There has to be a stand-alone independent inquiry into Islamophobia since it is clearly a particular problem in the Tory party. However, we should all be fully supportive of an independent inquiry into all forms of hatred and discrimination …. Writes Iram Kiani
Sayeeda Warsi has once again issued a clarion call to her party to instigate an independent inquiry into Islamophobia and start healing its relationship with British Muslims – but will this make any difference?
With Matt Hancock, a senior government minister, patronisingly dismissing Warsi because ‘others take a more balanced approach,’ there’s no sign that the Tories are ready to listen and take proper action against members such as Linden Kemkaran, the unsuccessful Conservative candidate for Bradford West, who shared a message on Twitter claiming that Muslims have a ‘nasty culture’ and countless others who blame Islam for the ills of this country. Why would they when a poll of Tory party members carried out by YouGov for Hope Not Hate, an anti-racism group, earlier this year revealed, amongst other things, that:
- 67% believe that areas in Britain operate under Sharia law;
- 45% believe there are areas in Britain non-Muslims aren’t allowed to enter;
- 79% don’t think there is a problem with Islamophobia in their party; and
- 43% agreed that ‘I would prefer to not have the country led by a Muslim’.
Add to these findings the fact that people such as Katie Hopkins and Tommy Robinson, who very publicly peddle anti-Muslim tropes and follow whichever party they think best supports their agenda, have said they are joining the Conservatives, then that tells you all you need to know about why the Tories have refused to tackle Islamophobia in their midst – because it benefits them not to.
These bald facts, however – as always – hide a more complex picture. Many people have legitimate concerns around issues such as immigration, jobs, integration and the divisions in our communities (divisions that aren’t just about race and religion). These are concerns that we should all take seriously if we want to glue together our fractured country. However, it is difficult to do so when these issues are hijacked by politicians and commentators for the purpose of exacerbating, rather than healing, the divisions that exist amongst us.
Nigel Farage, Robinson and Hopkins are cases in point, who each and every time seek to blame ‘the other’ (personified largely by immigrants, non-white people and Muslims) for the problems that face us rather than engaging in rational and unbiased discourse. And then you have our prime minister: a man who apparently finds casual racism amusing (referring to Muslim women who wear the niqab as ‘letterboxes’) and does not realise (or, more likely, does not care about) how dangerous it can be in normalising hatred. Tell MAMA, the organisation which logs anti-Muslim incidents, recorded a 375% increase in these (mostly against Muslim women) in the week after Mr Johnson made his comments. How else to explain such a huge spike other than it was a direct result of Mr Johnson’s actions?
Warsi is to be commended for her determination to change attitudes within her party. However, you have to wonder why she remains within it, given that Islamophobia within the party continues to grow despite her best efforts. There is merit in the argument that change can be effected from within, but this can only happen if those in charge take the need for change seriously – and Boris and his henchmen clearly do not (Sajid Javid denying during the election campaign that any of the party’s leadership had ever been accused of Islamophobia was a jaw dropping moment). But nor, for example, do they take seriously antisemitism or the concerns of black people about their treatment at the hands of the authorities.
There has to be a stand-alone independent inquiry into Islamophobia since it is clearly a particular problem in the Tory party. However, we should all be fully supportive of an independent inquiry into all forms of hatred and discrimination and, if Warsi is going to stay with the Tories, then she could do worse than spearhead a cross-party, cross-race, cross-religion, cross-age and cross-class alliance, drawing in individuals from all walks of life, which aims to educate people about others and seeks more positive media coverage of minorities. Will this be enough? Not if those who occupy the highest positions in the land don’t come on board. If Boris Johnson is serious about healing the nation, then he needs to start setting an example now.
(Iram Kiani is a Manchester-based lawyer, political activist and commentator)