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Islamophobia in the Conservative Party: A Politics of Double Standards

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Boris Johnson MP was accused of Islamophobia after comparing Muslim women to bank robbers and letter boxes

The Brexit debate and the Labour anti-Semitism row have fueled polarizing headlines on the back of accusations of racism, xenophobia and fragmented party loyalties.

At a time when the UK public is already uncertain about the future, multiple MPs announced their exit from Labour to create a new bipartisan group, citing an environment of anti-Jewish sentiments within the party, and the failure of Jeremy Corbyn to address the growing discrimination.

The media has investigated the (frankly, shocking and reprehensible) reports of attacks against the Jewish community, but has largely overlooked another brewing scandal: the normalisation of Islamophobia within the Tory party. 

A PARTY OF ANTI-MUSLIM HATRED

During the 2016 London Mayoral Elections, Richmond MP Zac Goldsmith, engineered one of the most controversial campaigns against his opponent Sadiq Khan. From distributing letters in the Tamil, Sri Lankan and Indian community, spreading falsities that Sadiq Khan supported a wealth tax on family jewelry, to baselessly tying Khan to extremists and preachers, and a seal of approval from far-right demagogue Katie Hopkins, this political contest was a no-holds barred quest for power for Goldsmith. His campaign was a blatant display of dog whistle-racism, insinuating that London was unsafe in the hands of a Muslim mayor. 

This vitriolic smear campaign was condemned across the board in the UK. Journalist Andrew Grice compared it to ‘Donald Trump’ tactics. Peter Oborne observed thatZac Goldsmith is responsible for the nastiest political campaign since the homophobic hatred of Bermondsey 1983’

Yet this was just the beginning. In 2018, Tory Councillors Ian Hibberd and Linda Freeman were suspended for condoning internment camps and posting the racial slur P*** on social media. 

Boris Johnson attracted widespread criticism after stating that women who wear the burkha ‘look like letter boxes’, garnering praise from white nationalist Steve Bannon. 

London Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey retweeted a picture of Sadiq Khan labeled as ‘the mad mullah of Londistan’

MP Bob Blackman was accused of spreading and endorsing Islamophobia after reposting an article with the headline ‘“Muslim Somali sex gang say raping white British children ‘part of their culture’.” 

Former Conservative member, Shazia Awan-Scully, wrote a first-hand account of her experience witnessing anti-Muslim behavior within the party in an interview with the New Statesman.

This year, fourteen Tory party members were suspended for posting threatening, racist and Islamophobic posts on a Facebook group, dedicated to frontline Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg. The string of abusive posts contained content ranging from calls to ‘turf all Muslims out of public office’ and to ‘get rid of all mosques.’ One individual said that he could not vote for Home Secretary Sajid Javid, because that would equate to a vote for ‘Islam to lead this country.

It has since emerged that the Conservatives reinstated a former Councillor, Mick Murphy, who was previously expelled for reposting racist, anti-Islam and far-right memes from militant group pages such as Pegida and Britain First. 

This sends a conflicting message to the population regarding the party’s stance on Islamophobia, and proves that the party leadership has tolerated the rise of Islamophobia. 

A BUSINESS OF ISLAMOPHOBIA 

These are not isolated incidents, but rather point to the Tory party’s links to the lucrative Islamophobia industry, a minacious space that has created an intellectual dark web, riddled with racist anti-Muslim abuse, and steered by a dangerous network of extremists.

Nathan Lean, author of ‘The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims’ argues that the Islamophobia industry is a global network of private groups, not-for profits, conservative bloggers, right-wing talk show hosts, evangelical religious leaders and politicians. All of whom are united in their quest to convince their compatriots that Islam is the enemy, and having the backing of hundreds of millions dollars behind them. See the Bridge Initiative for more information.

A transnational network, the Islamophobia industry is promoted by mostly far-right European and American key players such as Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, Laura Loomer, Debbie Schlussel, Brigitte Gabriel, Milo Yiannopoulos, Tommy Robinson, Geert Wilders, and ex-Muslims such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali. They use channels such as social media, fringe news outlets, public poster/billboards, marches, right-wing conferences and mainstream politicians to advance their political cause. 

