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Is it time that British voters focus on Conservative Party Islamophobia?

  • Sam Hamad
  • 19 Nov 2019

Anti-Muslim sentiment runs deep in the Tory party. As Britain heads to the polls, the Muslim vote could prove decisive in what will be a very tight election.

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The picture is one of blood-soaked, knife-wielding Asian men. The text superimposed over the photo reads: ‘Islam: Come for the infidel killing, whore stoning, religious purity, stay for the terrific falafels.’ 

Another shows a simple packet of bacon, with the text ‘Syrian Christian test: if they eat it [the bacon], let them in’, with the poster going to rant against ‘Muslim invaders.’ 

This is not material scraped out of some fringe far-right gutter of the cyberworld but is rather a few examples of the output of elected officials of the British Conservative Party. In the past week, as the Tories take part in a general election campaign, widespread instances of Islamophobia by the party’s councillors have been exposed in the media

Some of the examples go back years, which was initially a point Tory HQ thought was worth pointing out as a defence, only to realise it simply indicted them for doing nothing about it. 

It’s not that this is some surprise. It was Baroness Sayeeda Warsi who, evaluating her own experiences as a Conservative peer and government minister, first claimed that Islamophobia had “passed the dinner-table test” within her party. 

This was in 2011, and her words fell on deaf ears. The louder people scream about Islamophobia within the Tory party, the more wilfully deaf the leadership seems to get.   

Even in light of the recent exposures, the party still refuses to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia, with Warsi seemingly being the only Tory that realises the significant increase in anti-Muslim sentiment. 

But the leadership isn’t interested, in fact, they can’t be interested.

Take, for example, the cavalier attitude of Tory Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who was on British radio defending his leader Boris Johnson’s decision to reject a meaningful inquiry into Islamophobia within the party once again. When Warsi’s warnings were brought up, the condescending Hancock replied: “I like Sayeeda … [s]he has a particular view on this, there are others who take a more balanced approach.”

A more balanced approach?

He must say this because Islamophobia is now in the DNA of the party. If the Tories were to investigate Islamophobia in the party in a meaningful manner, it would mean that they would have to investigate and possibly expel a significant element of their activist base. This includes elected officials, such as councillors. 

A few months ago, the anti-racist charity Hope Not Hate conducted an extensive poll of Tory members, finding that an astonishing 43 percent would ‘prefer not to have the country led by a Muslim.’ 

An even more astounding 67 percent endorsed the far-right myth that parts of the UK operated under ‘sharia law’, while 45 percent believed the absurdity that there were Muslim ‘no-go zones’ in parts of the country. 

These people comprise the essence of the Tory Party - and it’s reflected its leadership. All one has to do is have a brief flick through the dismal record of Johnson on Islam and Muslims, and you’ll see that a meaningful investigation into Islamophobia within the Tories should begin with the prime minister. 

It was in 2005 when Johnson, then editor of The Spectator, published an edition of that magazine with a front cover depicting a map of Europe with the crescent and star-emblazoned over it. The headline above the map read ‘Eurabian Nightmare’ while the edition was filled with authors warning of Europe’s ‘Islamification’. 

In the very same year, Johnson himself wrote that it was “natural” for the public to be scared of Islam, writing: “Islamophobia…fear of Islam…seems like a natural reaction.” 

Following the London bombings of 2005, Johnson was quick to lend his voice to those attempting to exploit these crimes to whip up Islamophobia.  He claimed that following the attacks, it was time for the British public to understand very simply that “Islam is the problem.” 

In a chapter recently unearthed in his 2007 book The Dream of Rome, Johnson made the ludicrous claim that “Muslim nations were involved in virtually every global flashpoint” and that Islam was “centuries behind” the Christian world.

Johnson cited a series of absurd examples of this alleged Muslim violence, demonstrating a mixture of historical illiteracy and the viscerally Islamophobic worldview found commonly among the global far-right. 

More recently, Johnson penned a deliberately inflammatory article in The Daily Telegraph that mocked Muslim women who choose to wear the niqab as looking like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”. 

After the publication of that article, the anti-racist monitor Tell MAMA found that there was a 375 percent spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes in England. 

The transformation of ‘political’ Islamophobia into real-world Islamophobia, in turn, demonstrates another reason the Tories cannot hold a meaningful investigation into Islamophobia – Islamophobia now has its very own constituency within the British electorate.

Another extensive survey carried out by Hope Not Hate this year found that 35 percent of people believed that Islam was ‘a threat to the British way of life’. A considerable portion of those people who hold Islamophobic views will naturally vote Tory; thus they have absolutely no electoral incentive to appear to be taking a tough stance on the views that fuel much of their support.

While these views have been shaped by the culture of Islamophobia that emerged in UK politics in the post-9/11 period, the most immediate radicalising factor in all of this has been Brexit. 

While UK membership of the EU has absolutely nothing to do with Islam or Muslim immigration, this isn’t what the Leave campaign, led by Johnson, wanted people to believe. Aside from Brexit’s inherent xenophobia against EU migrants that serves to enable a general turn against immigration in general, the Brexiteers from the very first moment deliberately utilised and exploited Islamophobia to further their agenda. 

Who could forget how Johnson, who ironically boasts of his Turkish heritage to deflect from accusations of racism, claimed that a vote for Remain was a vote for allowing 70 million Turkish Muslims and millions more Muslim refugees access to the UK? 

Who could forget that this Islamophobic anti-immigrant hysteria whipped up by Johnson and his ilk led to the murder of a pro-Muslim immigration activist Labour MP at the hands of a fascist assassin? 

Much like European fascism and Trumpism, Islamophobia and its intermixture with anti-immigrant politics and ultra-nationalism are at the heart of the Brexit ideology. The Brexit ideology is now the ruling ideology of the Tory Party – this is why Islamophobia runs rampant within it, virtually uncontested.    

The Conservative Party's disinterest in Islamophobia is simultaneously a reflection and shaping of the Islamophobia that blights the party and, more widely, British society. 

Those waiting for the Tories to come to their senses must realise the new reality: the Conservative Party is not interested in Islamophobia within their ranks because they are now an Islamophobic party. 

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to opinion.editorial@trtworld.com

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