Sun, 21 April 2024

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By Bishop of Leeds
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This government cannot keep treating British Muslims with contempt


4 min read

When the former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, Lee Anderson, made outright Islamophobic comments about the Mayor of London, people were shocked and couldn’t believe he would say something so openly and blatantly racist.

However, British Muslims like me were not surprised. We have often heard similar rhetoric being spouted without any action or repercussions.

In the same week, the former home secretary Suella Braverman claimed Islamists are now in charge of Britain, and the former prime minister Liz Truss shared a platform with Steve Bannon, who openly praised Tommy Robinson as a “hero” whilst Truss remained silent. No action was taken against either of them.

I know how fearful British Muslims are for the future

I genuinely believe the only reason action was taken against Lee Anderson was because the pressure on the Prime Minister to do something became too great. It could be argued that Suella’s comments were far worse, and yet no action was taken. Despite even Anderson’s comments being so openly Islamophobic, government ministers, one after the other, refused to call those comments out as Islamophobic and anti-Muslim. 

This is why, when some people viewed the recent Downing Street press conference as a unifying speech from the PM, British Muslims knew this signalled a worrying road ahead. We know the track record of consecutive Conservative governments when it comes to Muslims.
The current Prime Minister has never visited a Mosque during his premiership, even though British Muslims, according to the Home Office’s own statistics, are the most targeted religious group when it comes to hate crimes. It is unclear the last time a home secretary even visited a Mosque or Muslim community to reassure them about the year-on-year rise in attacks they have faced. 

Earlier this year, the Communities Secretary Michael Gove withdrew government funding, worth around £150,000, for the Inter Faith Network (IFN) after the appointment of a former deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), as a trustee. The government rejected the widely accepted APPG definition of Islamophobia in 2019 and promised to form its own, but five years on and the work hasn’t even started. 

Adding to this, the government only engages with Muslims who don’t challenge the government on Islamophobia. The Muslim Council of Britain is just one example of the government disengaging with an organisation that has called the government out over this. 

Conservative MP for Gillingham and Rainham, Rehman Chishti, recently stated on Sky News that Rishi Sunak has “made the calculation” that he doesn’t need Muslim voters for his “political purposes”. The new Rochdale MP claims the Prime Minister will be making “Muslims” the wedge issue in the next election. All of this, for British Muslims who just want to go about their ordinary lives, providing for their families, helping Britain be the best it can be, spells worry.  

The government now wants to expand its remit to deal with “Islamists”. British Muslims know how labels like “Islamists” are used in bad faith to cover up real hatred and hostility; in the same way, some use “Zionists” to cover up hostility and hatred towards Jewish people. With a government that operates a hierarchy of racism and has for years neglected, disengaged with, and lost the trust of British Muslim communities, I know how fearful British Muslims are for the future. 

If the problem is “Islamists” and not ordinary British Muslims, why does the government treat ordinary Muslims so vastly differently from the other communities it engages with?
Sunak is prepared to push to the right and doesn’t care about the risks. I know how worried Muslim families are and how much they are looking to parliamentarians to speak up and protect them from becoming a political football. 

Our Parliament has a long tradition of good people standing on the right side of history, and I hope there will be many in this Parliament who also speak out despite the risks. 


Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West

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