In 2016, it was reported by the Guardian that a staggering $206 million went towards bolstering anti-Muslim rhetoric. In 2018, an investigation by Al Jazeera uncovered how millions had been paid by anonymous donors to six leading anti-Muslim organisations with a direct link to the current Trump administration.

This anti-Muslim narrative has perilous ramifications for the Muslim communities where Islamophobic hate crimes have increased in the UK and US.

Tell MAMA, a monitoring anti-hate charity presented some grim statistics in 2018. The 2018 annual report, by hate crime monitoring charity Tell MAMA, finds a rise of 26% from the previous year in recorded incidents of harassment, intimidation and attacks.

Gendered violence specifically targeting Muslim women due to their visibility has surged. Six out of 10 victims of Islamophobic hate crimes were women, while eight out of 10 perpetrators were men, mainly aged between 13-18 years old. Many anti-Muslim attacks were reportedly triggered in the aftermath of a terrorist attack or an incident involving extremists.

There has been an increase of 36% in far-right activity related referrals to police in 2017-2018. In that same report, it was noted that Islamist related activity referrals were down 14% This indicates a dangerous shift in political discourse, with a prominent far-right presence growing in the UK. Since 2017, there has also been a 56% increase in anti-Muslim vandalism from the previous year of 2016.

No wonder that a report by Hope Not Hate concluded in February 2019 that the Tories are ‘signaling that Islamophobia is acceptable’ and as a party have repeatedly refused to properly tackle anti-Muslim hatred within their own ranks. 

CALLS FOR AN INVESTIGATION

Whilst many within the Conservative Party do not acknowledge the extent of rampant Islamophobia, one consistent politician has been vocal on the issue. Former Tory chair Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has appealed to current Tory chairman, Brandon Lewis, to tackle the ‘very widespread’ Islamophobia within the party and has called for a full inquiry.

On this subject, Baroness Warsi also stated that Theresa May has turned a blind eye to the growing bigotry and accused the Prime Minister of ‘burying her head in the sand’.

She also said that her party was going through a process of ‘re-UKIPification’ of itself.

Latest revelations by  Buzzfeed, show a leaked document detailing how Downing Street was forced to intervene with a private apology, after two Tory officials, Ajay Jagota and Gerard Leake, quit the party. They had accused chair Brandon Lewis of failing to tackle the growing Islamophobia and ignoring their complaints for several months.

To add to this, there have been repeated calls from the Muslim Council of Britain and 350 mosques have urged the Conservatives to investigate the numerous incidents contributing to a hostile anti-Muslim movement. Yet no official inquiry has been launched so far.

Though Brandon Lewis states that there is a ‘zero-tolerance’ party policy on Islamophobia, the evidence is antithetical to his claim. 

Whether it is anti-Semitism or Islamophobia, hatred in all its heinous forms should be rooted out. There has been an exponential growth in far-right activity across Europe and many nationalist groups are looking to monopolise the contentious Brexit debate for political gain. This is the time for society to come together. 

However, what complicates matters is when those in commands of authority and responsibility, practice a politics of double standards and dictate the terms and conditions of what minority group deserves coverage. A culture of Islamophobia has been able to metastasize through the Conservative party’s culture of denialism.

Even though alt-right writers such as Douglas Murray have long perpetuated the misconception that Islamophobia is a ‘crock’ term that doesn’t exist, the reality of targeted attacks on Muslims is a statistical and national crisis.

These hostilities were not created in a vacuum. They have been fortified by political agitators exploiting visceral fear, with an aim to marginalise, demonise and ultimately expel Muslims from the western world. 

It is now apparent that there are reputable figures in mainstream political parties that are sympathetic to these fascist causes, and endorse prejudice and disunity. These zealots seek to pit communities against each other and work in opposition to the interests of British society. Perhaps, we now need strategies that defenestrate those in positions of influence seeking to standardise hatred and violence to promote personal agendas.

By Saira Mirza

Follow her @saira_a_mirza

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website

*this post was updated on 13.03.2019 to reflect that Shazia Awan-Scully has now left the Conservative Party.

Author: She Speaks We Hear

Bringing women’s voices together, unaltered, unadulterated. Platforming stories and experiences of Muslim women, so they can own their narrative.

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