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December 8, 2019

Labour’s promise to tackle inequalities

Opinion

December 8, 2019

Labour candidate for Manchester Gorton

I was proud to attend the launch for the Labour Party’s Race and Faith Manifesto. It represents our vision and commitment to challenging inequality and discrimination we see in society.

A Labour government will build a society and world free from all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. As former vice chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, I am proud that my party has created such robust manifesto, which takes anti-racism seriously. Muslim communities, like other BAME and minority faith communities, suffer from immense prejudice and structural inequalities which impact their day to day lives. No other party has a manifesto like this.

In almost all professions, Muslims are underrepresented in leadership roles. We have seen many cases where Muslim job applicants have been turned down for interviews simply because they have Muslim-sounding names. In employment, BAME workers have been shown to be paid less than their non-BAME colleagues. This cannot continue. That’s why the Labour Party has announced that in government, we will launch a Race Equality Unit and tackle such inequalities head on.

Safety is a major concern for Muslims due to the rise of Islamophobia over the last decade. With attacks on Muslim places of worship, like the murder of Makram Ali at Finsbury Park, or the atrocities at Christ Church, New Zealand — Muslims are concerned about their security. The Labour Party has committed to strengthening protection for mosques by reviewing the funding allocated for their protection, and by amending the law to include attacks on places of worship as a specific aggravated offence. Labour is listening to the Muslim community and standing by our side.

It therefore deeply saddens me when I see the governing party not taking Islamophobia seriously, when its implications are so grave. When Boris Johnson used the terms ‘bank robber’ and ‘letterbox’ to describe Muslim women, this was not just hurtful to one of the most vulnerable groups in the UK, his words had consequences. These comments were linked to a massive 375 per cent spike in hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims. Shockingly, the Prime Minister has refused to apologise, and former home secretary refused seven times to condemn the use of such inflammatory language.

This lack of regard by the Tory Party for the Muslim community exists at every level, from the Prime Minister to grassroots membership. Conservative MPs, such as Bob Blackman, have retweeted renowned Islamophobic provocateurs including Tommy Robinson and hosted the anti-Muslim nationalist, Tapan Ghosh, in the House of Commons. A dossier recently obtained by the Guardian and compiled by the twitter user @MatesJacob exposed how 25 sitting and former Tory councillors posted, endorsed, or shared racist and Islamophobic content on social media. Rather than take concrete action to investigate and combat Islamophobia, the approach of the Prime Minister and Tory leadership has been one of continual denial.

Even when this problem of Islamophobia is repeatedly pointed out by well-respected figures within their own party, such as former chairwoman Baroness Warsi, it is ignored. When Muslim organisations point out the problem of Islamophobia in the Tory Party, again, they are routinely ignored. The Muslim Council of Britain, the UK’s largest Muslim group, said that Islamophobia is an issue which is “particularly acute in the Conservative Party, who have approached Islamophobia with denial, dismissal and deceit”.

Organisations such as the MCB and Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) have consistently called for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia within the party, but to no avail.

The Tory Party’s refusal to hold an independent inquiry into Islamophobia is all the more outrageous when we take our mind back to the Tory leadership debates in June. Then, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Sajid Javid all promised an inquiry into Islamophobia; now the Tory leadership squabble is over, they have all shamelessly dropped this commitment. This doesn’t just betray British Muslims, but it also demonstrates the utter contempt the Tory Party has for our community. What is most damning from the myriad of examples is the complete lack of transparency over this issue. I have personally asked the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, what processes the Party has in dealing with Islamophobia. Unsurprisingly I did not get a sufficient answer.

Why does the Tory Party not want to hold an independent inquiry into Islamophobia? The answer is clear — because the results would be far too damning. In addition to the litany of Islamophobic comments by MPs and councillors, recent polling conducted by HOPE Not Hate has shown an astonishing 60 per cent of Tory members believe Islam is a “threat to Western civilisation”. The Conservative Party also refused to accept the definition of Islamophobia adopted by the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Mayor of London, as well as councils across the country — presumably because so many of their elected representatives and members would be implicated by it.

At the pinnacle of responsibility of the Conservative Party is the Prime Minister. We should be able to turn to our Prime Minister for leadership, safety and reassurance. Sadly, Boris Johnson’s reputation for xenophobic and Islamophobic have only emboldened attacks on Muslims and other faith and ethnic minorities.

In light of the General Election, this is a time when parties and candidates should be listening to their constituents to ensure that they best represent their interests. A Labour government will be unwavering in its support of the Muslim community, and unswerving in our dedication to stamp out Islamophobia from our society.

If the Conservative candidates are truly interested supporting Muslim communities, I suggest that they start by listening to mainstream Muslim voices that they have already conveniently dismissed — including Baroness Warsi, MCB and MEND. Muslim communities will not be served by Tory “denial, dismissal and deceit” over the very real threat of Islamophobia festering in our society, and in the Tory Party.