Islamophobia in the Conservative Party: why is the Government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group still silent?

Yesterday, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi added her voice to the growing numbers expressing concern about Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. As former co-chair of the Party, her words have relevance and resonance. As she told Business Insider, Islamophobia in the Party is “…very widespread…from the grassroots, all the way up to the top…” duly adding, “…it is something the leadership feels can be easily ignored”.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8285014

Her comments come in the wake of the Muslim Council of Britain’s (MCB) recent call for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. Citing evidence of weekly Islamophobic incidents involving Party representatives and candidates, the MCB recently sent an open letter to Brandon Lewis — current chair of the Conservative Party — asking him to investigate the issue. Requesting his support to ensure “racists and bigots” are ousted from the Party, the MCB also called on him to oversee the adoption of “a programme of education and training on Islamophobia”.

The MCB’s list of incidents makes for truly uncomfortable reading. Among others the incidents documented include posting a picture of slices of bacon on a door handle as protection from terrorism, referring to Islam as the new Nazism, retweeting posts by former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson, and sharing an article which describes Muslims as parasites who live off the state and breed like rabbits.

Last week, the Conservative Party’s own Muslim forum added its voice to calls for an inquiry. It’s chair, Mohammed Amin not only denounced the Party for failing to address Islamophobia among its rank and file but also contributed his own evidence of incidents he was aware of, one involving a Muslim Party member who was told by a councillor that he was “not welcome” in the Conservatives. Despite several approaches, Amin said he had yet to receive “a satisfactory set of outcomes” from the Party leadership. In line with Warsi, he added how he believed the Conservative Party “seems to be taking the approach that if it keeps quiet and does nothing the issue…will somehow magically go away”.

Others to add their voice to calls for an inquiry over the past week or so include the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the Jewish Council For Racial Equality and Union of Jewish Students among others. Tell MAMA has also called for an inquiry.

Maybe surprising — maybe not — is the silence of the Government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group. Established in 2012, the Working Group sought to bring government officials together with non-government experts to duly consider and tackle anti-Muslim hatred in all its forms and manifestations. While so, there exists no evidence whatsoever to suggest the Working Group has done anything of the sort (for a detailed analysis of the Working Group, see my article in the journal Social Sciences). Maybe more concerning has been the Working Group’s persistent failure — some might say outright refusal — to condemn and denounce anti-Muslim hatred as and when it has occurred. Anyone remember the Working Group’s condemnation of the recent Punish A Muslim Day? What about its denouncement of Britain First or Tommy Robinson? No, me neither.

In truth, little else except silence from the Working Group should be expected.

Four years on from when I publicly resigned from the Working Group (I was one of the original independent members) the Group and its membership remain as impotent as both have always been. No bite, no influence, no impact. As regards non-government members, I conceded four years ago that most were too scared to put their heads above the parapet or even just unwilling to disagree with politicians for fear of losing their seat at the Government table given the benefits and kudos such brings. It is sad that many of the same individuals continue to be members of the Working Group; even more how they seem to continue to value being at the Government table more than anything else.

If it is ever going to find its teeth and show some bite, then the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group has to act now. Not only does the Working Group need to add its voice to the growing number of individuals and organisations calling for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party but more importantly, it needs to use privileged position to put pressure on politicians to hold them to account. If this means rocking the boat, then so be it: now is not the time for more kowtowing.

Silence can no longer be an option.