Zamzam Ibrahim, the President of the National Union of Students, has pulled out of her engagement at the Conservative party conference due to what she calls “deeply disturbing” Islamophobia within the political party. Due to speak at two different sessions at the conference in Manchester, Ibrahim made this decision after the reports that emerged from the event called Challenging Islamophobia. Speaking to TMV, she stated:
Islamophobia continues to be treated as the acceptable face of racism amongst politicians, the press and in public discourse. Major steps need to be taken to ensure this is stamped out so Muslim communities feel they can engage in civic life.”
The Challenging Islamophobia event, hosted by the Policy Exchange think tank and chaired by broadcaster Trevor Phillips with panellists that included Tory MP Nusrat Ghani and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, resulted in journalists who attended the event reporting on an enormous lack of attention towards Islamophobia itself, and instead only focusing on the definition and linguistic aspects of the word “Islamophobia”.
This #CPC19 fringe title “challenging ‘Islamophobia’” refers to why people should challenge the concept and definition of the word Islamophobia, rather than actually challenging its occurrence.
— Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov) September 29, 2019
At one point during the event Phillips joked that he thought he was the only person to have been nominated as “Islamophobe of the Year”, to which Tatchell responded with “I’m jealous!”. Former Conservative Party Chair Baroness Sayeeda Warsi also commented on the event, claiming it made her feel “sick to my stomach” at the rampant Islamophobia within the Tory party.
I feel sick to my stomach tonight to see the Party I chaired sink to such depths
Where British Muslims have become a convenient scapegoat for populism ,a butt of insulting language to increase poll ratings & an event on Islamophobia is an opportunity to demonise Muslims #CPC19 https://t.co/4Hz74kEuZ6
— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) September 29, 2019
After the reports of the Conservative party’s despicable Islamophobic rhetoric became public, Ibrahim issued a press release in which she explained why she decided to make this controversial decision:
Despite knowing full well the long history and endemic nature of Islamophobia in the Tory party, I had every intention of fulfilling my duties to the organisation I represent. However, events on Sunday mean that I must withdraw from my commitments at this year’s Conservative Party Conference. I was horrified to see reports of what was undeniable, deeply disturbing, downright Islamophobia arising from an official Conservative Party fringe sardonically entitled ‘Challenging Islamophobia’.”
The Conservative party has long been marred by scandals of outright racism and Islamophobia, with this event on Sunday only the most recent example of a complete lack of attention towards combating the dangerous rise of right-wing and neo-fascist rhetoric towards minorities and immigrants.
In response to the criticisms emerging from the event, Tatchell has claimed: “Every speaker at the event condemned prejudice, harassment and discrimination against the Muslim community. But we also expressed concern that parliament’s sweeping definition of Islamophobia could be used to inhibit free speech and undermine legitimate criticisms of Islam, including criticisms of Islamic sexism and homophobia”.
Despite the Conservative party’s attempts to cover their track record of Islamophobia, Ibrahim remains firm in her decision to pull out of the event in Manchester, claiming that the rise in open bigotry and Islamophobia must be taken more seriously than the Conservative party is responding to as of now.
As President of NUS and a Muslim woman, I cannot in good conscience participate in a Conference that openly and willingly denies my own lived experiences, and the bigotry faced by Muslims from the far-right, from elements of our media and in communities across our country on a daily basis. With hate crimes against Muslims soaring globally, such dangerous rhetoric being disseminated at the annual national conference of our governing Party is simply abhorrent, and must be roundly condemned.”
Zamzam Ibrahim was elected as President of the National Union of Students earlier this year, after previously serving as the Vice President for Society and Citizenship. Her election came with an onslaught of Islamophobic rhetoric, with claims ranging from her extremism to her attempts to bring Islamic radicalism to the British student union.
Originally born in Sweden and the daughter of Somali refugees, Ibrahim is no stranger to the dangers of Islamophobia, and with the most recent display of the dangerous bigotry that comes out of the Conservative party on Sunday, Ibrahim remains steadfast in her decision to stand up against the rise of Islamophobia.