Tory party becoming a breeding ground for Islamophobia
Preoccupied with the current pandemic, policymakers and the media alike took little notice of this month’s decision by the Equality and Human Rights Commission not to conduct an inquiry into allegations of Islamophobia within Britain’s ruling Conservative Party. The decision of the watchdog to forgo an investigation is indicative of a political callousness concerning the slander of British Muslims that is unfortunately increasingly mainstream. As a lifelong and indeed active Conservative, I can only regret a state of affairs that has led to the growing alienation of hardworking and patriotic British Muslim voters.
In the autumn of 2010, I attended my first Oxford University Conservative Association meeting. Held at the Oxford Union, the world’s oldest debating society, its raucous gatherings have, for almost a century, been the auspicious setting where future leading party figures and indeed prime ministers have cut their political teeth. As the only new member of a minority background present that evening, the prospect of speaking was daunting to say the least. Thankfully, the respect to a certain custom that demands silence for maiden speakers to be heard was welcome encouragement. I was actually complimented for the clarity of my delivery and the validity of my argument and the ordeal came to be one of my best university memories.
This experience encapsulates the ethos of a party that I, like many others, identified with and chose to join. A party whose blind meritocratic principles have traditionally welcomed members from all walks of life. This is the party in which Benjamin Disraeli, a politician of Jewish parentage, was able to become Queen Victoria’s most celebrated prime minister and in which grocer’s daughter Margaret Thatcher led a Cabinet of aristocrats.
These values, however, are seemingly no longer so important to the party. In the political mudslinging that has characterized the incredibly divisive experience of Brexit, the party has all but surrendered to a hitherto latent and dangerously xenophobic force within it. There are no fewer than 300 cases of alleged Islamophobia within the party, ranging from its local activists to its highest representatives.
Anthony Browne, the MP for South Cambridgeshire, dared question the loyalties of British Muslims in regards to the Iraq War. Zac Goldsmith, whose political star faded with his poorly-fought campaign to be London’s mayor, was singled out by party grandees for encouraging sentiment against his Muslim opponent that had the unmistakable, telltale stench of Islamophobia.
The real tragedy, however, is not in the discriminatory nature of these sentiments, but rather that the party and its leadership simply continues to fail to deal with the issue head-on.
The last general election was sullied by allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party that rightly drew the consternation of the public and politicians alike. The media and the Tory party were quick to denounce prejudice of this sort and the political career of Labour’s firebrand former leader Jeremy Corbyn came crashing down as a result.
Under significant pressure, Conservative leadership hopefuls jockeyed to recognize the importance of similarly confronting Islamophobia. Late last year, a promise was made to hold an independent inquiry into allegations of Islamophobia, only to be politically mothballed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has instead agreed to a “general investigation into prejudice of all kinds.” It would seem, therefore, that some forms of prejudice are more equal than others for a party that is fast becoming a breeding ground for anti-Islamic sentiment.
The party has all but surrendered to a hitherto latent and dangerously xenophobic force within it.
Zaid M. Belbagi
Mindful of the changing makeup of British society, the Conservative Party has gone some way to reach out to Sikh and Hindu communities to increase its electability. These communities have been integrated into Conservative Party politics in a manner that British Muslims can only dream of. So it is unsurprising that the overwhelming majority of British Muslims voted for Labour in December’s election.
For a party that ostensibly promotes a one-nation ideal, the Conservatives are making a pact with bigotry that will continue to marginalize hardworking British Muslims — among them professionals, leading academics, award-winning athletes and, most importantly, peace-loving, patriotic citizens. If no serious and meaningful steps are taken, the Conservative Party will no longer be a party for all Britons.
- Zaid M. Belbagi is a political commentator, and an adviser to private clients between London and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Twitter: @Moulay_Zaid