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Islamophobia Remains a Problem Within the UK Conservative Party

“The manner in which this inquiry has been conducted means it is nothing but an attempt to whitewash deep-rooted issues out of sight.”  

The inquiry looking into Islamophobia in the Conservative party has finally published its long-awaited report. It found that “anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem.” 

It states that high-profile incidents including Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s comments in 2018 comparing Muslim women wearing a burka to ‘letter boxes’ and ‘bank robbers,’  “give the impression to many that the party and its leadership are insensitive to Muslim communities.”

The report was released almost two years after Boris Johnson ordered a review into how the Conservative Party tackles discrimination after it was accused of failing to tackle Islamophobia within its own party.

Boris Johnson also wrote an article in 2005 for the Spectator, stating: “to any non-Muslim reader of the Quran, Islamophobia – fear of Islam – seems a natural reaction.” According to the report, Boris Johnson told the inquiry that he had studied the Quran and did not believe that Islam or Muslims in Britain posed a threat to the nation.

In regards to his Islamophobic comments about women in burqas, Johnson told the inquiry: “My writings are often parodic, satirical…..It was an honest defense for a woman’s right to wear what she chooses.”  

But for many women who choose to wear a burqa, this did nothing to defend their rights. Islamophobic attacks in the UK increased 375% after Boris Johnson’s scathing comments, according to Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks).

During the 2016 London mayoral election, Zac Goldsmith was accused of running a racist and Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan. He accused Khan of alleged links with Islamic extremists while working as a human rights lawyer.

The report states that Zac Goldsmith “accepts poor judgement in the way his campaign was conducted but forcefully denies harbouring anti-Muslim sentiments or using such sentiments for political advantage”.

Despite losing his MP seat in 2019, Boris Johnson awarded Goldsmith with a life peerage, making him a member of the House of Lords. During evidence, Goldsmith stated: “A large number of Muslim Londoners felt personally insulted by what they had been told was my campaign message.” He added, “That is of course a source of major regret and sadness on my part.”

Professor Swaran Singh, former equality and human rights commissioner, analysed 1,418 complaints in the Conservative’s complaints database between 2015 and 2020. 727 incidents related to allegations of discrimination with 496 specifically relating to ‘anti-Muslim’ discrimination. There was no action taken for 418 incidents.

In a 44,000-word report on his findings, he said: “Judging by the extent of complaints and findings of misconduct by the party itself that relates to anti-Muslim words and conduct, anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the party…This is damaging to the party, and alienates a significant section of society.”

The Muslim Council of Britain issued a press statement, expressing: “While recognising the sheer scale of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, the Investigation does fall short of acknowledging the root causes of this bigotry. It does not address the structural nature of Islamophobia in the Party, how racism had impacted many elements of its culture, and how the Party had been disingenuous in its public responses. Furthermore, the Investigation fails to cover the polling data highlighting the scale of Islamophobia amongst the Party membership, and does not recommend specific training related to Islam and Muslims as is warranted given the scale of the problem.”

Sajjad Karim, who was a Tory MEP for 12 years and chaired the European parliament’s working group on Islamophobia, said: “The manner in which this inquiry has been conducted means it is nothing but an attempt to whitewash deep-rooted issues out of sight.”  

The report also found there has been a “lack of transparency” in the complaints process but there is “no evidence” that complaints about Islam are treated differently from other forms of discrimination. The report concludes there was no evidence of “institutional racism.” 

However, Conservatives’ first female Muslim cabinet minister, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, said each section of the report “reveals a deep and embedded issue of a party at best unable and at worst unwilling to deal with the issue of racism”.

Baroness Warsi who campaigned for six years against Islamophobia in the Conservative Party told Sky News: “I think the findings of this report show clearly that the Conservative Party is institutionally racist, that’s based upon the definition of what is institutional racism…The way I see it – if it looks like institutional racism, feels like institutional racism, fits the definition of institutional racism – then, I’m afraid it is institutional racism.”

According to The Independent, victims of alleged racism had complained of being ignored – while the inquiry was restricted to complaint-handling, rather than why many Muslims feel unwelcome in the party.

The Singh report concludes that an action plan must be published with the next six weeks, a progress report within six months and there should be a one-year review completed by an appropriate body. It also recommends a new code of conduct for Conservative Party members within the next six months. 

Many people including Baroness Warsi have been calling upon the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to launch its own investigation into racism in the Conservative Party, despite Professor Singh being a former commissioner of the EHCR.

The report fails to fully acknowledge the validity of the word Islamophobia, by either placing it within inverted commas or replacing it with ‘anti-Muslim sentiment.’ It also overlooks the serious consequences, which inevitably affects the Muslim community. “Poor judgement” cannot be used as an excuse for Islamophobia. 

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