Don't let Boris' Brexit chaos distract from shameful Tory Islamophobia

Don't let Boris' Brexit chaos distract from shameful Tory Islamophobia
Comment: Britain's Conservative Party is Islamophobic to its core, and is legitimising anti-Muslim hate crimes in Britain, writes Nick McAlpin.
6 min read
04 Sep, 2019
Boris Johnson has called for an election on 15 October [Getty]
Specific instances of Islamophobia within Britain's Conservative Party have been widely reported in recent years, and especially in recent months.

Perhaps the most infamous of these occurred last year, when now-Prime Minister Boris Johnson compared burqa-wearing Muslim women to 'bank robber[s]' and 'letter boxes' in the right-wing British daily, The Telegraph.

On Tuesday, the gravity of such appalling remarks became clear, with the release of UK-based Islamophobia monitoring project, Tell MAMA's annual report.

The group recorded a 375 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate incidents in the week following the offending column - the most significant spike of 2018.

These deplorable comments would come back to bite Boris upon his election as Party leader and prime minister. Citing Johnson's "moral unfitness" to lead and his burqa jibes, ex-Conservative Muslim Forum chairman Mohammed Amin immediately quit the Party on hearing news of the former Mayor of London's victory.

Since he took the helm, Boris has also come under fire for hiring an aide who once referred to an anti-Islam activist as "a hero".

As a result of his racism, and innumerable other cases of anti-Muslim bigotry found throughout the Party, critics - including former Conservative chairwoman Sayeeda Warsi - have slammed the Tories as institutionally Islamophobic.
The group recorded a 375 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate incidents in the week following Boris' offending column
According to the Institute for Race Relations, Institutional Islamophobia is that which is found "in the policies, procedures, operations and culture" of an organisation. It may, but need not be intentional. This is potentially even more damaging than individually held Islamophobic views, given the power behind some organisations and institutions.

In an effort to highlight the issue of Tory Islamophobia, an authoritative, agreed-upon definition of Islamophobia may serve as a useful a metric, and an important step forward in fighting anti-Muslim hatred.

Earlier this year the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims finalised its working definition of Islamophobia.

This is not the first attempt in UK politics to define bigotry against a religious group. The APPG's definition was modelled on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, which was, albeit, severely criticised for its attempt to restrict freedom of speech.

But the APPG definition has the backing of many British Muslim organsiations, the Muslim Council of Britain, the Muslim Charities Forum, and the Muslim Association of Britain included.

Furthermore, it has the support of dozens of academics working in relevant fields and has been adopted by almost every major political party at Westminster. That is, with the notable exception of the Conservatives, although the Scottish party has indeed embraced it.

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Applying the APPG definition to a review of the Conservative Party's conduct makes it abundantly clear that the Party is deeply Islamophobic, both on the level of the individual member, and as an institution.

For instance, the two recent YouGov/Hope Not Hate polls of Conservative members demonstrate that jaw dropping scale of the crisis.

Lowlights include the revelation that 67 percent of Conservative Party members "believe the lie that 'there are areas in Britain that operate under Sharia law.'"

Moreover, 60 percent of Party members consider that "Islam is generally a threat to Western civilisation."

Most depressingly, 40 percent of members "believe that we should lower the number of Muslims entering Britain" - compared to 5 percent for Christians and Jews - and 43 percent "would prefer to not have the country led by a Muslim."

The first two stances outlined above unquestionably fall foul of the second example provided in the APPG's definition, as they make "demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Muslims as such, or Muslims as a collective group."

The others are almost certainly based on such allegations about Muslims, and also violate the APPG's definition.

The examples provided are for illustrative purposes only - they are not exhaustive. The definition itself, which is wider in scope, states simply that "Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness."
The pattern is so consistently repeated that it indisputably constitutes a culture of Islamophobia
Clearly, singling out a marginalised, largely minority ethnic religious group for discrimination regarding their right to participate in different levels of society passes any reasonable person's litmus test for racism.

These are particularly vicious examples of discrimination, with significant consequences for Muslims.

On question after question, majorities or large minorities of the Conservative members surveyed concurred with Islamophobic bigotry.

The pattern is so consistently repeated that it indisputably constitutes a culture of Islamophobia, proving that the Party's Islamophobia problem is absolutely institutional. That said, even more compelling evidence for this assertion exists.

Cast your mind back to Zac Goldsmith's 2016 mayoral campaign. Goldsmith - and then-PM David Cameron - demonised Labour's candidate, Sadiq Khan, by shamefully attempting to associate him with terrorism.

Read more:  Ban Boris, not the burqa

For those who are still in any doubt, such behaviour clearly reflects the APPG's definition of Islamophobia. While some high-profile Tories condemned the campaign, there was no official censure for his conduct. In fact, in July Goldsmith was made a junior minister within Boris Johnson's government, along with MP Nadine Dorries, another notorious Islamophobe.

Then came Boris' burqa comments. Even though he attacked Muslim women's expression of their faith through their clothing by dehumanising them and comparing them to criminal elements (corresponding to incident C from the APPG's definition), his comments were deemed by an independent panel to be 'respectful' and 'tolerant.'

As a result, he faced no disciplinary action for his loathsome remarks. Unfortunately, these are but two well-known occasions on which there was reportedly no action taken by the Tories.

Moreover, now ex-party chairman Brandon Lewis was accused of ignoring repeated calls to investigate instances of alleged racism and Islamophobia during his tenure. According to The Guardian, one former local party chair believes that "Lewis was misleading the public when he claimed that he investigated all allegations."
Moreover, 60 percent of Party members consider that "Islam is generally a threat to Western civilisation."
It was later revealed that 15 Conservative councillors who were previously suspended over Islamophobia and other forms of racism were discreetly reinstated.

The Tories' continual failure to provide a functioning disciplinary system in cases of anti-Muslim racism constitutes institutional Islamophobia.

It is rooted in the Party's policies and operations, and "chronically" puts Muslims "at a disadvantage" regarding their access to justice and ability to participate in the Party free from harassment.

On 4 August however, Lewis' replacement, James Cleverly, told Sky News that there would be an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Party's ranks. Nevertheless, the MP for Braintree has previously denied that the Tories have an Islamophobia problem and has been accused of parroting far-right arguments about the relationship between Islamophobia and racism.

Given what formerly appeared to be a U-turn from Boris on his commitment to conduct a specific, independent inquiry into Conservative Party Islamophobia, there's no guarantee that what was promised will actually be delivered.

One thing, however, is for certain - Britain's Conservative Party has truly failed British Muslims, and is now undeniably Islamophobic to its core.

With the country now distracted by Brexit and on high alert for a general election as early as 14 October, the public should ponder on the Tories' bigotry before they place their cross.

Nick McAlpin is a freelance journalist and Cambridge UK Masters scholar on the University of Cambridge’s MPhil Social Anthropology programme. He writes about Middle Eastern and British politics and social movements, with a focus on Palestine.

Follow him on Twitter: @NickGMcAlpin

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.