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Why Haven’t the Tory Leadership Candidates Been Held to Account Over Islamophobia?

Basit Mahmood calls out the active suppression of the Conservative Islamophobia scandal

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss during a televised Conservative Party leadership debate. Photo: Imageplotter / Alamy

Why Haven’t the Tory Leadership Candidates Been Held to Account Over Islamophobia?

Basit Mahmood calls out the active suppression of the Conservative Islamophobia scandal

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The Conservative leadership race has once again turned a blind eye to the Conservative Party’s Islamophobia problem.

Yes, the state of the economy matters, as does the cost of living crisis, soaring inflation, Britain’s post-Brexit relationship, and climate change, but so does the crisis of bigotry within the Conservative Party towards Muslims.

Tackling prejudice against minorities shouldn’t be seen as something that’s in competition with all the ‘other priorities’. You would think that rooting out bigotry and prejudice towards minority communities would be a priority for any party that claims to lead a tolerant, liberal democracy – but this is apparently not an opinion shared by the Conservative Party.

When was the last time that any of the leadership candidates were asked, either as part of the live debates or anywhere else, about what they intend to do about Islamophobia? The problem hasn’t exactly gone away. Indeed, the party has quietly reinstated candidates and has let them run for election even though they have been suspended for Islamopohobic remarks in the past

And therein lies much of the problem. The Conservative Party knows that it can get away with not tackling Islamophobia in its ranks, which is widespread and deep rooted, because it knows that the bulk of the media is willing to look the other way. It also knows that many of its members share Islamophobic views.

The problem exists not only among the grassroots membership but also among the upper echelons of the party. MPs like Nadine Dorries have retweeted Tommy Robinson, while Bob Blackman has invited speakers who praised the Rohingya genocide to Parliament.

According to a Hope Not Hate report, 57% of party members have a negative attitude towards Muslims, with almost half of party members (47%) believing that Islam is “a threat to the British way of life”. In addition, 58% believe “there are no go areas in Britain where Sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter”.

More recently, we had a Conservative minister, Nus Ghani, who says that she was told that she was being fired from her post because of her Muslim faith. What message does this send out to young British Muslims, who one day may want to serve the country they call home, only to realise that their faith would be held against them?


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A Silent Scandal

The scandal of Islamophobia however, which is having real-life consequences among British Muslim communities, leading to apathy, frustration and disappointment,  has never really interested large swathes of the press. This is not least because some of the most influential papers in our country have themselves produced false, bigoted and inaccurate claims about Muslim communities.

Yet, despite repeated examples of bigotry, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has repeatedly refused to investigate the Conservative Party over Islamophobia. One would think that a minister allegedly being sacked over their faith would result in an investigation, but still nothing.

Whenever I’ve approached the EHRC for an update, all I’ve been told is that the body is monitoring the Conservative Party’s progress and that it doesn’t refuse to rule out raising concerns with the party, but that’s about as far as it ever goes.

The question then ought to be put to the EHRC: if ministers are allegedly sacked because of their faith, if councillors who have compared Asians to dogs and posted Islamophobic remarks are quietly reinstated, then where exactly is the bar to trigger an investigation?

Remember the party’s own ‘independent investigation into Islamophobia’? During the 2019 Tory leadership election, the candidates agreed to an independent inquiry into Islamophobia only for it to be downgraded to a general inquiry into all forms of prejudice.

Peter Oborne and I revealed how it was a sham investigation, recruiting an advisor who questioned the very term Islamophobia while selectively approaching members for evidence. We also learnt that the investigation had failed to take evidence from those party members who had experienced Islamophobia. Just how exactly the EHRC can say it was satisfied with such an investigation is astounding.

New Study HighlightsAnti-Muslim Bigotryof the Spectator Magazine

Brian Cathcart

It has also been more than three years since the Government first pledged to come up with its own definition of Islamophobia, yet still we’ve had nothing. In May 2019, the Government said that it would come up with its own “working definition of Islamophobia”, after claiming that the definition proposed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims was not in line with the Equality Act 2010 and could “undermine free speech”.

This is despite the fact that the definition is not legally binding, and the APPG report into the definition repeatedly references guaranteeing free speech.

The APPG definition of Islamophobia was widely accepted by other major political parties, including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives. Even senior police chiefs who had initially expressed scepticism over fears the definition could undermine efforts to combat extremism, later urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to adopt it, saying they had been reassured it would not hinder their work.

Since then, the Government has not only failed to come up with its own definition but also sacked its own advisor on Islamophobia, Qari Asim.

In a prime example of how right-wing forces sanction Islamophobia, earlier this week the Daily Mail published a front page attack on leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt for daring to meet with the Muslim Council of Britain’s first female general secretary, Zara Mohammed, because the group was being boycotted by the Government.

As Mohammed articulated so perfectly in response, the aim of the story was to portray Muslims as “foreign and un-British”.

“I think it’s good to talk. I’ve had the pleasure of engaging with politicians from across the spectrum, including some Conservatives,” she added, “but this ‘boycott’ seems to be relentlessly pursued by unnamed individuals at the heart of government.”

It’s striking that the scandal of Islamophobia in the current party of government continues to be ignored by so many. It’s about time the Conservative Party was held to account for it.

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