Britain’s two main political parties have an undeniable Islamophobia problem

Conservative and Labour Parties. Editorial credit: chrisdorney / Shutterstock.com

Britain only has two main political parties and they both have an Islamophobia problem, writes political researcher Hamza Ali Shah.

The UK Government’s Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities report, which was published on Wednesday March 31, concluded that institutional racism does not exist in Britain.

In marking its own homework, the government made a bold declaration that treats contemptuously the lived experiences of racial prejudice in Britain. In reality, racism is deep seated, and one of the most protruding forms is Islamophobia.

It was a decade ago when Baroness Sayeeda Warsi – the first Muslim woman to sit in Cabinet – declared that Islamophobia had “passed the dinner-table test.” Bigotry towards Muslims had become socially acceptable in Britain, she claimed.

That seems like an understatement now.

Boris Johnson

When Boris Johnson’s distasteful history of anti-Muslim remarks is revealed and he is still able to attain the position of Prime Minister, it strongly suggests there are no robust consequences for engaging in Islamophobia.

Johnson once claimed “‘Islam is the problem’” and that Islamophobia is a “natural reaction” to Islam. More recently, he obnoxiously referred to Muslim women who wear the niqab as “letterboxes.” Such comments are not without consequences.

In the week after his swipe at Muslim women, Islamophobic incidents rose by 375 per cent. A report by hate monitoring group Tell Mama said 42% of online abuse directed at women in the period after the article directly referenced Boris Johnson and the language he used.

Such comments from Johnson are less the exception and more the norm, as a symptom of the incontestable culture of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party. Indeed, Hope Not Hate’s latest research into the matter shows widespread prejudice and suspicion towards Muslims.

Islamophobia in Conservative Party

Almost half of Conservative Party members (47%) believe that Islam is “a threat to the British way of life,” while 58% believe that “there are no go areas in Britain where Sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter.” This figure rose to 66% of those who backed Boris Johnson in the 2019 leadership election.

Problematically, it seems the members of the party he heads, and specifically his keenest supporters, sing from the same Islamophobic hymn sheet. The unsettling element is that despite the overwhelming evidence, there is no real urgency to tackle the virulent Tory cesspit of anti-Muslim bigotry.

It is almost two years now since Johnson grudgingly committed himself to an investigation of Islamophobia in his party. Yet nothing conclusive has materialised. Rather, the government is whitewashing the issue. Recent reports show witnesses with “damning evidence” of anti-Muslim treatment in the party are being ignored.

Boris Johnson Credit: Michael Tubi / Shutterstock.com

The government has form when it comes to such brazen dismissals. In 2020, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) submitted a dossier to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission cataloguing evidence of over 300 Conservative activists and members participating in Islamophobia. Yet it has fallen on deaf ears. Rather than the government paying attention and cooperating with Britain’s largest Muslim umbrella group to tackle the putrid Islamophobia within party ranks, the MCB remains blacklisted amid the government’s policy of non-engagement.

Johnson and his party also know that there will be no outcry from the media on the matter either. After all, they are just as complicit. One study from the MCB shows that most newspaper coverage of British Muslims is negative, including 78% of stories in the Mail on Sunday.

For British Muslims the climate is hostile and the experience is increasingly laborious. That the Conservatives have won the last four elections suggests this situation is unlikely to improve in the foreseeable future.

But perhaps the one ray of light for British Muslims is that at least the main opposition party is widely seen as a safe haven and provides for a comfortable political home. Sadly not.

Islamophobia in Labour Party

Historically, Muslims have firmly stood behind the Labour Party. In 2015, 64% of Muslims voted Labour whilst 25% opted for the Conservatives. The margin increased in the 2017 election with 85% of Muslims preferring Labour in comparison to just 11% who voted for the Tories.

Yet despite increasing support among the Muslim demographic, the atmosphere in the party is becoming less pleasant for them. A report by the Labour Muslim Network (LMN) in November 2020 shows the party’s culture of Islamophobia is growing.

It found that nearly six in 10 (59%) did not feel well represented by the leadership of the Labour party, and nearly half (44%) did not believe the party takes the issue of Islamophobia seriously.

Likewise, 55% did not trust the Labour leadership to tackle Islamophobia effectively and 48% did not have confidence in the party’s complaints procedure to deal with Islamophobia.

Keir Starmer Editorial credit: Dominic Dudley / Shutterstock.com

To compound matters, following the election of Keir Starmer as Labour leader, donors that cancelled donations under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership have returned. One of those is businessman and philanthropist David Abrahams. However, he has a repulsive track record of anti-Muslim comments.

Abrahams’ remarks include suggestions that Muslims have “mixed loyalties,” that conservative Muslim culture is inherently violent, and that Muslim youth have a propensity for suicide.

When Starmer came under pressure to return donations made by Abrahams, the issue was quickly swept under the rug. Even the leaderships response to the LMN report was feeble. Apart from an initial generic statement from the Labour leader and deputy leader about tackling Islamophobia in the party, there has since been nothing but a thunderous silence.

After the eagerness of the last five years to throw light on the racism that allegedly plagued the Labour Party, the inaction regarding Islamophobia is mystifying. Unfortunately, that is a metaphor for Islamophobia in Britain. Relegated to the lower rungs of the hierarchy of racism.

Muslims make up 10% or more of voters in 83, or 13%, of parliamentary constituencies. That would usually prompt political parties to ensure those decisive voices and concerns are treasured. Instead, the only two parties with a realistic chance of winning power are beset by Islamophobia.

Muslims in Britain are thus increasingly facing the prospect of political homelessness.

Hamza Ali Shah is a political researcher and writer. His work has appeared in Tribune Magazine and Bylines Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @Hamza_a96.

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