Many of us warned for years about the scale of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. The problem goes deeper than a few bad apples.

The demand that we tackle Islamophobia isn’t a demand for special treatment for Muslims, it’s a demand for equal treatment.

Islamophobia Awareness Month

The latest scandal engulfing the Conservative Party, of senior MPs holding disgraceful and bigoted views about Muslims, exposing the sheer scale of Islamophobia in the party’s ranks, didn’t occur in a vacuum.

Indeed, some of us have been writing about the scale of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party for a number of years now, warning that a failure to recognise the extent of the problem and to tackle it, would only serve to embolden far-right bigots both within and outside of the party.

With a general election fast approaching, and having run out of ideas, with nothing to show after their 14 years in office, the Tories have turned to culture wars and demonising minorities in a bid to pit communities against one another, whipping up moral panics in a bid to increase their support.

Plans are already underway among the likes of Liz Truss and Suella Braverman to redefine the very purpose of the Conservative Party after an expected general election defeat, to drag the Tories in the aftermath, even further to the right.

Yet the scale and problem of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party and the party’s refusal to deal with it, to even acknowledge that there is a problem, precedes Sunak.

For my own part, I’ve spent a number of years writing about the scale of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, which only a handful of journalists in the UK’s mainstream press have been highlighting consistently for a number of years now.

We’ve seen how the problem in the Conservative Party is more widespread and institutional than many in the Tory friendly press would like to admit. A HOPE not Hate survey of Tory party members found that 57 percent of party members had a negative attitude towards Muslims, with almost half (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 Islamophobia in the Conservative party is a problem of more than just a few bad apples.

From the membership all the way to MPs, the Tories have turned a blind eye to bigotry aimed at Muslims. We’ve seen a Muslim former minister, Nus Ghani, allege that she was sacked because of her faith; we’ve seen Conservative party MPs retweet far-right bigots like Tommy Robinson. One Tory MP invited a speaker into parliament who praised the Rohingya genocide; councillors who posted racist and Islamophobic statements online were quietly reinstated, while the party continues to insist that it has a zero-tolerance approach towards Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry.

To make matters worse, the Conservative Party have refused to adopt the APPG definition of Islamophobia, adopted by all other major political parties, citing concerns over free speech.

Even senior police chiefs who had initially expressed concerns that the definition could undermine efforts to combat extremism later urged the then-prime minister Boris Johnson to adopt it, saying they had been reassured it would not hinder their work. The APPG definition on Islamophobia is not legally binding.

To add insult to injury, and to show how little the Tories cared about Islamophobia, Michael Gove announced that the government had decided to scrap work towards a “working definition of Islamophobia”, his colleagues in the government having promised to come up with such a definition more than 5 years ago.

The party’s own investigation which was supposed to look at Islamophobia, but was later changed into a more general probe, was very much a whitewash. As the journalist Peter Oborne and I discovered, the investigation was selective in whom it approached for evidence of Islamophobia. While some of those who had suffered Islamophobic abuse in the Tory party were approached for their evidence, other high-profile cases were ignored.

The shameful way in which the Tories have failed to deal with Islamophobia is proof that the party cannot be trusted to deal with the matter on its own.

The recent disgraceful remarks made by the likes of Lee Anderson who claimed that Islamists had “got control” of the mayor of London, and Suella Braverman who claimed that the ‘Islamists are in charge of Britain’ are just the tip of the iceberg.

The Tories, as countless examples show, are incapable of dealing with bigotry aimed at Muslims, just look at their reactions today as they refused to call Anderson’s remarks racist.

It’s about time the EHRC investigated the Tories over Islamophobia. The demand that we tackle Islamophobia isn’t a demand for special treatment for Muslims, it’s a demand for equal treatment.

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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