“We cannot be disparaged as closet extremists. If we are concerned then it is a serious problem,” Arab News

Source Arab News

UK Conservative Party faces accusations of Islamophobia

Muslims pray at Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden in London. (Getty Images)
Updated 07 June 2018

LONDON: The UK’s ruling Conservative Party is facing fresh allegations of Islamophobia — this time from its own members.

The Conservative Muslim Forum, which is made up of party members, has joined the call for a full independent inquiry into anti-Muslim attitudes among its fellow Conservatives.

The forum’s chairman, Mohammed Amin, said that it was time for the party to “take a long, hard look at itself” and stop shying away from the issue.

“Every political party has bad eggs in it and different parties have different kinds of bad eggs,” Amin told Arab News. “We need to examine what it is about the Conservative Party that attracts this type of bad egg. What is it about us that makes people feel we would tolerate these sorts of attitudes?

“Every time I address a group, this is one of the issues that comes up. This has been the case for years now and it is a concern.”

On June 4, Amin wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May informing her that the forum’s executive committee had “unanimously concluded that it is essential that the party should hold such an inquiry” and offered “any assistance the inquiry may require.”

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) last week sent an open letter to the party chairman, Brandon Lewis, urging him to launch an independent probe into anti-Muslim attitudes within party ranks and cited several examples. Sayeeda Warsi and Mohammed Sheikh, both members of the House of Lords, voiced support for the move.

On June 1, Lord Sheikh also wrote to the prime minister urging her to open an inquiry.

The party’s response so far has been to assert that it takes seriously all claims of racism and has acted swiftly to suspend members accused of involvement in Islamophobic incidents, while Home Secretary (interor minister) Sajid Javid — who is himself of Muslim background — accused the MCB of having suspect links to extremism and dismissed it as unrepresentative of Muslims in the UK.

However, brushing off the Conservative Muslim Forum, which consists entirely of party supporters, is not so easy.

“We cannot be disparaged as closet extremists. If we are concerned then it is a serious problem,” said Amin.

However, Amin believes that without a majority in Parliament, the Conservatives are afraid to jeopardize their hold on power and are simply hoping the issue “will magically go away.”

He added: “With any party or organization faced with such a problem, the first reaction is always to say there isn’t a problem. The second is to say there might be a few bad eggs but we are dealing with them. It is much harder to focus on what it is within the organization that draws such people to it. But that is what we need to do.”

Amin, a Conservative party member for 35 years, said that the party had “a strong set of values that should naturally appeal to Muslims,” many of whom run small businesses. “Yet they are not Conservative supporters. Why not?”

It was the same with lawyers, doctors, accountants and other middle-class professionals, he said. “As Muslims they say that they cannot support the Conservatives. Part of the reason is the perception of racism.”

Amin said that the CMF had received “many complaints over the years” about Islamophobia and had reported them to party leaders but with little improvement.

Among the incidents raised by the MCB was one during the London mayoral election in 2016, when Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith speculated that his Labour opponent, Siddiq Khan, a Muslim, posed a potential security risk. Khan won the election.

“That did enormous damage,” said Amin. Senior Muslim Conservatives had complained to David Cameron, the prime minister at the time. “But there was not a satisfactory response.”

The Conservative MP Bob Blackman was also singled out for hosting an event at which the controversial Hindu nationalist Tapan Ghosh — who has praised the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar — gave an address. The CMF complained, but on Wednesday Blackman said that he had only just found the email, which he thought his staff had already answered.

“If they would still like to meet, I ask that they telephone my office to make an appointment,” he said.

However, Amin said that the CMF had sent numerous emails to Blackman over five months.

“This was private correspondence and we got nowhere. I spoke to a member of his staff to stress that this was important and I’m sure she brought it to his attention.”

The prime minister was copied into the correspondence and the CMF also had a meeting with party chairman Brandon Lewis to discuss the Blackman complaint.

“One of our executive committee members also met Mr. Blackman at an event and he (Blackman) said, ‘I owe you a response.’

“I don’t want to call anyone a liar but to say there was one email is not accurate.”

There are two Muslim Conservative members of Parliament — Nusrat Ghani and Rehman Chishti. Neither responded to requests for comment.

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