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.


Danish PM in tears after visiting mink farmer whose animals were culled

Updated 26 November 2020

Danish PM in tears after visiting mink farmer whose animals were culled

COPENHAGEN: Denmark’s Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen broke down on Thursday when visiting a mink farmer who lost his herd following the government’s order this month to cull all 17 million mink in the country to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Frederiksen has faced opposition calls to resign and a vote of no confidence in parliament after an order by the government in early November, which it later admitted was illegal, to cull the country’s entire mink population.
The order was given after authorities found COVID-19 outbreaks at hundreds of mink farms, including a new strain of the virus, suspected of being able to compromise the efficacy of vaccines.
“We have two generations of really skilled mink farmers, father and son, who in a very, very short time have had their life’s work shattered,” Frederiksen told reporters after a meeting with a mink farmer and his son at their farm near Kolding in Western Denmark.
“It has been emotional for them, and... Sorry. It has for me too,” Frederiksen said with a wavering voice, pausing for breath in between words.
The move to cull Denmark’s entire mink population, one of the world’s biggest and highly valued for the quality of its fur, has left the government reeling after it admitted it did not have the legal basis to order the culling of healthy mink.
After a tumultuous couple of weeks since the order was given on Nov. 4, the Minister of Agriculture, Mogens Jensen, stepped down last week after an internal investigation revealed a flawed political process.
Denmark has proposed a ban on all mink breeding in the country until 2022. Tage Pedersen, head of the Danish mink breeders’ association, said this month the industry, which employs around 6,000 people and exports fur pelts worth $800 million annually, is finished.
Denmark’s opposition says the cull of healthy mink should not have been initiated before compensation plans were in place for the owners and workers at some 1,100 mink farms.