You can't take Islamophobia out of the Tory party

You can't take Islamophobia out of the Tory party
Comment: An inquiry into Tory Islamophobia would be futile; it's a cornerstone party value, writes Ruqaya Izzidien.
6 min read
05 Jul, 2018
During the 2016 mayoral campaign, Conservative Zac Goldsmith attempted to link Khan with terrorism [Getty]
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has long criticised the Islamophobia that plagues the Conservative party. 

Yesterday, she joined the Muslim Council of Britain, the Muslim Women's Network and British Muslims for Secular Democracy - as well as other voices - in calling for a complete inquiry into Islamophobia in the Tory party.

The former party chair called for complete transparency and overhaul, "The process should be published, those who are found wanting should be publicly named and membership withdrawn."

But what would the Conservative party of today be without its dog-whistle politics?

A party without a brutally xenophobic attitude towards foreigners, that does not exploit and condemn bigotry in accordance with its own needs; a party that doesn't surveil and incite suspicion towards Muslims, is almost unimaginable for today's Conservative party.

You cannot take the Islamophobia out of the Tory party.

It is a core tenet, and has been instrumental in the success of its representatives in the last decade, much like migration fear-mongering. Of course, fear of the foreigner and fear of the Muslim are inextricable in today's environment, with Trump's travel ban, grotesque language directed at Syrian and Iraqi refugees and snowballing hate crimes directed towards Muslims, which increased fivefold last year.

Islamophobia is a core tenet, and has been instrumental in Tory success in the last decade

David Cameron's decision in 2010 to limit migration to tens of thousands rather than 200,000 per year (a goal since adopted by Theresa May) was professed with the nonchalance of someone setting their entertainment budget for the month. Strict immigration restrictions are the foundation of today's Tory party ideology.

As Nesrine Malik wrote back in April, "It is not incompetence, it is not even malice. It is an enthusiastic strategy that over the past decade has become a cornerstone, a defining element of Conservative governments. An immigration policy, very much like austerity, unafraid to be brutal."

The Conservative party and its members have consistently taken advantage of, and stirred, xenophobic and anti-immigration sentiment for their own political gain.

In 2010, then Home Secretary Amber Rudd was criticised for suggesting foreigners were taking British jobs. She responded with the classic distorted priority of saying, "don't call me a racist," when the discussion should have been centred on her incitement of xenophobia and the drawing of battle lines between Britain and the dreaded foreigner.    

In 2013, the Home Office was accused of racially motivated immigration spot-checks at London Underground stations. In the same year, areas home to ethnic minorities were subjected to intimidation by billboards on vans that instructed communities to "Go home or face arrest," in an attempt to catch illegal immigrants that was so crude, even UKIP's Nigel Farage deemed it "nasty".

Under the Tory-led coalition government, the Home Office introduced regulations that have split up an estimated 33,000 families who are unable to meet the minimum salary requirement for bringing over a non-EU citizen spouse.

Islamophobia is simply a tool the Tories use to their advantage, whether by reinforcing, or condemning it, depending on the situation

After Zac Goldsmith's embarrassingly Islamophobic mayoral campaign, in which he exploited anti-Muslim prejudice by attempting to link Sadiq Khan to terrorism, the Conservative party saw fit last year to rehire Lynton Crosby, the election strategist behind the Islamophobic campaign.

Only once Khan beat Goldsmith to the post did senior Conservative detractors condemn the dog-whistle politics, proving that it truly is the victor who writes history.

The Conservative Party is so far removed from the real-life effects of Islamophobia that to their MPs, it is simply a tool to use to their advantage, whether by reinforcing it or condemning it, depending on the situation.

This became clear to former Conservative Shazia Awan-Scully who was paraded as the token Muslim, while being praised for her modernity (she chooses not to wear the hijab) and for being "allowed" to participate in politics.

Now a member of Welsh Labour, she wrote this week, "Now, though, as I cast my mind back to my Conservative party journey, I realise I was often made to feel like some sort of exotic exhibit. I was the token, tick box exercise - a modern Muslim woman that they could show off."

She's not alone. After openly stating that he does not practice any religion, and that the only religion in his household is [his wife's] Christianity, Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, attempted to deny Islamophobia existed in the Tory party by pointing to his appointment as proof. At worst, this is lying subterfuge, and at best, volunteering as the paradoxical poster boy in order to further promote Islamophobia.

The Prevent programme aimed at countering terrorism has been problematic since its inception. But under Conservative leadership it has rolled out stigmatising protocols, co-opting teachers and healthcare providers into the surveillance of ordinary Muslims.

In 2016, one teacher described Prevent training as "crude and often involves loads of stereotypes," which include the suggestion that hiding a Quran in a bedroom, changing friends and appearance, and (ironically) feeling persecuted are legitimate signs of radicalisation.

Over the course of just one year, more than 2,000 young children were referred to Prevent.

The tone-deaf letter from Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to Muslim leaders in 2015 victim-blames Muslims for Islamophobia, and called on them to do more to root out terror, and to demonstrate what Islam is, if not terroristic.

The letter also discussed the Muslim identity and British identity as two mutually exclusive identities, even though 55 percent of UK Muslims value their British identity, compared to 44 percent of the general population.

As Home Secretary in 2015, Theresa May pledged to make Islamophobic hate crimes a more serious offence, but instead they soared by 23 percent under her leadership, in the months following the EU referendum. Anti-Muslim attacks rose 47 percent in 2016.

Islamophobia is the Conservative party's golden goose du jour

So it doesn't matter if the Conservatives investigate Islamophobia in their own party, you cannot expel a cornerstone and leave the structure intact.

And they wouldn't have it any other way, because Islamophobia is the Conservative party's golden goose du jour. It serves them in elections, in referenda, in day-to-day debates. They need it to exist, to appeal to the right wing vote.

Awan-Scully wrote that Muslim and British values are compatible because "the core principles of Islam are those of honesty, tolerance, justice, fairness and respect for all people. There is no reason core British and Muslim values should not overlap."

But it is precisely for the reasons she states, that Muslim values and Tory values are incompatible.

Ruqaya Izzidien is a British-Iraqi freelance writer specialising in social and cultural affairs. Her work has been published in The New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC and Al Jazeera English, and her upcoming novel is entitled The Watermelon Boys.

Follow her on Twitter: @RuqayaIzzidien

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.