UK’s Conservatives urged to do more to stop Islamophobia

UK’s Conservatives urged to do more to stop Islamophobia
Two-thirds of all discrimination allegations against Conservative members involved Muslims. (AFP/File)
Short Url
Updated 25 May 2021

UK’s Conservatives urged to do more to stop Islamophobia

UK’s Conservatives urged to do more to stop Islamophobia
  • Call from anti-hate group follows publication of report on Islamophobia in party
  • ‘Anti-Muslim hate must be stamped out where it is found,’ director tells Arab News

LONDON: British-Muslim anti-hate organization Tell MAMA has told Arab News that the Conservatives need to do more to “stamp out” hate after publication on Tuesday of a report on Islamophobia in the party.

The report, compiled by former equality and human rights commissioner Prof. Swaran Singh, found that anti-Muslim sentiment “remained a problem” that “alienates a significant section of society” and “should make for uncomfortable reading for the party.”

Two-thirds of all discrimination allegations against Conservative members involved Muslims, it added, suggesting issues remain at local levels and at least one member of every party association should receive anti-discrimination training within 12 months of the report’s publication.

Tell MAMA said it had uncovered multiple cases of party members engaging in “discriminatory content or language directed at or about Muslims.”

Iman Atta, its director, told Arab News: “Many Muslims will read this report with interest. The report mentions the problems of anti-Muslim prejudice, though not at an institutional level. However, we know that the problem is with some local associations, and no one should underestimate the impact of the actions of local associations.”

She said: “We met the Conservative Party over a number of years to explain our findings and how we could voluntarily train up local associations in the spare time of our staff, so that there was no conflict of interest. No such offers were taken up.”

She added: “Any prejudice that is even seen to be tacitly accepted by re-admitting (expelled) people into local associations with a history of bigoted anti-Muslim comments risks damaging political positions and making any political party part of the problem, and not the solution.”

Atta said: “There is finally an acknowledgment that there is a problem that needs to be dealt with regarding the ‘merry-go-round’ of associations and politicians who have thought that there would be no comeback to their actions of re-accepting people who have made anti-Muslim comments before, or to those politicians who have overtly or covertly played to audiences who see Muslims as being somehow suspect or faulty.

“However, this does not end here. There is a lot more work to be done, and one element is ensuring that … Islamophobia is systematically driven out through training, policies or procedures throughout local associations and within the national party, if and when it rears its ugly head.

“We wait to see how the report can be implemented and whether Tell MAMA will be reached out to. Anti-Muslim hate must be stamped out where it is found.”

Singh’s report highlighted prominent examples of allegations of Islamophobia, including against former mayor of London candidate Zac Goldsmith, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson over a newspaper column he wrote in 2018 comparing Muslim women wearing niqabs to bank robbers and letterboxes. Tell MAMA said this was followed by a 375 percent increase in Islamophobic incidents.

Conservative MP and former Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid said the report shows “distressing examples of anti-Muslim sentiment” but added that Johnson is not, in his view, Islamophobic, and “respects anyone from any background, any community.”

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), meanwhile, issued a “guarded welcome” to the report, praising that it recognizes that “Islamophobia has been a serious issue for the party and that concerns had too easily been denied and dismissed.”

It added: “Many of the (report’s) recommendations reflect the MCB’s longstanding concerns, and the Conservative Party must acknowledge the scale of the problem, apologize for the failures highlighted and adopt the investigation’s recommendations.”

But the MCB said the report did not do enough to “address the structural nature of Islamophobia in the party,” how it has “impacted many elements of its culture, and how the party had been disingenuous in its public responses.”

Campaign group HOPE Not Hate also praised the report for recognizing “that the party’s processes were poor, fell short of basic standards, and are in need of an overhaul.” But it criticized the report for being an “arms-length investigation.”

CEO Nick Lowles said: “The report also fails to recognize the institutional nature of the problem. It ignores the cultural issues amongst grassroots members, and how a number of members, including leadership figures, are able to make Islamophobic comments, and are aided and abetted by a complaints system not fit for purpose.

“This has led to a deep and embedded institutional problem that the Conservatives have been unable or unwilling to address.”