The UK’s Conservative Party has struggled with Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric, and its failure to handle the issue has enabled an attitude of hate and intolerance against Muslims. Between 2018 and 2019, various Conservative politicians expressed anti-Muslim sentiment, especially on social media, that created a perception that Islamophobia is prevalent within the party.
In early 2019, 14 members of the Conservative party were suspended after the discovery of abusive social media posts collected by a Twitter account that had been monitoring them. The suspensions came at a time when the party was under immense scrutiny for Islamophobia, with former Tory chairman Sayeeda Warsi calling for an internal inquiry into the matter and urging the senior party leadership to handle the issue with the seriousness it deserved.
The suspensions happened alongside the reinstatement of a Conservative council candidate whose tweets regarding Islam likened the religion to alcoholism. The party disciplined the candidate and welcomed him back, but the candidate quit shortly following his reinstatement over the row his tweets had brought.
The UK’s biggest political parties have struggled with antisemitism and anti-Muslim bigotry and sentiment, with experts such as Fiyaz Mughal, the director of Faith Matters and Tell MAMA (a hate crime monitoring project), noting that the issue runs deeper within the parties. In an article written for The Guardian, Mr Mughal pondered how the anti-Muslim culture has permeated the Conservatives’ party structure so that it’s almost acceptable to express disdainful comments about Muslims and Islam.
Follow the Leader
While Mr Mughal’s article calls for introspection, perhaps it’s telling that even the party’s leader (and UK Prime Minister) Boris Johnson has had notable incidents over the same issue. In a column for the Daily Telegraph in 2018, Mr Johnson used the terms “bank robbers” and “letterboxes” to describe women who wore the full veil. He refused to apologise for the comments, saying that he never set out to “cause pain or hurt” when he wrote the article and that much of it was taken out of context.
In the week after Mr Johnson’s article was published, Tell MAMA reported a 375 percent rise in Islamophobic incidents. Later in 2019, he backtracked on a promise to have an inquiry into the Conservative party on the issue of Islamophobia, saying that the party needed a general investigation into the various kinds of prejudice. Even the Conservatives suspended for their online posts were quietly reinstated into the party.
The Way Forward
As a former councillor who served from 2002-2010, Mr Mughal understands the reactions by political parties when charges involving race, religion or culture are made against them. He reasons that parties resolve to introspect on the issues at a time when looking outwards for a solution should be the way to go. Internalising, according to Mr Mughal, is a mistake that focuses on minimising the damage rather than finding the root cause. For the Conservative party, this has been evident to all, as has been the case for the Labour party with antisemitism, and the Liberal Democrats in the early 1990s when allegations of racism surfaced.
Mr. Mughal is among many who have called for serious action to tackle Islamophobia within the Conservative party. Ms. Warsi is another, having long warned the party about its ‘Muslim problem’ during her time as a member and after her departure from it. She knows that statements on the matter without solid action are not the way to go. She called for a deep, wide-ranging and transparent look at the matter within the party, with witnesses allowed to come forward to share their experiences and those found wanting to be withdrawn as members. Ms. Warsi was confident that a proactive approach and a change in culture could help tackle an issue the party has masked behind bureaucracy.