During the Conservative Party leadership election in June 2019, Boris Johnson committed to commissioning an independent investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. I breathed a sigh of relief.
Finally, an issue that we as Muslims had been pleading with the government to address for years would be taken seriously. Or so we thought.
Now, just over 500 days on, it has become abundantly clear that the Government’s response to widespread Islamophobia within its own party has been anything but serious.
This time last year, cabinet minister Michael Gove pledged to have an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party established by the end of 2019. As we near the end of 2020, we are yet to see any evidence to demonstrate a commitment by the Government to devote time and resources to this issue.
So why has the Conservative Party been so slow to act?
According to Sayeeda Warsi, former chairwoman of the Conservative Party, the Tories have turned a blind eye to ‘deep-rooted’ Islamophobia, partly, because they are not ‘brave enough’ to confront the reality that there are Conservative Party members amongst their ranks who’ve got ‘deeply distasteful and bigoted views’.
Just last month, Hope Not Hate published a report revealing poll findings which showed widespread Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. About 57% of party members reportedly held negative views about Muslims and nearly half believe that Islam is ‘a threat to the British way of life’.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There have been instances of Conservative party members calling for Muslims to be thrown off bridges.
This issue goes right to the very top of the party, with Johnson himself stoking the flames of Islamophobia. In 2005, Boris Johnson proclaimed that ‘Islam is the problem’ and trivialised the issue of Islamophobia by claiming that fear was a ‘natural reaction’ to the text laid out in the Koran.
Being a passive bystander in the face of bigotry and hatred is bad enough; Johnson has gone further by being an active participant in Islamophobia himself.
Just a week after his derogatory remarks about Muslim women when he compared niqab-wearing Muslim women to ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’, TellMAMA, an Islamophobia monitoring group, recorded a 375% increase in Islamophobic hate crime. This is no coincidence. Islamophobic rhetoric has very real consequences.
The party of government is turning a blind eye to bigotry and it is Muslim communities who are paying the price. A failure to take the issue of Islamophobia seriously only legitimises hatred and emboldens the far-right.
Growing up in Luton, I witnessed the rise of the English Defence League in 2011 and have heard countless harrowing accounts of Muslims being violently attacked simply for their religious beliefs. Between 2018-2019, nearly half of all reported religious hate crime offences in the UK were directed towards Muslims.
Anti-Muslim hatred has become worryingly pervasive, not just in the party of government but society at large. The party of government must lead by example and demonstrate their commitment to rooting out the issue of anti-Muslim hatred from both within their own party and in wider society.
The Conservative Party has failed to be transparent about its own disciplinary procedures, constantly refusing to share basic information about complaints and their outcomes. Last year, a Guardian investigation found that more than a dozen Conservative Party councillors previously suspended over Islamophobia had been readmitted.
In 2013, a Conservative Party councillor shared an article on Facebook and Twitter which referred to Muslims as parasites and invaders. It took five years for him to be suspended from the party. The Party’s investigation process is clearly not fit for purpose. Calls for a thorough investigation into the issue have been ignored again and again.
Earlier this year, the European Human Rights Commission reneged on plans to hold an external inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, after the Tories claimed it would launch its own investigation into ‘discrimination’. Given we are still waiting for it, I have to agree with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) who branded the initial announcement a ‘facade’.
The MCB has also expressed concern that the limited investigation into ‘all discrimination’ will look only at the complaints process and will be too broad to focus specifically on anti-Muslim sentiment.
By ignoring calls from British Muslims up and down this country to conduct its own impartial investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, the EHRC is also in dereliction of its responsibilities to the Muslim community.
Islamophobia is increasing and it feels as though our Government simply does not care. The failure to hold an inquiry on the specific issue of Islamophobia simply gives bigotry a free pass. There are no sliding scales when it comes racism; all are equally abhorrent.
As we enter Islamophobia Awareness Month, many Muslims up and down the country are highlighting the issue of Islamophobia and campaigning against it.
The failure to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia only serves to highlight how British Muslims are ignored and neglected by our own Government. And if they can’t get this right, what hope is there for the rest of the country?
Muslims have already pioneered much of the work when it comes to Islamophobia; its time for the government to do its part.
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