Conservatives Appoint Chair to Lead Review of Islamophobia in the Party24 Dec 2019
Last Wednesday, the conservative government launched its inquiry into complaints of Islamophobia within the party. It was announced that the investigation will be led by Professor Swaran Singh, former Commissioner of Equalities and Human Rights Commission, who will look into improving the handling of complaints of discrimination and prejudice within the party, including Islamophobia.
The conservative party has earned a reputation among Muslim circles of having an attitude of tolerance towards Islamophobia. In the lead up to the recent elections, countless cases were reported by media platforms, as well as on social media, of Tory MPs spewing Islamophobic rhetoric. This included members within the higher ranks of the party, with Boris Johnson himself facing staunch criticism for his derogatory comments about Muslim women who wear the burqa.
Many complaints have been raised about other members of the party being directly or indirectly involved in promoting anti-Muslim sentiment. Conservative former Member of the European Parliament, Sajjad Karim, brought this to light in a recent interview with the BBC, where he shared his first-hand experience of Islamophobia from senior members of the party, including a current minister.
The support that the party received from well-known anti-Islam activists during the election campaign was highlighted as a cause for concern by former Tory co-chair and cabinet minister Baroness Warsi. In a tweet, she said:
“Endorsements from Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins and colleagues retweeting both is deeply disturbing. Independent Inquiry into Islamophobia is a must first step. The battle to root out racism must now intensify.”
Recently, far-right group Britain First showed public support for the Conservative party, sending out e-mails to their followers urging them to join the party and become members, in order to make “Boris Johnson’s leadership more secure.”
Reports show that this growing concern of the tolerance of Islamophobia within the party has made Muslim communities feel increasingly unsafe, with some considering leaving the UK after its landslide win in the election. During his election campaign, Boris Johnson pledged to launch an inquiry into Islamophobia. This came in response to pressure from Muslim members of the party, like Baroness Warsi, as well as other Muslim bodies, who have urged the party to begin ‘healing its relationship with British Muslims’ and reassure them of their place in the country.
The party commenced its investigation on 18th December with the appointment of Professor Swaran Singh as the lead on handling complaints of discrimination and prejudice. His role is to explore how the party can improve its processes to ensure “any instances are isolated, and that there are robust processes in place to stamp them out as and when they occur.”
However, this step has been criticised on the basis that the Prime Minister had promised an inquiry into Islamophobia specifically, but it appears to have been broadened to cover all types of discrimination and prejudice. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said that such a generalised approach is “pre-programmed to ignore the mounting evidence of Islamophobia across the Convervative party.”
The appointment of Professor Singh as the head of this inquiry has also been flagged by Warsi as problematic. On twitter, she pointed out a piece he wrote on Muslims in Kashmir for an online publication, whose editor dismissed Islamophobia as a term used to silence any criticism of the Islamic faith.
Professor Singh also wrote in a piece for Prospect Magazine in 2016: ‘it is also not right to expect the UK to live up to an unrealistic standard, where every individual is non-racist, and where everyone has the right to be offended by subjective interpretation of someone else’s words.’
If Britain is to begin the real process of ‘healing’ amongst its communities, as declared by the Prime Minister in his acceptance speech, what is clear is that Muslims need to see the issue of Islamophobia be dealt with and taken seriously. They must see effective steps from the government to address the problem from its root, so that Muslims may feel safer and protected as citizens of this country.