‘The rot of Tory Islamophobia goes all the way to top’

As UK election nears, experts call on Conservatives to launch an inquiry into anti-Muslim racism within the party.

UK Muslim men
There are at least 2.7 million Muslims in Britain, or less than five percent of the 64 million-strong population [File: Adek Berry/AFP]

The United Kingdom’s Conservative Party has an endemic problem with Islamophobia, and its failure to deal with it has enabled a culture of intolerance and hate against the country’s Muslims, critics say.

Over the past year, Conservative politicians and members have posted anti-Muslim rhetoric on social media, prompting accusations that Islamophobia is prevalent at all levels, from local representatives to the top echelons of the party.

In a recent investigation published by The Guardian, dozens of former and current Tory councillors were found to have referred to Muslims as “barbarians” and “the enemy within”, and called for mosques to be banned.

The party suspended councillors who were still members and said it would open an investigation.

“The Conservative Party will never stand by when it comes to prejudice and discrimination of any kind,” the party said in a statement.

UK eid
Muslim women arrive at the Regent’s Park Mosque on Eid in London on August 19, 2012 [File: Adek Berry/AFP]

But the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has accused the Conservatives of having a “blind spot” when it comes to dealing with anti-Muslim racism within its ranks.

“It is abundantly clear to many Muslims that the Conservative Party tolerate Islamophobia, allow it to fester in society, and fail to put in place the measures necessary to root out this type of racism,” the MCB said in a statement last month.

The party’s leader and incumbent prime minister, Boris Johnson, who faces a general election on December 12, has refused to apologise for his infamous comments about Muslim women, saying they were taken out of context.

In an article written for the Telegraph last year, Johnson compared women who wore the burka, or full veil, to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”. According to monitoring group Tell MAMA, hate crimes against Muslim women increased by 375 percent in the first week following his comments, the biggest spike in anti-Muslim attacks in 2018.

Johnson, who has a history of making racist comments, has also backed out of a promise to launch an inquiry specifically into Islamophobia, saying that the party would instead have a “general investigation into prejudice of all kinds, including antisemitism”.

Conservatives who were exposed for posting online anti-Muslim content in March were quietly reinstated after being suspended from the party.

By the time of publication, the Conservative Party had not responded to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Here is what the experts said:

‘Boris Johnson at top of party allows toxic hateful culture to fester’

Zainab Gulamali, head of public affairs at the Muslim Council of Britain

Islamophobia in the Conservative Party is institutional, systematic and widespread. We see instances of it at every single level of the party. When you ask what they’ve done about it, some have been suspended, other times they will be suspended and let back in. There is no transparency over the process. 

The process is incredibly secretive and you don’t know what’s happening to people being reported about Islamophobia.

Having Boris Johnson at the top of the Conservative Party allows this toxic hateful culture to fester. He must recognise that words have actions.

We need a standalone inquiry into Islamophobia [to assess] the scale of problem. A broad inquiry into racism is no good.

Racism, wherever it comes from be it left or right, is unacceptable. Not enough is being done. 

The Labour Party has a very real problem with antisemitism, as comments by the chief rabbi highlighted fears British Jews have.

Antisemitism within the Labour Party is reported on more because people are investigated over it. In the Tory party, there are only allegations and not concrete evidence by investigation.

Reporters and the MCB can report on Islamophobia [within the Conservative Party], but as long as there isn’t an investigation, they are still just allegations.

Ahead of the general election, MCB spoke to 500 affiliates; we found that Islamophobia is the number one priority that British Muslims want tackled.  

Islamophobia will play on the minds of many Muslims when it comes to the general election vote. They will be voting with their conscience.

‘The rot of Tory Islamophobia goes all the way to top’

Waqas Tufail, senior lecturer in criminology

There is an epidemic of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. It’s been very dismissive of any complaints.

It needs to have a full and urgent inquiry by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. It is scandalous that this hasn’t already taken place. 

The rot of Tory Islamophobia goes all the way to top. Prominent Muslims have been saying this for years, including Baroness Sayeeda Warsi [a member of the Conservatives]. 

Warsi has singled out MP Michael Gove as being someone who has an issue with Muslims. 

“I think that in his world there’s an extremist lurking behind anyone who professes to be connected to Islam or Muslims in any way, shape or form,” she said in an interview with the Guardian last month.

Scholars are pointing to how political discourse can create permission to hate. They talk of creating an enabling environment.

Just from speaking to many British Muslims and what I see on social media, the vast majority of British Muslims are not going to vote for the Conservative Party. They are well versed in the fact that the Tory Party has a history in Islamophobia and racism more generally.

‘Institutionalising of Islamophobia necessary for erosion of civil liberties’

Malia Bouattia, former president of the National Union of Students

The Conservative Party is one that, in the last decade it has been in power, has intensified every policy that directly targets Muslims.

From a more aggressive hostile environment to the introduction of the counterterrorism and security act – later also the Counterterrorism and Border Security Act 2019 – the Tories have waged a relentless, violent and racist war on Muslims.

The normalising and institutionalising of Islamophobia has been necessary for the erosion of civil liberties, clamping down on political dissent, accountability of the state etc., and therefore the party’s continued power.

Since the [so-called] War on Terror has structured much of public and political life in the last two decades, Islamophobic policies and behaviours have been normalised in the media, public life and cultural production which has made it appear a legitimate object of debate, rather than a structural form of oppression.

Boris Johnson
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson pictured in 2008, when he was London mayor, on a visit to the Husseini Mosque in west London [Sang Tan/The Associated Press]
Source: Al Jazeera