Conservatives must not ignore concern about Islamophobia in their party - Jonathan Walker

Conservatives must not ignore concern about Islamophobia in their party – Jonathan Walker

Bromsgrove MP Sajid Javid, the newish Home Secretary, got off to a good start.

He signalled an end to the “hostile environment” immigration policy backed by Theresa May.

And he said increasing police funding was “a priority of mine”.

It was a welcome dose of common sense.

But Mr Javid got one thing wrong.

Asked about claims that the Conservative Party had a problem with Islamophobia, he shot the messenger.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has called for an inquiry into anti-Muslim prejudice in the Conservative Party.

Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Javid rejected their request. He said: “The Muslim Council of Britain does not represent Muslims in this country. You find me a group of Muslims that thinks that they’re represented by the MCB.”

And he said the Government, like the Labour administration before it, didn’t deal with the MCB because some of its members had the wrong attitude towards extremism.



Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary

But it doesn’t really matter, in this case, whether the MCB is representative, or even what it believes (as it has 500 affiliated organisations, there are probably members with all sorts of different views).

It has produced a dossier setting out what it says are examples of anti-Muslim bias in the Conservative Party. Regardless of who wrote the dossier, the question is whether the examples stand up to scrutiny.

And unfortunately, they do.

There’s the case of Bob Blackman, the Conservative MP who retweeted an anti-Islam Tweet from far-right activist Tommy Robinson.

The Tweet concerned a despicable attack on a Hindu temple in Bangladesh, apparently by Islamist extremists.

But Robinson did what the far-right always do, and suggested the actions of extremists revealed the true nature of Islam in general.

Mr Blackman has said the re-Tweet was an accident.

The MCB also said Mr Blackman had hosted an anti-Muslim speaker called Tapan Ghosh in the Commons. Mr Ghosh has been jailed in India for stoking religious tensions.

Mr Blackman has said that the choice of speakers was entirely down to the National Council of Hindu Temples, which organised the event.

The MCB highlighted other examples.

There’s Mike Payne, the Calderdale councillor who was suspended from his party for sharing an article to Twitter and Facebook with the headline: “France Slashed Benefits to Muslim Parasites by 83%.”

Alexander van Terheyden, a Tory council candidate in Hackney, was suspended by the Conservative Party for calling Islam a “violent political ideology” comparable to fascism and communism.

And the MCB highlighted the case of Nick Sundin, a Conservative Party candidate in the Ouseburn ward in Newcastle, who was suspended when it emerged he had called the prophet Mohammed a “f****** paedophile” in tweets.

There are other examples in the dossier. The MCB also highlight the 2016 election for the Mayor of London, when Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith was defeated by Labour’s Sadiq Khan.

The Conservative campaign attempted to paint Mr Khan as an “extremist”. This was justified by Conservatives on the grounds he had “links” to extremist clerics, but the supposed links included the fact that Mr Khan used to be a partner in a law firm which provided representation or advice to some unpleasant people.

It’s generally accepted that lawyers aren’t responsible for the views of their clients.

As it happens, anyone who’s followed Mr Khan’s career knows that he’s a liberal, centre ground politician of the type that used to dominate the Labour Party. The “extremist” tag was a transparent attempt to stoke up fear about the fact that he’s a Muslim.



Sadiq Khan takes selfies with Birmingham commuters at New Street station

The Tory election campaign in London was a disgrace. The question is whether it revealed an underlying problem in the Conservative Party.

Is the Conservative Party riven with Islamophobia? Mr Javid, a Muslim, argues that he would hardly have become Home Secretary if it was.

But his Tory colleague Sayeeda Warsi, also a Muslim and the former party chair, claims Islamophobia “exists right from the grassroots, all the way up to the top.”

This isn’t just an issue for Muslims. The idea that any of our major political parties promotes hatred of an ethnic or religious minority should concern us all.

And the warnings from Baroness Warsi, the MCB and others shouldn’t be dismissed.

Some Tories will no doubt feel confident that the warnings are overblown, and they may be right. But how can the party be sure of that if it’s unwilling to take a good, hard look at itself?

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