Islamophobia In The Conservative Party: Why Is The Government’s Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group Still Silent?

This week, 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 both 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”.

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 in ensuring “racists and bigots” are ousted from the Party, the MCB also called on the Party to “adopt 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.

In some ways, the lack of response from the Conservative Party leadership is maybe quite unsurprising. For Nesrine Malik, the lack of care would seem indicative of how the party and some of its members perceive Muslims and their communities. As evidence, she cites how the home secretary, Sajid Javid, has been at pains to vociferously undermine the legitimacy of the MCB in preference of responding to calls for an inquiry or even acknowledging that Islamophobia might be an issue.

Similarly unsurprising is the silence of the cross-government Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group . Established in 2012, the Working Group sought to bring together government officials and non-government experts to consider and tackle anti-Muslim hatred in all its forms and manifestations. While so, there is no evidence that the Working Group has done anything of the sort since its inception (for a detailed analysis of the Working Group, see my article in the journal Social Sciences). Most concerning is its staggeringly consistent failure – maybe refusal? – to even condemn or denounce anti-Muslim hatred as and when it has occurred. Anyone remember the Working Group’s condemnation of the recent Punish A Muslim Day? No, me neither.

In the wake of this latest furore, while the Working Group’s silence may be seen by some to be conspicuous by its absence, in truth little else should be expected. Four years on from when I publicly resigned from the Working Group (I was an original independently appointed member) the Group and those who comprise it remain as impotent as they have always been. No bite, no influence, no impact. As regards its non-government members, I conceded that most were too scared to put their heads above the parapet or just unwilling to disagree with politicians for fear of losing their seat at the government’s table and the benefits that brings. It is sad that they seem to value this more than they do fulfilling the task they were originally charged with, that is to consider and subsequently tackle Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred. Individually and collectively, they have repeatedly let far too many (Conservative) politicians off the hook.

If it is ever going to find its teeth and show some bite, then the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group has to act now. The Group needs to not only add its voice to the growing numbers calling for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party but more importantly, use its privileged position to exercise pressure. Now is not the time for kowtowing. If the Working Group is ever to have any credibility or meaning, then it needs to speak up now. Silence is not an option.