Isobel Ingham-Barrow on how Islamophobia in the Conservative Party needs root and branch investigation.
Few could have missed Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis’ unprecedented foray into politics last week, in which he described Jeremy Corbyn as “unfit for high office” for allowing the “poison” of anti-Semitism to “take root in the Labour Party”.
What is striking is that serious allegations of institutional prejudice appear to be becoming a defining principle of this General Election campaign – on both sides of the aisle. Indeed, in terms of whose racist and prejudicial statements, actions and policies make them “unfit for high office”, issues of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party hardly present Boris Johnson as a pinnacle of human tolerance and good leadership.
It doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in a leader’s ability to promote respect and human dignity when he uses terms such as “watermelon smiles” and “flag-waving piccaninnies”, or when he talks of “Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing”, “British Muslims as being part of a “multicultural apartheid”, and Muslim women looking like “bank robbers” and “letter boxes”.
Therefore, it is of little surprise that the standard set by Johnson is a standard witnessed across the party.
Anthony Browne, currently running as the Conservative Party candidate for South Cambridgeshire and a former aide to Boris Johnson, is one such example.
He has recently faced criticism for his past comments describing Muslims as having divided loyalties and blaming immigrants for HIV in the UK. In a unique approach to immigration, he further advised that the Government should curb levels of immigration from “the third world” to avoid “letting in too many germs”.
When it comes to allowing the poison of Islamophobia to take root in our society, in many ways, the Conservative Party seems to be supplying the fertiliser.
Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) launched a report this week, From “Letterboxes” to “Ragheads”, in which more than 120 instances of Islamophobia emanating from Conservative Members of Parliament, councillors and party candidates over the past five years are analysed. Many of those included in the report are members of the Cabinet and many continue to run as candidates in this General Election.
Beyond Boris Johnson, perhaps one of the most prominent proponents of Islamophobic agendas is Michael Gove, standing to retain his seat in Surrey Heath. One could argue that Gove can be credited as a driving force behind a neo-conservative narrative concerning Muslims and a “clash of civilisations” in the British Government’s policy framework.
His position regarding Muslim communities is perhaps best exemplified by the Trojan Horse scandal in 2014 in Birmingham, in which it was said that conservative Muslim school governors and teachers had set out to “Islamify” state schools. It was proven to be founded upon nothing more than scaremongering and conspiracy. Peter Oborne described the affair as “a lurid figment of the neo-Conservative imagination… an anti-Muslim ideological concoction, driven by Michael Gove, backed by David Cameron’s Downing Street, and aided and abetted by a group of well-placed media henchmen”.
Oborne would later warn that “a Gove premiership would be another body blow for British Muslims. He is the unsung commander-in-chief of the Islamophobes inside the Conservative Party. As a journalist he was one of the group of armchair experts on the Middle East who became cheerleaders for the Iraq War. He was one of the founding members of the Henry Jackson Society… a think tank which has been criticised for an allegedly anti-Muslim agenda and for refusing to disclose its donors.”
Other examples from MEND’s report of candidates currently running in this election include:
Andrea Leadsom – South Northamptonshire
When questioned by Labour Party candidate Naz Shah about Islamophobia within the Conservative Party, Leadsom referred her to the Foreign Office.
Nadine Dorries – Mid Bedfordshire
When Sadiq Khan released a video about Islamophobic hate speech, Dorries responded: “How about, ‘it’s time to act on sex abusing grooming gangs’ instead?” Needless to say, the powers of the Mayor of London don’t extend as far as Telford and Rotherham.
Zac Goldsmith – Richmond Park
Goldsmith’s Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan in the 2016 London Mayoral election has become synonymous with “dog-whistle politics”.
Bob Blackman – Harrow East
Blackman invited Tapan Ghosh to Parliament. Ghosh has supported the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, called upon the United Nations to control the birth rate of Muslims, and suggested that Muslims should be forced to renounce Islam if they migrate to Western countries.
Damian Green – Ashford
After receiving a letter complaining about “the excessive Muslim birth rate” and comparing Islam to Nazism, Green thanked the sender and assured him that “the Government takes the threat of extremism very seriously”.
David Davies – Monmouth
Davies argued that the burka, the niqab and other forms of the veil offer men an excuse to sexually attack uncovered women and that it “has become an excuse for sexual violence against women of the sort we saw in Cologne and other European cities on New Year’s Eve”.
Michael Fabricant – Lichfield
Whoever wins the General Election will have the responsibility of honestly representing every citizen. It is a task that leaves no room for prejudice or hatred of any form.
As long as the Conservative Party continues to ignore, dismiss and “whitesplain” the prejudice within it, it will be fundamentally incapable of completing this task.
Unfortunately, hopes that the party will launch an inquiry into Islamophobia are wearing thin. Perhaps it will take the Equality and Human Rights Commission to use its statutory powers of investigation before the party confronts the issue.
That both the Tories and Labour are under investigation for prejudice isn’t an inspiring accolade for British politics.
Isobel Ingham-Barrow is head of policy at MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development)