Are British Conservatives in denial about Islamophobia among their members?

Sajeda Momin

Published: Updated:

Britain’s two senior-most Muslims in the ruling Conservatives are at loggerheads over whether there is rampant Islamophobia in their party or not.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who became the first Muslim in the Cabinet and chairperson of the Tories, insists there is “very widespread” Islamophobia in her party and it “exists right from the grassroots, all the way up to the very top”.

Her colleague, Sajid Javid refutes the charges pointing at himself as the proof of why the Conservative Party cannot be accused of having a specific problem with Islamophobia.

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“For a start let’s just have a look at who the Home Secretary is in this country. As you’ve just described me my name is Sajid Javid, I am the Home Secretary in this country,” Javid said on the popular BBC TV program called the Andrew Marr Show.

Javid made history last month by becoming the first BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) to hold one of the three most important offices of state after the prime minister. With his appointment as Home Secretary, Javid effectively became the most powerful Muslim politician in the West.

Independent enquiry

The row over Islamophobia in the Conservative Party broke out after the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) wrote a detailed letter to the Tory chairman Brandon Lewis requesting him to begin an independent inquiry and weed out “racists and bigots” from his party.

The MCB gave a number of specific examples of anti-Muslim hate speeches and tweets by Conservative MPs and members in the last two months and described these as just the “tip of the iceberg”.

The MCB, which is the largest umbrella body for around 500 mosques, named Conservative Party representatives who have publicly called Muslims “parasites” who “live off the state and breed like rabbits”, termed Islam a “violent political ideology comparable to fascism and communism and even abused Prophet Mohammed.

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“The inaction taken in high-profile cases, sends a signal that Islamophobia is to be tolerated in the Conservative Party,” wrote Harun Khan, general secretary of the MCB.

Baroness Warsi, who has been a vocal critic of the party after her term as chairwoman ended in 2012, claimed the Conservative leadership was tolerating Islamophobia because “they don’t think it is going to damage them as that community doesn’t vote for them in any great numbers”. British Muslims tend to be Labour Party supporters.

“I think there is a general sense in the country that Muslims are fair game and it is not the kind of community who you can treat really badly and have many consequences. You can get away with it,” said Warsi, the 47-year-old peer.

The next election

“There is a sense of only caring about what wins us the next election and if trashing the Muslim community wins us the next election then who cares,” she added. Warsi has written a book “The Enemy Within” about the history of Muslims in Britain and the prejudice they face.

Apart from the Baroness, the chairman of the Conservative Party’s own Muslim forum has accused the Tories of failing to root out Islamophobia because they are frightened of damaging their political power.

Mohammed Amin, chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum said the party did not want to “rock the boat” with a controversial probe on racism at a time when the Conservatives lack a majority in the House of Commons, and instead are hoping that the problems “will magically go away”. Both Warsi and Amin argue that they have flagged up the issue repeatedly but they have been ignored.

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Javid, on the other hand, hit out at the credibility of the MCB claiming that it does not represent the Muslims of the country. Denying that there was problem in the Tory party, Javid accepted that there was “anti-Muslim hatred in the country as there is anti-Semitism”.

The Tories have been highly critical of the couple of cases of alleged anti-Semitism in the Labor Party ever since Jeremy Corbyn took over the leadership in 2015. Corbyn has, however, acknowledged the problem and apologized for the time it has taken to address the issue. He has promised that all complaints of anti-Semitism will be settled by July this year.

The Conservative leadership is still in denial about the problem of Islamphobia in their ranks. Acceptance is the first hurdle that needs to be crossed before any remedial measures can be taken.