During the Conservative leadership election, all candidates committed to holding a specific inquiry into Islamophobia. This was welcomed across the board. I too was hopeful.
But on Tuesday, Boris Johnson announced that the inquiry will now only look broadly at prejudice and discrimination, rather than an in-depth dive into Islamophobia.
Taken at face value, the prime minister’s announcement of an inquiry by the end of the year into prejudice and discrimination in the Conservative Party is most welcome. Racism should have no place in our political landscape.
Indeed, all parties must strive to repudiate bigotry, and our ruling party should be no different. Indeed, we currently have a Conservative prime minister who previously described black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”. As home secretary Theresa May deemed it appropriate not to oppose vans driving around with the words “Go Home” plastered on them. Her successor, Amber Rudd, oversaw the Windrush scandal in which African Caribbean people who had made the UK their home for more than half a century were wrongly deported – and yet she still regained her seat in the Cabinet.
But the party has an even bigger problem with a particular type of racism: Islamophobia.
Islamophobia is rampant, institutional and systemic – from Johnson at the very top through to the Cabinet and MPs, down to local councillors and across the membership.
This now downgraded inquiry will not address the specific problems the Conservative Party has with Islamophobia. A broad-brush approach will not identify the root causes of this particular type of racism which has infected the party. It will look merely at the tip of the iceberg.
The prime minister must listen to the victims of Islamophobia, both inside and outside the party, and the first step towards tackling the issue is to hold an inquiry specifically to understand its extent. With many Muslims already having lost faith in the party, it must get this inquiry right to ensure it is not just a rubber-stamping exercise, but an honest attempt at fixing a significant problem.
To get this right, the inquiry must be truly independent and external. An internal investigation lacks the incentive to look into the issues fully and accurately.
Finally, the inquiry must review the party’s investigatory and disciplinary processes, to see whether these could have enabled the party to deal with complaints of more Islamophobia effectively, and whether these procedures are being followed properly.
Some recent cases of members found to be posting or endorsing Islamophobic material online have been dealt with swiftly by the party, which suspended those members immediately. In other cases, like with Zac Goldsmith’s Islamophobic mayoral campaign, the party can brush it under the carpet and promote him to cabinet.
This mixed bag approach is not only incoherent but sends a message to Conservatives that those at the top can hold these deeply bigoted views and still remain at the top, but those lower down the ladder will be ostracised.
Launching this inquiry is not difficult, especially when the evidence for its need and the way in which it should be conducted is so widely documented.
As Johnson came into office, he heralded the appointment of one of the most diverse cabinets in history, including the country's first Muslim Chancellor of the Exchequer. But there is no point in making appointments that represent a powerful and symbolic statement if the system and the nation's citizens are discriminated against.
The least the Conservative Party could do is to truly listen to and thoroughly engage with Muslim communities. Having already marginalised many Muslims over its failure to address Islamophobia so far, the party has a long way to go to win back trust, but it certainly needs to make the first move. Failing to do so would further disenfranchise Muslims.
The serial inaction by the Conservative Party to tackle the issue of Islamophobia amongst its ranks, despite the constant pressure, moral obligation and absence of any real reason not to, is demoralising, disappointing and frankly, unacceptable.
Harun Khan is the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain
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