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Islamophobia is Endemic in the Conservative Party

New allegations made by the Conservative MP Nus Ghani are the latest evidence of endemic Islamophobia in Boris Johnson’s party, reports Adam Bienkov

Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions. Photo: Xinhua/Alamy

Islamophobia is Endemic in the Conservative Party

New allegations made by the Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani are the latest evidence of endemic Islamophobia in Boris Johnson’s party, reports Adam Bienkov

Boris Johnson on Monday announced that the Cabinet Office will investigate allegations of Islamophobia made by Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani against the Government.

Ghani alleges that a Government whip told her that she had been sacked from Boris Johnson’s Government in 2020 due to colleagues feeling “uncomfortable” about her Muslim identity.

The Conservative MP and prominent supporter of Johnson, Michael Fabricant, deepened the row on Sunday by making further inflammatory comments about Ghani.

Fabricant, who has previously faced allegations of Islamophobia himself, suggested that Ghanis’s claims “stinks”. He told Sky News: “For her to say that someone had said it’s because she’s a Muslim – I mean she’s barely someone who is obviously a Muslim. I had no idea what religion she is.”

Ghani’s allegations are just the latest in a long line of claims of Islamophobia levelled at the party and the Prime Minister himself.

Here are some of the key incidents that show how Islamophobia has become endemic in the Conservative Party.

Boris Johnson Called Muslim Women ‘Letter Boxes’

The Prime Minister has a long record of making bigoted comments about Muslim people and Islam.

In 2018, the then Foreign Secretary wrote a piece for the Telegraph comparing Muslim women to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.

He wrote that “it is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes”, adding that any female student who appeared at school or in a lecture “looking like a bank robber” should be asked to remove it.

There was a surge in hate crimes towards Muslim people in the UK in the weeks following his column, according to data compiled by the group Tell Mama.

Boris Johnson said ‘Islam is the Problem’

In the wake of the London bombings in 2005, Johnson questioned the loyalty of British Muslims and insisted that the country must accept that “Islam is the problem.”

“It will take a huge effort of courage and skill to win round the many thousands of British Muslims who are in a similar state of alienation, and to make them see that their faith must be compatible with British values and with loyalty to Britain,” he wrote.

“That means disposing of the first taboo, and accepting that the problem is Islam. Islam is the problem.”

In particularly inflammatory comments he added: “What is going on in these mosques and madrasas? When is someone going to get 18th Century on Islam’s medieval ass?”

Boris Johnson said Islamophobia is ‘Natural’

In 2005, Johnson wrote in the Spectator magazine that he believed it was only “natural” for the public to be scared of Islam.

“To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia – fear of Islam – seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke,” he said.

“Judged purely on its scripture – to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques – it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers.”

Zac Goldsmith’s ‘Dog Whistle’ Campaign Against Sadiq Khan

In 2016, the then Conservative candidate for London Mayor Zac Goldsmith ran what some Muslim colleagues in his party labelled a “disgusting” campaign against Labour’s Sadiq Khan.

During the course of the campaign, senior Conservatives accused Khan of associating with supporters of ISIS, labelled him “radical” and even suggested that he supported Sharia law.

Goldsmith, whose campaign sent out leaflets to other ethnic minority groups falsely suggesting that Khan would put their family jewellery at risk, described the Labour candidate as a “real danger to London”.

On the eve of the election, an editorial by Goldsmith was published in the Mail with a headline urging Londoners not to hand victory to a party “that believes terrorists are its friends” – accompanied by a photo of a blown-up London bus.

This attempt to play on fears about Khan’s Muslim identity was pushed by senior figures in the party, including David Cameron and Theresa May.

Following criticism of the tactics, the current Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch dismissed them, posting on Twitter: “Why should Sadiq Khan get a free pass from hanging out with extremists just because he is a Muslim?”

Goldsmith was later made a life peer in the House of Lords by Boris Johnson.

Islamophobia Goes ‘Right Up to the Top’ of the Conservative Party

In an interview with me in 2018, the Conservative peer and former co-chair of the party said that Islamophobia goes “right up to the top” of the Tory Party.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who served in David Cameron’s Government, said that Islamophobia was “very widespread” in the party but was being deliberately ignored for electoral reasons.

In comments that echo those made by Ghani at the weekend, Baroness Warsi also said that she was told that her Cabinet colleagues felt “uncomfortable” with her presence in Government.

“I remember being told once in Cabinet [that] ‘colleagues are uncomfortable with the amount of notes you’re taking around the Cabinet table. You seem to take a lot more notes than anybody else’,” she said.

Later, when Baroness Warsi became a minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, one of her aides was taken aside by an official working for the Conservative Party and told to “keep an eye” on her due to unspecified concerns the party had.

At the time, Baroness Warsi’s claims were dismissed by Theresa May’s Government.

Anti-Muslim Content Shared By Conservative MP

The Conservative MP Bob Blackman faced no action from the Conservative Party after sharing an anti-Muslim article on Facebook.

Blackman shared the article headlined ‘Muslim Somali Sex Gang Say Raping White British Children “Part of their Culture”’ back in 2018.

The MP, who previously said that he had retweeted another anti-Islam post “in error”, later deleted his post and said that he regretted “any upset” he had caused.

Conservative Party Members Believe Racist Myths About Muslims

Anti-Muslim bigotry is widespread among Conservative Party members, a poll conducted in 2019 suggested.

Among other things, the YouGov poll found that of those surveyed:

Responding to the findings, Hope Not Hate’s campaign director Matthew McGregor said: “From the grassroots to the great offices of state, Conservative members buy into racist myths”.

An Endemic Problem

The above claims are just some of those that have been levelled against the Conservative Party in recent years. However, rather than take them seriously and work to solve the problem, both Boris Johnson and his predecessors have dismissed the issue and sought to attack those making allegations.

In the hours following Nusrat Ghani’s revelations, Johnson’s Government also sought to do this. The Chief Whip, Mark Spencer, identified himself as the individual alleged to have made the comments to Ghani and denied the allegations as “defamatory”. Downing Street also released a statement seeking to undermine her claims by saying that she had failed to make a formal complaint when she first raised the issue.

However, the fact that Ghani chose not choose to make a formal complaint is unsurprising, given that she says she was also warned that doing so would see her career destroyed.

Of course racism and Islamophobia exists in all parts of the public sphere. However, it is exactly this sort of dismissive reaction at the highest levels of Government which suggests that there is an institutional problem within the Conservative Party.

At the time of writing, it is still unclear exactly what the terms are of the Cabinet Office inquiry that has been launched into Ghani’s claims or how rigorous it will be.

The results of previous investigations into the party are not encouraging however.

The Conservative Party’s own 2021 investigation was critical of its handling of the issue and identified remarks made by Johnson and Goldsmith that were problematic. The report, produced by Professor Swaran Singh into how the party deals with discrimination complaints, found that there was “evidence of discrimination” in the Conservative Party, but that it was “not systemic”. It also specifically dismissed claims that the party was “institutionally Islamophobic”.

It remains to be seen whether this latest investigation will go any further.

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