Muslim comments from Conservative Party members and elected officials continue to be unearthed.

Boris Johnson called a racist by Labour's Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi in powerful speech on Islamophobia

Early last week, a dossier was revealed by the anonymous investigative twitter account, @matesjacob, showing current and former Tory councillors calling for a “ban on mosques,” referring to Muslims as “barbarians,” comparing Islam to Nazism, and promoting the idea of no-go zones (“Muslim only areas”) conspiracy theory.

Other comments include racial slurs such as “Somali scum” and “Indian sh****r,” support for Donald Trump’s discriminatory Muslim ban, and fears of a Muslim takeover and assertation that Islam is “un-British and un-European.”

Former and current councilors also posted strong defenses of far-right figures like Tommy Robinson and parties, such as PEGIDA. Others shared content from the conspiracy theorist, Paul Joseph Watson, and American anti-Muslim blogger, Pamela Geller (who was banned from the UK in 2013).

The week’s revelations didn’t end there, as on Friday 15 November, LBC released another blistering batch of hateful comments made by former and current Conservative councillors. One post from 2016 said: “Islam: come for the infidel-killing, whore-stoning, religious purity, stay for the terrific falafels” over a picture of blood-soaked Asian men wielding knives.

The party has responded with the usual step of suspending a few of the councillors. This disciplinary process carries zero transparency and has been the party’s standard approach to the problem, which clearly isn’t effective given the persistence of Islamophobia.

Similarly, it was in March of this year that over a dozen councillors were suspended following an investigation uncovering “Islamophobic or racist content online – with some describing Saudis as “sand peasants” and “sharing material comparing Asian people to dogs”. However, the suspensions didn’t last long, as the investigation found that 15 councillors were quietly reinstated (one after only 13 days). @matesjacob described this as the “revolving-door reinstatement” as, within weeks of the suspension, the councillor in question is “back in the party and on the council group, having attended a one-day ‘diversity training’ session or apologised to a local Muslim leader – and sometimes they don’t even do that. The idea that deeply-held racist views can be eradicated by a single day course is laughable – if that were true, there wouldn’t be any issues with racism in the first place.”

Such action not only demonstrates a complete lack of will to tackle the problem but also signals to the wider public that anti-Muslim hatred is acceptable. It was in 2011 that Baroness Sayeeda Warsi stated Islamophobia had passed the “dinner table test,” and in 2019 she stated it was Britain’s “bigotry blind spot.” She’s been calling attention to the problem for years and last year publicly called for an inquiry only to have her party dodge the issue. More recently, one of her peers dismissed her views, claiming: “there are others who take a more balanced approach,” (even though she’s worked in race relations for three decades).

The Muslim Council of Britain, the largest Muslim umbrella body, has also called on the party in power to take the issue seriously, stating last year that it was not acceptable to turn “a blind eye to legitimate concerns about bigotry.” Following this week’s revelations of more Islamophobic and racist social media comments, Harun Khan, MCB’s secretary general stated, “It [the Conservative Party] now must accept responsibility, commit to an independent inquiry into Islamophobia, and genuinely seek to tackle anti-Muslim racism in its ranks.”

There are multiple reasons as to why the party is failing to take the issue seriously, given a significant proportion of their membership holds Islamophobic views, they may not want to alienate their base. Islamophobia, sadly, is an effective campaign strategy, demonizing and othering Muslims is a recurrent theme across political campaigns in the west. Mates Jacob also points out that “the scale of the problem – which would become immediately apparent to a genuinely independent inquiry – is so bad that it’s preferable to get the bad coverage for ducking the issue [than getting] worse coverage that would result if the truth came out.”

For the Conservative party, it seems promoting stereotypes, using racial slurs, and supporting far-right conspiracy theories targeting Muslims is acceptable conduct. This was the same group that found no wrongdoing when Johnson, then foreign secretary, compared Muslim women in burqas to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers.” An independent panel described the comments as “respectful and tolerant.” Monitoring group Tell MAMA found that Islamophobic incidents rose by 375 per cent in the week after Johnson’s statements, the biggest spike in anti-Muslim hatred in 2018.

We can expect more dossiers and in response, we’ll continue seeing random suspensions and vague comments about how “racism is bad.” However, unless there is a willingness to seriously examine the Islamophobia that nestles within all levels of the Conservative Party, as I see it, the inaction by party leaders effectively amounts to an endorsement of Islamophobia. To British Muslims, the party’s actions indicate that it simply does not care or value them as citizens. The Tories are indicating that anti-Muslim bigotry is supported and condoned, further greenlighting the harassment and discrimination British Muslims face on our streets and in our institutions.

Mobashra Tazamal is an academic researcher on Islamophobia

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