UK: ‘One in four’ Muslims experience Islamophobia in Labour Party

Report finds anti-Muslim sentiment within party ranks, with members and supporters called ‘terrorists’ and ‘foreigners’.

Most Muslims in the UK traditionally vote for the Labour Party [File: Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

London, United Kingdom – More than one in four Muslim members and supporters of Labour Party – 29 percent – have experienced Islamophobia within the ranks of the United Kingdom’s main opposition party, according to a report.

Muslims in Labour groups have been subject to stereotypes of “grooming gangs”, accused of plotting “planned takeovers”, called “terrorists” and “foreigners”, and been expected to condemn violence they had no part in committing, the report said.

The Labour Muslim Network, which is the largest group of Muslim members and supporters of Labour and is behind the findings, carried out a survey between July and August, interviewing 422 Muslim members and elected officials.

“There are definitely undercurrents of Islamophobia within the Labour Party, stemming from ignorance and systemic racism, which may not be overt but does exist,” said one female respondent.

Nearly 44 percent respondents said Labour does not take Islamophobia seriously, while 55 percent did not trust the party to tackle anti-Muslim sentiment.

“We must take swift action to tackle Islamophobia within our ranks,” said Labour MP Afzal Khan, in a foreword to the report. “Whilst the Labour Party has enjoyed overwhelming support of the Muslim community for decades, we cannot take their support for granted.”

The issues that concerned the respondents included: foreign policy decisions relating to the 2001 “War on Terror”; a change in policy relating to Kashmir earlier this year; the occupation of Palestine, and the Labour Party’s connection to the government’s Prevent programme to counter “extremism”.

The left-wing Labour Party has historically prided itself in being anti-racist.

In the 2017 general election, an estimated 85 percent of Muslims supported the Labour Party compared with 11 percent of who voted for the ruling right-wing Conservatives.

Labour was recently dogged by accusations of anti-Semitism, which saw former party leader Jeremy Corbyn suspended by current leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Halima Begum, director of race equality think tank Runnymede Trust, said the report confirmed the “level of institutional ignorance and individual denial” around Islamophobia across UK politics.

“The Labour Party has been rightly reproached for failing to address its problem with anti-Semitism”, she told Al Jazeera.

“It is now time for Keir Starmer to give serious consideration to the place Muslims occupy within the party, not least to confirm that the Labour Party is a safe place for British Muslims to exert their political voice.”

‘Sidelined critical Muslim members’

The findings come as anti-Muslim sentiment is rising in the UK.

Of 6,822 religious hate crimes recorded by the police from 2019 to 2020, half were targeted towards Muslims, according to Home Office figures.

The Conservative Party has also been accused of institutional Islamophobia over the years.

In 2018, Prime Minister Boris Johnson compared Muslim women wearing the niqab, a veil worn by some Muslim women, to letterboxes and bank robbers, sparking a 375 percent increase in Islamophobic hate crimes, according to monitoring group Tell Mama.

The party has also been criticised for refusing to adopt the definition of Islamophobia proposed by a parliamentary group.

Begum said the Conservative Party’s “atrocious history of Islamophobia” was more concerning than the findings of Labour’s report.

“A year after he promised that the Conservatives would conduct an internal investigation into Islamophobia in their ranks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has essentially withdrawn that promise and sidelined critical Muslim members, including Baroness Warsi.”

Labour Muslim Network member and councillor Ali Milani said the report was a “wake-up call” for the party to listen to the British Muslim community’s concerns.

“[The British Muslim community] is the biggest constituent vote the Labour Party has. My warning as someone who knows the Muslim community, who is a member, and is a Muslim, is you can’t just assume a community will always be with you, come what may,” he told Al Jazeera.

“We can’t take any voter or any community for granted. Everyone deserves our time and respect and we need to make sure we’re reaching out to them.”

Source: Al Jazeera