Muslim or not, Sajid Javid does not represent me

Muslim or not, Sajid Javid does not represent me
Comment: The appointments of Javid and Patel show that minorities can succeed in Tory Britain, but only in exchange for abandoning their kind, writes Sophia Akram.
5 min read
30 Jul, 2019
Previously home secretary, Javid is now chancellor under Johnson's new government [Getty]
The list is out and Boris Johnson has appointed not one, but two Asian cabinet ministers.

In addition, Black Conservative MPs James Cleverly and Kwasi Kwarteng were appointed party chair and a junior minister in the business department, respectively. Female Muslim Conservative and a former deputy mayor Munira Mirza was appointed head of policy at No.10.

These were the apparently commendable credentials of a "diverse" cabinet. While Priti Patel and Sajid Javid had previously served under Theresa May, even high-profile left leaners thought that two top-tier appointments at the same time was something you'd never see 20 years ago, and worthy of note.

BBC radio host Nihal Arthanayake tweeted "An Asian Home Secretary and Chancellor. Politics aside, for asian kids up and down the country that is a very visible example of representation."

Former Labour advisor Ayesha Hazarika agreed as did journalist Mehdi Hassan, saying, "I'm also the son of an Indian immigrant who faced massive racism. The symbolism of 2 Asians as Chancellor & Home Sec matters."

I get it, it's a very visible display that brown kids can break through the glass ceiling. But why these individuals got there can't be separated from the political. The very context in which we see them is everything to do with politics, and not simply merit. And their kind of politics is a far cry from the spirit of what representation and diversity should be about.

This is not representation for minorities

As a Muslim person in Britain, this Muslim cabinet minister, I can say, does not represent me.

And you don't have to go very far to know why.

In Javid's previous role as Home Secretary, most notably he stripped several British-born individuals of their citizenship, rather than see them go through due process for their alleged crimes.

In the case of Shamima Begum - an Islamic State (IS) bride - her parents were Bangladeshi-born, but Begum herself was not, reportedly able to go to Bangladesh, and would face the death penalty if she did.

Another case worrying highlighting revocation of citizenship is that of Mohammed Shakiel Shabir who was an aid worker in Syria. If Javid or the Home Office have any doubts as to whether he is actually delivering aid or has more nefarious intentions, they should prove it in a court of law.

Read more: Boris Johnson's new cabinet is a roll call of disgraced Tories

Javid seems to have forgotten his own words: He previously stated that only someone who was naturalised could be, in effect, arbitrarily stripped of their citizenship - an outrageous proposition in itself - and since 2016 there have been around 26 appeals against revocation orders. 

This new precedent places anyone with parents from a non-white background at risk of being banished by the Home Office, including me, and theoretically, the former Home Secretary himself.

On immigration and equality, Javid's voting record has been worrying or wanting. The website shows Javid was absent for major amendments to the UK's equality and immigration legislation, including when it comes to applying discrimination laws or stopping discrimination, for example, on the basis of caste. He voted to reduce the duties on the equalities commission and has generally voted against retention of human rights legislation.

While the new chancellor may have supported calls for an inquiry into Tory Islamophobia, his official statement highlights that he does not think there is an endemic problem with Islamophobia within the Party, and has shot down groups for suggesting otherwise.

This demonstrates the context in which a Muslim can hold a high-level office in the UK; by adopting a stance that is completely counter-intuitive to allying with the rights of Muslims and minorities.

Priti Patel, an open supporter of Indian premier Narendra Modi who leads the ruling Hindu nationalist party, has a track record that shows as little promise.

As international development secretary she prioritised capitalising on trade deals over providing aid to developing nations, and has previously spoken in favour of the death penalty. Lest we forget that under May, Patel fell from grace after conducting backchannel meetings with Israeli politicians, breaching the ministerial code. Boris, though, now thinks her fit to preside over issues of our national security.

Neither Javid nor Patel got their positions by championing issues that will bring our communities to the fore

Even from the broadest possible angle, both Patel and Javid are serving a party with an objectionable human rights record, with 60 percent of members believing that "Islam is generally a threat to western civilisation". 

By supporting a prime minister who is infamous for likening the appearance of Muslim women in burqas to letterboxes, and who has used terminology such as 'picaninnies', their pledge is towards a particular world view that is moving alarmingly further to the right.

This cabinet was selected mainly for its pro-Brexit composition and some might argue that it's tokenism that got Sajid Javid and Priti Patel their jobs.

But tokenism or not, what's clear is that neither Javid nor Patel got their positions by championing issues that will bring our communities to the fore.

Their pledge is towards a particular world view that is moving alarmingly further to the right

On the contrary, turning a blind eye to discrimination, cutting off protection of the state for people of dual heritage and backing Islamophobic rhetoric and policies has allowed them their day in the sun.

Rather than encouraging progress, these policies have been harmful. This is not representation for minorities, no more than seeing radical preachers such as Anjem Choudary on the BBC as "media representation" for Muslims.

The notion that "the Other" whether Muslim, Hindu, Black, Asian or any other minority group can only be deemed acceptable on the basis of their assimilation has proved itself here. And none have done it better than Javid and Patel, but not for the benefit of the minority communities they came from, who will inevitably become the target of their politics in the long run. 

Sophia Akram is a researcher and communications professional with a special interest in human rights particularly across the Middle East.

Follow her on Twitter: @mssophiaakram

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.