Tory Islamophobia: The UK equality watchdog is letting the party off the hook

JVL Introduction

The Muslim Council of Britain and other Muslim organisations have been calling for an inquiry into Islamophobia for ages.

Now here’s the surprise.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission finally acted this week – deciding to do nothing.

It’s happy to allow the Tory Party to investigate itself, even though, as Peter Oborne shows, this proposed investigation is hopelessly procedural, ignoring “the poisonous culture of structural Islamophobia that has become firmly established inside the Tory party”.

“I’m starting to wonder,” muses Oborne, “whether the EHRC plays straight with Muslims. And I am also starting to wonder whether it offers special treatment to the Conservative Party.”

 

This article was originally published by Middle East Eye on Fri 15 May 2020. Read the original here.

Tory Islamophobia: The UK equality watchdog is letting the party off the hook

The Equality and Human Rights Commission announced this week that it would not launch an investigation into allegations of anti-Muslim bigotry within the Conservative Party ‘at this stage’

The Equality and Human Rights Commission announced this week that it would not launch an investigation into allegations of anti-Muslim bigotry within the Conservative Party ‘at this stage’

All four years of Jeremy Corbyn’s doomed leadership of the UK Labour Party were marred by serious accusations of antisemitism. These made headlines, and there is no question that the issue played a significant role in Labour’s crushing election defeat last December.

Yet, throughout this period, the Conservative Party had its own very serious problem of Islamophobia. Indeed, the views about Islam held by many Conservative Party members are shocking.

The issue dates back to David Cameron’s leadership and the London mayoral election of 2016. Notoriously, the Tories pumped out a constant barrage of propaganda portraying Labour candidate Sadiq Khan as the pawn of sinister Islamist forces.

Systemic Islamophobia

Worryingly, this policy came from the very top. In a shameful episode, Cameron, who was then prime minister, abused his position to falsely accuse an entirely innocent South London imam of being a “supporter of IS [Islamic State]” in a bid to link Labour to extremism. This smear was repeated by other senior Tories, and eventually apologies had to be issued and damages paid.

Numerous Tory MPs have expressed Islamophobic views before and since. Bob Blackman, MP for Harrow East, expressed regret after sharing an anti-Muslim post by Tommy Robinson. He also hosted events with anti-Muslim Hindu nationalist Tapan Ghosh, who has previously called for the UN to control the birth rate of Muslims and praised the genocide of Rohingya Muslims.

Islamophobic attitudes are structurally embedded within the Conservative Party membership on a scale that dwarfs Labour’s problem

As for ordinary party members, I am afraid the problem beggars belief. A YouGov poll last year unveiled the chilling finding that two-thirds of Tory members believed parts of Britain operated under sharia law. Almost half believed in the myth of no-go zones where “non-Muslims are not able to enter”, while 39 percent thought Islamist terror attacks “reflected widespread hostility to Britain among the Muslim community”.

In other words, Islamophobic attitudes are structurally embedded within the Conservative Party membership on a scale that dwarfs Labour’s problem.

Even the most senior Tories have made Islamophobic remarks. Before he was elected prime minister, Boris Johnson compared women who wear the niqab to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.

His most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, reportedly had overall responsibility for The Spectator website in 2006, according to Stuart Reid, the magazine’s acting editor at the time, when a controversial cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban was posted on the site.

Media bigotry

And yet, this deep-rooted Tory bigotry has never received more than a tiny fraction of the coverage that Labour antisemitism has been given in the mass media. It doesn’t take a genius to divine the reason. Much of the media was passionately anti-Corbyn, and all too happy to use antisemitism as a stick with which to beat the former Labour leader.

Just as importantly, many British newspapers share and actively promote the same Islamophobic attitudes that are rampant in the Tory party. It is a strongly held view held by too much of Fleet Street that Islamophobia is a myth fabricated by Muslim activists.

Melanie Phillips in The Times writes that claims of Islamophobia are “used to silence legitimate criticism of the Muslim world”. Rod Liddle accepts that it exists; writing in the Spectator, he notes that “my own view is that there is not nearly enough Islamophobia within the Tory party”. This kind of bigotry is as rampant among right-wing journalists as it is in the Tory party.

This brings me to this week’s decision by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which is supposed to be an impartial umpire in British society, identifying and tackling unfair discrimination in our society.

The equalities watchdog opened its investigation into Labour antisemitism in May 2019, with results expected to be published this summer. By contrast, it has been extremely slow to take evidence of Tory Islamophobia seriously.

Policy of inertia

The Muslim Council of Britain and other Muslim organisations have been calling for an inquiry into Islamophobia for ages. But this week, the commission announced that it planned to continue its policy of inertia.

After the Conservatives published the terms of reference for their own independent inquiry, the EHRC concluded “it would not be proportionate to initiate our own investigation at this stage”.

Fair enough, many will say. They will reasonably feel it is right that the EHRC should give the Conservative Party a chance to sort itself out before mounting an investigation.

I disagree. The problem is that the Tory investigation focuses almost solely on the complaints procedure. I agree that the complaints procedure is a shambles and badly needs investigation, but it is the least of the Tory problems when it comes to Islamophobia – and it looks to me that many serious issues are outside the Conservative terms of reference.

