• 16 Jun - 22 Jun, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

About six weeks ago, Labour stalwart and a former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was suspended for a year from the Labour Party for suggesting that at one point, Hitler had actually supported Zionism. The level of outrage this remark drew from all sections was unparalleled and there was much consternation among the Jewish community that Livingstone had not been removed from Labour forever. The papers were full of it and TV coverage went on forever and a day; it raised the question of rife anti-Semitism in the Labour Party and even the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was accused of being rather too soft on those guilty of this unspeakable crime. It is even being speculated that the fall in Labour’s popularity ratings was due to this reason.

On the other hand, most neutral observers of the political scene agree that the Conservative Party has a serious problem with Muslims. It is a problem that has been there for a long time and over this period of time it has grown unchecked and unhindered. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has called for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party following innumerable instances in which this problem, which should be regarded as abhorrent as anti-Semitism, has repeatedly raised its ugly head. During the past few weeks, Tory representatives and candidates have called Islam ‘the new Nazism’, shared an article in which Muslims have been called ‘parasites’ who ‘live off the state (i.e., live on social security benefits) and breed like rabbits’. Peter Oborne, the author of two outstanding books on Pakistan cricket, has conducted a research over the years which have shown that it is impossible for a practising Muslim to make his or her way to the top of the Tory Party. Those who deny the charge say that this does not stick because after all, the Tory Home Secretary, one of the four highest positions in government, is a Muslim by the name of Sajid Javid, of Pakistani origin.

When the MCB’s request for an inquiry was put to Mr Javid on a prominent TV show, he, rather predictably, denied that there was any such problem, and instead rounded up on the MCB claiming that it did not represent British Muslims and that it had associations with extremism. The MCB secretary general answered that ‘rather than address the serious concerns raised by our message, Mr Javid had chosen to shoot the messenger.’ Quite simply put, Mr Javid’s response showed two things; firstly, that the Tory Party was not seriously interested in dealing with this issue and secondly, it showed just how he had managed to rise to the top.

The MCB’s concerns have now been supported by more than 350 mosques and Muslim organisations who have written to the Tory Party backing the MCB’s call for a formal inquiry into Islamophobia in the Party. They represent umbrella organisations from all over the UK including Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Manchester. The call has also been backed by Baroness Saeeda Warsi, a former chairperson of the Conservative Party, and Lord Mohamed Sheikh who had served as an adviser to former PM David Cameron. In his letter to the current Prime Minister Theresa May, Lord Sheikh describes the issue as a matter of grave concern to many Muslim members and supporters of the Party. Interestingly, in his letter to Prime Minister May, Lord Sheikh has highlighted Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign against Sadiq Khan as an example. It will be recalled that Mr Goldsmith, who incidentally is the former brother in law of PTI Chief Imran Khan, had given vent to a no holds barred attack on his rival, stating in an article in the Daily Mail that Sadiq Khan was a candidate who “repeatedly legitimised those with extremist views’’. The well known Guardian columnist Owen Jones had been scathing in his criticism of Goldsmith at the time saying: ‘Goldsmith waged a campaign soaked in racism, in one of the most ethnically diverse cities on Earth, shamelessly exploiting anti-Muslim prejudices in an effort to secure a shameful victory, adding that ‘He undermined community cohesion. He indicated to young Muslims that there was no point engaging in the democratic process, because even the most progressive Muslim would be treated as aiding and abetting extremists. And in doing so, Zac Goldsmith became a recruiting sergeant for the very extremists he attempted to smear Khan with.’ It is a reference that would embarrass his former brother-in-law today.

The thing is that the Tory Party’s lurch to the extreme right has been some time in the making. This is the party that had always raised the immigration issue from the days of Enoch Powell and the party that ordered the Brexit referendum for fear of losing its members to the extreme right wing UK Independence Party. The anti-immigration sentiment, which is a cornerstone of the party, has overlapped with the anti-Muslim sentiment giving rise to the current Islamophobia which worries so many. Much of this Islamophobia is camouflaged behind what is termed as a legitimate discussion on Islam and a genuine concern for the change in British culture which Muslims are said to be bringing in. But it is really nothing of the sort. It is what it looks like and feels like. The sad part is that in a community in which the Tories are seen as ‘the natural party of government’, there is very little media and public condemnation against this. And the Tories know this, which means that the chances of this coming to an end any time soon are poor. Meanwhile, it is time for Muslims in the Tory Party and Muslim sympathisers of the Party to formulate a collective response to this and one hopes it is more robust than the one offered by Mr Javid. •