Why can’t British government tackle rising Islamophobia?

Why can’t British government tackle rising Islamophobia?

The opposition Labour Party has called on the ruling Conservatives to “get serious” and address the problem of Islamophobia in Britain as new data reveals that last year nearly half of all religious hate crimes targeted Muslims. But is this something the Tories can live up to when an internal probe found “anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the party.”

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): The opposition Labour Party has called on the ruling Conservatives to “get serious” and address the problem of Islamophobia in Britain as new data reveals that last year nearly half of all religious hate crimes targeted Muslims. But is this something the Tories can live up to when an internal probe found “anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the party.”

Statistics by the Home Office show the number of offenses against British Muslims in 2019/20 made up 50% of all religious hate crimes reported, compared to 45% in 2020/21. The real number of course can be much higher as not all Muslims report hate crimes committed against them to the police, authorities or even monitoring groups.

The Labour Party chairwoman Anneliese Dodds has told her Conservative counterpart Oliver Dowden to not just tackle Islamophobia in British society but also within his own party.

In a letter, Dodds said Muslims “remained consistently, and especially, vulnerable to religiously motivated hate crimes, a trend that shows no signs of abating under the Conservative Government.”

She also raised questions whether the Singh investigation released earlier this year “presented a full picture of Islamophobia within your own party” and said Labour will be closely monitoring the approaching deadlines the party had set itself for responding to the probe.

In May, a long awaited investigation into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party headed by Professor Swaran Singh (the Singh investigation) was published and found that two-thirds of discriminatory incidents reported to the party’s hierarchy over six years involved anti-Muslim hatred.

Dodds’ letter also said the Conservative Party refuses to use the term Islamophobia, instead referring to “anti-Muslim hatred,” which was “undermining [the party’s] credibility over tackling this problem.”

In May, then Tory chairwoman Amanda Milling said the party had accepted all the recommendations outlined by the Singh report. She said: “We held this investigation to address these allegations to make sure that any instances of discrimination are isolated and to look at how we can improve and strengthen our complaints process.”

But Dodds – who is also shadow women and equalities secretary – notes that the Conservative party have a long way to go saying “It’s about time the Conservatives got serious about tackling Islamophobia in our society and in their own ranks. They can’t do that if they won’t even name it.”

She noted, “the Tories have dragged their feet on this issue for far too long.” She has called for changing attitudes within the government and “that change must start at the top of this Conservative Government.”

It was recently revealed that the Prime Minister himself Boris Johnson has not even responded to a call by MPs to take action on Islamophobia for a year now. In November 2020, Afzal Khan, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, wrote to the prime minister and warned about a rise in anti-Muslim hate crime and questioned “the inaction of this government in tackling the issue.”

An official guide says government departments should respond to correspondence from MPs within 20 working days, but a year has gone by and Khan has yet to receive any response. Khan has called the lack of response “shocking and wholly unacceptable” and urged the prime minister to at least make a statement to MPs on Islamophobia. His 2020 letter, seen by some British media outlets, accused the government of strengthening “disgraceful racism” towards Muslims with actions during the coronavirus pandemic, including a sudden regional lockdown on the eve of the annual Muslim occasion of Eid al-Adha.

Khan wrote, “It contributed to a deeply concerning, and false, far-right narrative that British Muslims are ‘spreading corona’, as prime minister it is your duty to protect and safeguard all communities. However, I am disappointed, if not surprised, at the inaction of this government in tackling the issue of Islamophobia, which is clearly growing.”

The Singh investigation was commissioned after accusations of Islamophobic behavior by Tory party members and representatives. It considered cases including a 2018 column written by Johnson comparing Muslim women to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers.” The review said such incidents “give an impression to some of a party and leadership insensitive to Muslim communities.”

The government was previously accused of “utterly neglecting” Islamophobia by failing to come up with a definition that can be used to combat anti-Muslim hatred for more than two years. In 2018, a group of lawmakers drew up a working definition and urged the government to adopt it, saying the lack of any term was allowing Islamophobia to “increase in society to devastating effect.”

However, the government rejected the proposal in May 2019 and said it would commission independent experts to draw up a different one.

Since that time only one “expert” has been appointed and no proposals have ever been published.

During a parliamentary debate on the conservative party’s definition of Islamophobia, one conservative minister said: “We remain committed to there being a robust and effective definition, and we will outline our steps to achieve that in due course.”

Meanwhile, according to Sajjad Karim, the former conservative European Member of Parliament, Muslim members of the Conservative party were deliberately excluded from the inquiry into Islamophobia within its ranks. Karim, who represented northwest England in the European parliament for 15 years until 2019, said the Singh investigation was a “whitewash,” and apologies from the prime minister for any offence he had caused were “insincere.”

Karim voiced concerns that the Conservative Party headquarters would use “sleight of hand” to avoid implementing the recommendations made by the Singh investigation. He said party members including him had “no confidence left that the party internally is willing to actually deal with this issue. We cannot just rely on internal processes to deliver a result”

Karim also revealed he told party officials of a “particular complaint” before the Singh inquiry began and was given assurances he would be contacted once the probe started but he heard “absolutely nothing.” He later found his complaint had been wiped off media reports and said he was told by the Conservative Party “we’re very sorry, it’s too late for you to contribute to the inquiry – it was open to the public but now it’s closed.” Karim said this was proof of a “very shabby attempt to skewer the findings of the inquiry by trying to make sure only certain people gave evidence so that it progressed in a certain direction.” He adds “I’m not the only one that finds himself in this position”

Singh’s investigation found anti-Muslim sentiment "remains a problem" within the Conservative Party. The 44,000-word report said: "Judging by the extent of complaints and findings of misconduct by the party itself that relate to anti-Muslim words and conduct, anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the party. This is damaging to the party, and alienates a significant section of society."

Singh’s published report also found:

Two-thirds of all incidents reported to the complaints team at the Tories' headquarters related to anti-Muslim discrimination

-Three-quarters of all incidents involved social media

-High-profile incidents, such as Johnson's comments on Muslim women "give the impression to many that the party and its leadership are insensitive to Muslim communities"

-The Conservatives' complaints system is "in need of overhaul" due to its "under-resourced and inadequately trained" complaints team, a "weak" data collection system, and "poor" communication between officials, complainants and respondents

-There has also been a "lack of transparency" in the complaints process

Singh said parts of his report would "make for very uncomfortable reading among the leadership and the rank and file.” He added that “change will be a difficult process that will require a completely new mindset in some quarters and one that some party members may not like.”

Former Tory cabinet minister Sayeeda Hussain Warsi, a long campaigner on Islamophobia in the Conservative Party said the "crucial" detail of the report "tells a story that headlines do not.” She says each section (of the report) “reveals a deep and embedded issue of a party at best unable and at worst unwilling to deal with the issue of racism”

The report found disturbing examples of anti-Muslim prejudice in the Conservative party. And while the probe did not find evidence of institutional anti-Muslim prejudice, experts beg to differ saying the party’s leadership is riddled with institutional Islamophobia.

After all the Tories cannot even come up with the right term to define Islamophobia; and Warsi, the first member who demanded an at least internal inquiry into the party’s anti-Muslim sentiment, says there were issues “from the top ... to the bottom” of the party.




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