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Equalities commission urged to probe Conservative party Islamophobia

Muslim Council of Britain submits a dossier with more than 150 examples of Islamophobia to the Equality and Human Rights Commission
The Conservative party has refused to carry out a full investigation into alleged Islamophobia in the party (AFP)

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has formally asked the United Kingdom’s official equalities body to investigate Islamophobia within the Conservative party.

In a letter to the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR), the MCB said there is a problem of “institutional Islamophobia” within the ranks of Britain’s ruling party, which has so far refused to bow to pressure to carry out a thorough investigation into mounting claims.

The council also submitted a dossier documenting examples of Islamophobia by over 150 party members, which it said showed Islamophobia “runs deep” in the party.

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The commission is an independent body invested by parliament with special powers to challenge discrimination based on the UK’s Equality Act, and is already looking into claims of antisemitism in the opposition Labour party.

In a statement, the MCB said it had “made numerous calls for several years now alongside Conservative politicians for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party”.

“However, those calls have been largely ignored, while little or no robust action has been taken on perpetrators of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party,” it added.

That call has been supported by a number of leading Conservative figures, including former party chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

In setting out its case, the MCB, an umbrella organisation with over 500 members including mosques and schools, included a dossier which it said documents an “atmosphere of hostility against Muslim conservative party members” and which also includes examples of alleged Islamophobia by MPs.

It also argues that the party has denied the existence of a problem and that when complaints have been made, the Conservative leadership has “demonstrated a callous attitude to complaints, misleading members and the public with limited transparency”.

In a statement, Harun Rashid Khan, secretary-general of the MCB, said: “It is a sad day for us to have brought this complaint to the doors of the EHRC, but the concerns of Muslims at large about Islamophobia within the Conservative party have fallen on deaf ears.”

“We have taken this step after an unprecedented number of cases have been brought to our attention, suggesting a culture within the Conservative party where Islamophobia is not only widespread, but institutional. We now request the EHRC to look at all the evidence and investigate this matter with great urgency.”

'Runs deep'

In recent years, the MCB has taken on a number of leading Conservative figures, arguing in 2016 that a widely controversial campaign by Zac Goldsmith to become mayor of London demonstrated a “tolerance for Islamophobia”.

In December, the group described as “incendiary and dehumanising” comments by former foreign secretary Boris Johnson, now frontrunner for the leadership of the Conservative party and therefore prime minister, which compared Muslim women who wear the face veil to letterboxes.

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Last month, the group accused philosopher Roger Scruton, then a government advisor, of sharing “unashamedly bigoted ideas” after he spoke of an “invasion of huge tribes of Muslims”, in an interview with the New Statesman.

According to MCB's dossier, a Conservative councillor was a moderator for the “Boris Johnson: Supporters’ Group” on Facebook, which included comments calling for the bombing of mosques around the UK.

Another member is recorded as saying that “Islam must be banned from Europe”.

The MCB said that such comments by party representatives and rank-and-file party members demonstrated that the “the problem of Islamophobia runs deep into the party”.

In a statement, Miqdaad Versi, MCB head of media monitoring, deplored the party's apparent dismissal of the organisation's concerns.

“It is regrettable that the Conservatives have refused to take our concerns seriously or that of their own Conservative peers," Versi said. 

"Furthermore, the current Conservative-led government has also decided to reject a definition of Islamophobia as accepted by the MCB and key Muslim stakeholders, which leads us to question, what message do the Conservatives want to send to Muslim communities?”

Earlier this month the Conservative party rejected a cross-party definition of Islamophobia backed by the MCB, arguing that it would stifle freedom of expression and impede counterterrorism.

David Isaac, the head of the ECHR, said on Saturday that the commission was prepared to investigate “without fear or favour” any allegations of Islamophobia in the Conservative party.

“If we find unlawful acts we are prepared to use our powers to do something about it,” he said.