Former London borough mayor quits Labour over Islamophobia, racism

Rakhia Ismail, who was born in Somalia, left her post as mayor of the London Borough of Islington late last month, and on Sunday announced that she would resign from her position as a Labour Party councillor. (Islington Borough Council/islington.gov.uk)
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Updated 12 October 2020

Former London borough mayor quits Labour over Islamophobia, racism

  • Rakhia Ismail: ‘I’m saddened deeply that the party I thought was for justice and fairness and ‘for the many’ is the opposite’
  • ‘Sadly, this incident shows that no political party is totally immune from anti-Muslim sentiment,’ interfaith activist tells Arab News

LONDON: The resignation of the UK’s first hijab-wearing mayor, and her leaving the main opposition Labour Party on grounds of racism and Islamophobia, highlight the prevalence of anti-Muslim sentiment across all British political parties, an interfaith expert told Arab News on Monday.

Rakhia Ismail, who was born in Somalia, left her post as mayor of the London Borough of Islington late last month, and on Sunday announced that she would resign from her position as a Labour Party councillor after eight years in service.

She said she stepped down because she felt she was marginalized as a woman of color and was not taken seriously by some male colleagues. She also cited incidents of Islamophobia from some Labour Party colleagues.

“I’m saddened deeply that the party I thought was for justice and fairness and ‘for the many’ is the opposite, from my personal experience,” she said.

“Therefore, I find it hard to represent Holloway Ward as a Labour councillor because I was battling with a party system that simply allows white men to have what they want, when they want.”

In 2019, Ismail said she received a letter inviting her to Labour’s first national women’s conference which, beneath her address, was printed the word: “Somalia.” She said: “What has my birthplace got to do with this invite? I was shocked.”

She also cited Islington Council’s failure to organize an Eid festival in 2019, despite the borough’s significant Muslim population, as an example of anti-Muslim sentiment within the council.

Muddassar Ahmed, a patron of the Faiths Forum for London, a group dedicated to fostering interfaith dialogue and relations, said Ismail’s experience highlights the ongoing issue of Islamophobia in British politics.

“Sadly, this incident shows that no political party is totally immune from anti-Muslim sentiment,” he told Arab News.

“The Labour Party has come a very long way in appointing women of color to senior positions, but clearly there’s more work to be done,” he said.

“I hope the Labour Party learns from this incident and ensures that there’s a thorough investigation to understand why this happened.”

A Labour spokesperson said the party “takes any allegations of discrimination received extremely seriously, which are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures.

Ismail’s decision to resign “is disappointing, especially coming so soon after her term as mayor of Islington, having served the borough admirably through an incredibly challenging time,” the spokesperson added.


Six killed in Turkey as strong earthquake hits Aegean Sea, also hits Greece

Updated 47 min 33 sec ago

Six killed in Turkey as strong earthquake hits Aegean Sea, also hits Greece

  • Quake of up to 7.0 magnitude hits Turkey, Greek islands
  • Tidal waves send flood of debris inland

ISTANBUL: Six people were killed in Turkey after a strong earthquake struck the Aegean Sea on Friday, bringing buildings crashing down and setting off tidal waves which slammed into coastal areas and nearby Greek islands.
People ran onto streets in panic in the coastal city of Izmir, witnesses said, after the quake struck with a magnitude of up to 7.0 at around 1150 GMT. Some neighborhoods were deluged with surging seawater which swept a flood of debris inland and left fish stranded as it receded.
The Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency (AFAD) said six people died, one due to drowning, while 202 people were injured.
There were various reports of collapsed buildings with people stuck in the rubble in some of districts of Izmir, one of Turkey’s main tourist regions, and partial damage to property in other provinces, Turkish officials said.
Izmir mayor Tunc Soyer said around 20 buildings came down in the province. Izmir’s governor said 70 people had been rescued from under the rubble.
Ilke Cide, a doctoral student who was in Izmir’s Guzelbahce region during the earthquake, said he went inland after waters rose after the earthquake.
“I am very used to earthquakes... so I didn’t take it very seriously at first but this time it was really scary,” he said, adding the earthquake had lasted for at least 25-30 seconds.
Crisscrossed by major fault lines, Turkey is among the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. More than 17,000 people were killed in August 1999 when a 7.6 magnitude quake struck Izmit, a city southeast of Istanbul. In 2011, a quake in the eastern city of Van killed more than 500.
Ismail Yetiskin, mayor of Izmir’s Seferihisar, said sea levels rose as a result of the quake. “There seems to be a small tsunami,” he told broadcaster NTV.
Footage on social media showed debris including refrigerators, chairs and tables floating through streets on the deluge. TRT Haber showed cars in Izmir’s Seferihisar district had been dragged by the water and piled on top of each other.
Idil Gungor, who runs a hotel in Izmir’s Seferihisar district, told broadcaster NTV that people were cleaning the debris after the floodwaters receded. She said fish had washed up on the garden of the hotel, around 50 meters from the shore.
Residents of the Greek island of Samos, which has a population of about 45,000, were urged to stay away from coastal areas, Eftyhmios Lekkas, head of Greece’s organization for anti-seismic planning, told Greece’s Skai TV.
“It was a very big earthquake, it’s difficult to have a bigger one,” said Lekkas.
High tidal wave warnings were in place in Samos, where eight people were lightly injured, according to a Greek official.
“We have never experienced anything like it,” said George Dionysiou, the local vice-mayor. “People are panicking.” A Greek police spokesman said there was damage to some old buildings on the island.
The foreign ministers of Turkey and Greece — which have been caught up in a bitter dispute over ownership of potential hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean — spoke by phone after the earthquake and said they were ready to help one another, Ankara said.
AFAD put the magnitude of the earthquake at 6.6, while the US Geological Survey said it was 7.0. It was felt along Turkey’s Aegean coast and the northwestern Marmara region, media said.