UK Conservative party faces calls for Islamophobia inquiry

The Muslim Council of Britain urges Conservative Party Chairman MP Brandon Lewis to take action against Islamophobia.
Monday 04/06/2018
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (L) and Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis (2L) applaud supporters as they arrive at Wandsworth Town hall in London, on May 4. (AFP)
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (L) and Conservative party chairman Brandon Lewis (2L) applaud supporters as they arrive at Wandsworth Town hall in London, on May 4. (AFP)

LONDON - The United Kingdom’s largest Muslim umbrella group has formally called for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, suggesting the spectre of anti-Muslim hate was entering the mainstream.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which represents more than 500 mosques, charities and religious associations, requested a “full audit” of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s party, alleging “more than weekly occurrences of Islamophobia” from party representatives.

The MCB specifically called for the Tories to publish a list of incidents of Islamophobia within the party and what action has been taken to address them. It also wants the party to adopt an education and training programme on Islamophobia.

The MCB sent an open letter to Conservative Party Chairman MP Brandon Lewis asking for a public inquiry.

Responding to the MCB letter, which was apparently sparked by social media postings by Conservative MP Bob Blackman, a Conservative Party statement said: “We take all such incidents seriously, which is why we have suspended all those who have behaved inappropriately and launched immediate investigations.”

The MCB letter, signed by MCB Secretary-General Harun Khan, praised Lewis for establishing a code of conduct for members of parliament and local election candidates and asked that people e-mail Lewis with reports of Conservative Party bigotry.

“Yet no action has been taken against Bob Blackman MP who has now shown a consistent record of endorsing Islamophobia,” the letter states. “Mr Blackman is not the only one who has fostered Islamophobia in your party. Just last month, there were more than weekly occurrences of Islamophobia from candidates and representatives of the Conservative Party.”

Blackman has faced criticism for retweeting posts on Twitter by far-right figures, including former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, and hosting events in parliament featuring Hindu nationalist Tapan Ghosh, who is known for his anti-Islamic views.

Robinson, a self-proclaimed “anti-Islam” campaigner, was jailed for contempt of court after he broadcast an hour-long video over Facebook from outside Leeds Crown Court, breaking reporting restrictions on a case.

In 2017, Labour MP Naz Shah brought up the issue of hosting Ghosh at parliamentary event. “Mr Ghosh holds abhorrent views, is on record for calling upon the United Nations to control the birth rate of Muslims, praising the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Burma and also said Muslims should be forced to leave their religion if they come to a Western country,” she told MPs.

“It seems incredible to me that any member would think it would be acceptable to host a meeting with this individual, let alone invite him to our House of Commons,” she added.

Blackman said: “I did not host Tapan Ghosh in parliament. He was invited by an organisation without my knowledge. In the past, I shared a social media post in error, which I apologised for at the time. I will continue working with all communities in my constituency and I condemn Islamophobia.”

The MCB listed Islamophobic incidents from earlier this year that it said should be investigated, highlighting the way in which anti-Muslim sentiment is becoming more mainstream, including comments from Conservative representatives and candidates likening Islam to Nazism and drawing parallels between Islam and violence.

“These cases are just the tip of the iceberg,” warned the MCB, which pointed to the “shocking Islamophobia that left Muslim communities reeling after the 2016 London mayoral campaign.” The Conservative candidate for London mayor, Zac Goldsmith, faced criticism over his campaign against Labour’s Sadiq Khan, with critics pointing to its “dog whistle” nature.

The MCB’s request for an independent inquiry into the Conservative Party was backed by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim woman appointed to the cabinet who is a Conservative peer.

Warsi told local news affiliates that the Conservative Party had “buried its head in the sand” over allegations of Islamophobia.

“What I would like to see is, first of all, people within the party stopping denying this is an issue and then starting to acknowledge the extent of the issue and then setting out a clear pathway of how we’re going to deal with it,” she told Sky News.

“Each time it kind of seems we’ve said, ‘Yes, we take these issues very seriously’ and then shrugged our shoulders and moved on.”

The Conservative Party hit back with Home Secretary Sajid Javid linking members of the MCB with extremism.

“The MCB does not represent Muslims in this country. You find me a group of Muslims that thinks that they’re represented by the MCB… I would be very suspicious of anything that they’ve got to say, not least because [a policy] under the last Labour government and a policy continued by us. We don’t deal with the MCB,” he said.

The MCB denied Javid’s allegations. Khan said Javid had chosen to “shoot the messenger.”

“If the response is to instead attack the MCB, it sadly indicates that the party has no interest in dealing with this matter with the seriousness it deserves,” he said.