Government continues to bury its head in the sand over Islamophobia

Kemi Badenoch refused to even use the word Islamophobia in her answers

Islamophobia Awareness Month

The government continues to bury its head in the sand when it comes to Islamophobia and rooting out discrimination against Muslims, including among its own party members.

Questions on Islamophobia and what measures the government was undertaking to tackle it were raised by Labour MPs Afzal Khan and Imran Hussain yesterday, where both MPs asked Tory minister for levelling up communities, Kemi Badenoch, what was being done to root out Islamophobia.

Islamophobia remains a serious problem in society, with the issue overtaking immigration as the ‘key driver’ behind the rise of the far-right. It is also widespread and institutional in the Conservative Party, with a Hope Not Hate report finding that 57 percent of party members had a negative attitude towards Muslims, with almost half of party members (47 percent) believing that Islam is “a threat to the British way of life”. In addition, 58 percent believe “there are no go areas in Britain where Sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter”.

Former Tory minister Nus Ghani also says she was sacked from a ministerial post and alleged that a whip had told her it was because of her ‘Muslim faith’.

Labour MP Afzal khan asked if the minister would ‘follow in the footsteps of the Labour party and take steps to tackle Islamophobia in the UK, starting with a truly independent investigation into the Conservative party? Will she outline when the UK last submitted a report to the UN’s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, as required of all signatories to the convention?

Thus far the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has refused to investigate the Conservative Party.

In response, Badenoch said: “The Government do remain committed to stamping out anti-Muslim hatred and all forms of religious prejudice. I have had conversations with the hon. Gentleman and I am due to meet the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims very shortly. We will outline our next steps in due course but we are actively working on this.”

It’s now been more than two years since the government pledged to come up with its own ‘working definition of Islamophobia’ after rejecting the definition put forward by the APPG on British Muslims. British Muslims it seems, as are not allowed to define their own suffering.

The MP for Bradford East, Imran Hussain, then pointed out that Islamophobia is rife and on the rise and asked what confidence his constituents could have in a government that refuses to tackle Islamophobia even within its own ranks.

Badenoch continued to insist that the accusations were ‘completely untrue’. She added: “We are doing everything we can to tackle not just anti-Muslim hatred but all forms of prejudice in our society”, before going on to cite how much money the government had given to anti-hate crime campaigns and groups.

If it is completely untrue, according to Badenoch, that the government has failed to root out Islamophobia among its own party members, how does she explain that a member who had previously shared a tweet claiming Muslims have ‘nasty culture’ went on to become an association chair. Why has the party quietly reinstated councillors who have shared posts calling for Muslims to be deported and described Saudis as “sand peasants”.

Qari Asim, an imam appointed by ministers as a key adviser on Islamophobia said earlier in the year that he has been ignored by Number 10 and Michael Gove.

Badenoch couldn’t even bring herself to use the word Islamophobia in her answers. The party cites concerns over freedom of speech regarding the definition of Islamophobia put forward by the APPG on British Muslims. This is despite the fact that the definition is not legally binding and the report into the definition repeatedly makes references to guaranteeing free speech.

Even senior police chiefs who had initially expressed scepticism over fears the definition could undermine efforts to combat extremism, later urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to adopt it, saying they had been reassured it would not hinder their work.

The truth is that the government continues to bury its head in the sand over Islamophobia and refuses to deal with a prejudice that continues to be experienced by communities up and down the country.

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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