Tories' Islamophobia is pushing Muslim voters into Corbyn's arms
Let's imagine a Labour MP had hosted a meeting in the House of Commons for a hate preacher who defended the ethnic cleansing of Jews.
Let's further imagine that this same Labour MP denied the existence of thousands of Jews in his constituency.
And then refused to retract or apologise.
Now let's further imagine that Jeremy Corbyn made one of his first appearances of the London local elections campaign alongside this MP.
There would be outrage.
The BBC News at Ten would lead on it for days on end. Newsnight would be about nothing else. All the mainstream papers would be filled with inside analysis and splash stories.
Cue furious demands for Corbyn’s resignation, amid a scroll of denunciations of the anti-Semitism infecting Corbyn's Labour Party.
And rightly so.
MCB's powerful intervention
Now let's look at something that actually happened, and substitute the word "Muslim" for the word "Jew". Tory MP Bob Blackman hosted in Parliament a Hindu extremist who, among a torrent of despicable statements about Muslims, has tweeted: "Shame on Rohingya men. Shame on Islam. Seeing this reproduction rate, how can we blame the Myanmar Buddhists for driving them out?"
Blackman then retweeted the far-right leader Tommy Robinson sounding off about "the reality of being a minority surrounded by Islam". He claims he did so in error.
And Blackman has denied the irrefutable fact that there are more Muslims than Jews in his constituency of Harrow East.
No outcry resulted. The story barely made the news.
The MCB, to its great credit, produced a meticulously researched dossier setting out the Tory party’s structural hostility to Islam
With the exception of one article in Middle East Eye, there was not even any criticism of Theresa May for standing alongside the Tory Islamophobe Bob Blackman on the campaign trail.
No one batted an eyelid. The double standard is revolting - and completely normal for British Muslims today.
That is why last weekend's intervention by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) demanding a full inquiry into Tory Islamophobia was so powerful. The MCB, to its great credit, produced a meticulously researched dossier setting out the Tory party’s structural hostility to Islam.
Yet cabinet minister Sajid Javid brushed all this aside when he appeared on The Andrew Marr Show last Sunday morning. He used his airtime instead to attack the MCB, saying it “does not represent Muslims in this country”, rather than address the very substantive issues raised by the MCB dossier.
A double problem
Now let’s briefly return to our mental experiment and imagine that Sajid Javid were a senior Labour politician presented with unimpeachable, hard evidence of Labour Party anti-Semitism. Let's imagine that he'd brushed aside the evidence on the unsupported assertion that the group that produced it was not representative of Jews.
There would have been a public row of epic proportions. He wouldn’t have got away with it. All of this shows that British Muslims face a double problem.
First of all, there is anti-Muslim bigotry, which sometimes turns to violence in British streets. Muslims are forced to live with this every day. Second, they have to cope with the warped mentality of much of the British political class and media, which denies this threat exists at all.
Over the last few months, the media quite rightly have held Jeremy Corbyn to account over Labour anti-Semitism. However, as the Jewish Council for Racial Equality and the Union of Jewish Students are now most creditably pointing out, they have utterly failed to hold the Tory party to account over Islamophobia.
In fairness, the Times recently published a commendable leader supporting the MCB and suggesting, "nobody could credibly deny that a certain level of prejudice exists against Muslims in Britain".
Biggest religious minority
The Independent's coverage of the MCB's demand has been strong. But these are a few candles in a long, dark night. More typical of media coverage of Islamophobia was the assertion by Melanie Phillips in the Times that it did not even exist.
And the Times made a giant contribution to Islamophobia last summer, when it published four front pages in a row carrying a story about mean-spirited Muslims adopting a Christian child, and forcing her to abandon her cherished cross.
It turned out to be untrue. The new parents were kind and loving: the child was happy. The Times had to publish a front-page IPSO edict saying that it had broken rule one of the editors’ code of practice: accuracy.
The journalist who wrote these stories is still writing for the paper. He wouldn’t have been if he had published four false front page stories about Jews. Nor would his editor. In the great French statesman Fouché’s famous phrase, the refusal by the Tories and Tory-supporting media to tackle Islamophobia is worse than a crime, it is a mistake.
Muslims are now the biggest religious minority in the United Kingdom. The majority are people with small-c conservative social values, a strong work ethic, and a deep sense of family – people who would generally gravitate to the most conservative mainstream political party.
It is absurd for the Tory party to allow such voters to be driven into the arms of Jeremy Corbyn's Labour party.
If the Tories and their media friends cannot be persuaded to tackle Islamophobia out of principle, will they not do so out of expediency?
- Peter Oborne was named freelancer of the year 2016 by the Online Media Awards for an article he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong About Nuclear Iran.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, meets local people at Finsbury Park Mosque in London after a van attack in June 2017 (REUTERS)