Will Johnson’s Islamophobic remarks be taken into account? Not likely. What about the poisonous Tory campaign against Khan in 2016? Don’t think so. The structural anti-Muslim bigotry among Tory members and too many MPs? Doesn’t look like it.

That’s because the terms of reference appear to completely ignore the poisonous culture of structural Islamophobia that has become firmly established inside the Tory party.

Narrow remit

When I put this point to the Conservative Party this week, I got no response to my email, and repeated telephone calls went unanswered. So I approached the EHRC, where at least the call was courteously answered and emails promptly returned.

I expressed my concern that the Conservative Party investigation focused too specifically on the complaints procedure and ignored the very serious wider issues of Tory Islamophobia. I suggested that the EHRC was therefore making a serious mistake by not questioning the Conservative Party’s very narrow remit, given that this was its explicit reason for not compiling its own investigation.

That raises very troubling questions about the commitment to impartiality and fairness of an organisation that ought to deal with all parties in the same evenhanded way

The only response I received from the EHRC was to be pointed in the direction of its earlier statement, which did not answer my questions.

There are also concerns about the Tories’ choice of chairman for the inquiry, Professor Swaran Singh. Singh, a psychiatrist of Sikh heritage, has written eloquently about the issues of racism that he encountered when he first came to Britain nearly 30 years ago.

But questions have been raised over an article written by Singh in Spiked Online, whose editor Brendan O’Neill has said: “Islamophobia is a recently invented term that is mainly designed to shut down critical discussion about Islam.”

Of course Singh should not be held to account for O’Neill’s comment. But suppose Corbyn had appointed as chairman of Labour’s antisemitism inquiry someone who wrote for a fringe magazine whose editor thought antisemitism was an invented term whose purpose was to shut down discussion. It does not require a great deal of imagination to conjure up the colossal public row that would have resulted.

Special treatment for Tories?

This brings me to the biggest problem of all. Islamophobia appears in quotation marks in the Tory party inquiry’s terms of reference. This suggests that the Tories are flirting with the same idea as O’Neill and Phillips – namely that Islamophobia doesn’t really exist.

I raised this issue, not once, not twice, but three times, with the EHRC; no response. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the EHRC has shown less willingness and been slower to respond to allegations of Islamophobia within the Tory party than those of antisemitism within Labour.

The EHRC is built around a beautiful idea. Established in 2006, it says it seeks to build on Britain’s “long history of upholding people’s rights, valuing diversity and challenging intolerance”.

I am afraid that the evidence suggests that Labour intolerance matters more than Tory intolerance when it comes to the EHRC. That raises very troubling questions about the commitment to impartiality and fairness of an organisation that ought to deal with all parties in the same evenhanded way.

I’m starting to wonder whether the EHRC plays straight with Muslims. And I am also starting to wonder whether it offers special treatment to the Conservative Party.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in 2017 and was named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He also 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.

 

Comments (14)

  • Mary Davies says:

    A damning indictment on the EHRC. Some forms of racism are treated more seriously than others, or worse, denied.

  • Doug says:

    EHRC
    Zero credibility

  • jw says:

    This from a conservative: thank the lord that there is some sort of fair-mindedness there.

    What do we conclude about the EHRC?

    I think this may be a blessing in disguise: we need a truly independent body to be set up to investigate Tory racism, and I’d nominate this guy to chair it.

    We need a new approach to inquiry.

    Lets stop waiting for the ‘officials’ to do what they call “inquiry” and do it ourselves: all evidence to be public, all commentary to be shared, all communities to be consulted and exposed to question …

  • Emma says:

    This is truly worrying it makes you wonder if the system is rigged? Scrutiny needs to continue to expose and highlight where things just don’t seem right.we must always strive for the truth to be exposed without this scrutiny where would we be?

  • David Hawkins says:

    The Chief Executive of the EHRC founded a school that has “advocacy of Israel” as part of the compulsory curriculum and advocacy of Israel is what this episode is really about.

  • David Cannon says:

    Two days ago I wrote this letter to my MP;
    Dear Harriet Harman,
    I understand that in 2016 you, as Chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, responded to a report in the Guardian that the then Tory Minister for Women and Equalities, Nicky Morgan, was under fire for appointing David Isaac, a wealthy city lawyer whose firm works for the government, as Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). You said that this was a serious conflict of interest because “the EHRC often took cases against the government” and Isaac’s firm often represented the government. Unfortunately, your concerns were ignored and Isaac was appointed chair.
    At the end of 2016, you then wrote directly to David Isaac, the new chair, raising concerns over the fact G4S had been awarded the contract for the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS) and that they had taken over the management of the EASS Helpline. You were also aware that the EHRC had a representative on the helplines management board so knew they were involved in the supervision of the service. You went on to say that you had had complaints about the quality of service by G4S employees and that there was evidence of a loss of trust in the service. Finally, you said you had been made aware that there may have been something untoward about the way the government procured the service in the first place.
    Yesterday, I learnt that the EHRC has just dropped its investigation into Tory Islamophobia because the Tories have told them they’re doing their own “independent” investigation. This raises serious concerns given that the EHRC didn’t consider dropping their investigation into alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, despite the fact that the Labour Party undertook their own extensive investigation. For example, in May 2016, the Jewish Chronicle boasted that the Chairman of the EHRC, David Isaac and the Chief Executive of the EHRC, