The Conservative Party has been given a free pass on Islamophobia

Demanding action on Islamophobia is not a demand for special treatment for Muslims but rather equal treatment.

Islamophobia Awareness Month

The implosion of the Tory party has featured heavily in our media recently, with no shortages of scandals to mention, as the government reels from one crisis to the next. Yet there’s been one major scandal that continues to receive little attention, despite its significance to communities up and down the country and despite the fact that it speaks volumes of just how bad this government is.

At its heart is a very basic question of equality and whether the government feels committed to rooting out discrimination against people because of their faith and race. That crisis is none other than Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry within the Conservative Party. Indeed, the current party of government is riddled with Islamophobia from top to bottom and it knows it can get away with it, brushing it under the carpet, because many sections of the press, whose purpose it is to hold power to account, will either just ignore it or engage in it themselves. Asking some of our tabloid press to care about Islamophobia is at times a bit like asking an arsonist to put out a fire that they started.

A few days ago, Michael Gove, who recently returned to government, confirmed that the government will not be coming up with its own ‘working definition of Islamophobia’, despite promising British Muslim communities over three years ago to come up with one. The story was revealed in the Independent, has received little attention since and to add insult to injury, the announcement was made just days before the start of Islamophobia Awareness Month.

The latest development in this sorry saga shows just how far the government  has failed British Muslims, choosing to do nothing, despite Muslims being the most frequently targeted group for religious hate crimes in England and Wales.

Over three years ago, the government rejected the definition of Islamophobia put forward by the APPG on British Muslims, citing concerns over free speech. This despite the fact that it’s been widely accepted by other major political parties, including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives. 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.

But none of this has mattered to the Conservative Party which continues to drag its feet over Islamophobia. By portraying it as a contested term, it has also allowed the party an excuse to let itself off the hook. It cannot be in breach for failing to deal with a hatred it refuses to define and won’t let its victims define either.

The party is safe in the knowledge that many sections of the press will continue to turn a blind eye to its refusal to deal with widespread bigotry towards Muslims within its ranks. That’s why it knows it can quietly reinstate councillors who have previously been suspended for posting Islamophobic and racist content online, with some describing Saudis as “sand peasants” and sharing material comparing Asian people to dogs. So much for that zero tolerance approach.

What about that independent investigation the Tories promised into Islamophobia, but which was downgraded into one looking at all forms of prejudice? It was carried out by Professor Swaran Singh. Myself and the journalist Peter Oborne have reported how the probe failed to approach many Tory party members who had suffered Islamophobic abuse, although it did go for evidence to those who had questioned the term Islamophobia.

Meanwhile, Tory MP Nus Ghani, alleged at the start of the year that she was sacked as a minister because of her Muslim faith. Among the Tory grassroots, Hope Not Hate found 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. It’s pretty clear that the Tory party is riddle with Islamophobia from top to bottom.

Given that it’s so obvious that the Conservative Party is in no fit state to address Islamophobia and bigotry towards Muslims and refuses to do so, isn’t it time then for the EHRC to investigate the party?

What message does this refusal to do so send out to British Muslim communities? Demanding action on Islamophobia is not a demand for special treatment for Muslims but rather equal treatment.

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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