The Conservative government cannot be trusted to tackle Islamophobia if they cannot even name it
November marks Islamophobia Awareness Month. This yearly occasion is a sobering reminder of just how pervasive and insidious Islamophobia is in our society. It reminds us of the need to tackle this hatred and the violent crimes and discrimination it manifests.
Like so many Muslims up and down the country, I have experienced this hatred first-hand. As Muslims we are targeted because of faith, our practices, and the way we dress. Our places of worship are threatened, we face discrimination in the workplace, and our young people fear Islamophobic bullying in schools and on the streets. I am determined to build a society free from Islamophobia to allow future generations of British Muslims to thrive.
At the beginning of Islamophobia Awareness Month, I raised a point of order in the Chamber on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s failure to respond to my letter about Islamophobia. This follows a theme from last year when former prime minister Boris Johnson ignored my letter for over a year.
The Conservative government appears to be at worst in denial about the problem and at best shockingly complacent
The Conservative Party is still yet to apologise for the former Prime Minister’s past hateful comments about Muslim women, which reportedly led to a 375 per cent increase in hate crime. This silence is typical of a government failing to truly confront Islamophobia.
Despite promises in 2019, the Conservatives have yet to carry out an independent investigation of Islamophobia in the UK. The inadequacies appear to only worsen as just days before Islamophobia Awareness Month, media reports revealed that Michael Gove scrapped all plans for a government definition on Islamophobia.
This is deeply disappointing as the threat of Islamophobia is more pertinent than ever. Across 2021/2, hate crimes against Muslims accounted for 42 per cent of all recorded religious hate crimes. Over the last five years, Muslims have formed the highest proportion of victims of religiously motivated hate crimes.
In the face of this epidemic of violence and hatred in our society, the Conservative government appears to be at worst in denial about the problem and at best shockingly complacent.
Since November 2018, I have been campaigning for the APPG on British Muslims working definition of Islamophobia to be universally adopted. This definition already has the confidence of over 800 Muslim organisations, hundreds of local councils, the Mayors of London and Greater Manchester as well as every single major political party. The one notable absence from the list is the Conservative Party. Even the Scottish Tories have adopted the definition.
How can the Muslim community trust in the Conservative government to tackle this hatred, if they cannot even name it? I am ashamed that their record has only grown worse since last November. This year, to mark Islamophobia Awareness Month I am urging the government to begin a step-change in its approach to this issue by recognising and adopting the APPG definition of Islamophobia. Though the government promised to draft an alternative definition, the only advisor, Qari Asim, was removed in June 2022 and plans for a new definition have been dropped.
Nusrat Ghani’s allegations only adds to the picture of the Conservative Party’s failure to tackle Islamophobia. In January 2022 the former prime minister asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an inquiry into the allegations, but ten months later little has happened. Labour is calling on Rishi Sunak to put this right, appoint a new advisor and get this investigation finished as soon as possible. This allegation adds to the pile of appalling behaviour within the government and the new Prime Minister must take action urgently.
By sharp contrast, Labour is aiming for a nuanced and complex understanding of Islamophobia. Labour has adopted new codes of conduct on Islamophobia and anti-Black racism and Afrophobia. Whilst the Conservative Party consistently fails to take steps to define Islamophobia, we aim to publish a Handbook on Islamophobia as well as introducing a Race Equality Act.
For too many Muslims, it feels like this Prime Minister and this government simply do not care. The Muslim Census reported that 92 per cent of Muslims believe that the government is Islamophobic. This is a statistic that sadly maps onto the reality of the current government. The Singh Investigation into alleged discrimination in the Conservative Party revealed institutional failings in the party’s handling of Islamophobic complaints. This was an investigation that failed to engage with a single Conservative Muslim member before publishing its findings. This a bleak verdict which is only worsened as there is still yet to be a one-year progress review published.
The theme for this year’s Islamophobia Awareness Month is “tackling denial”. It is time the government changed its ways and seized this opportunity with both hands. After all, as political representatives it is our responsibility to safeguard all communities, no matter their race or religion.
Afzal Khan, Labour MP for Manchester Gorton.
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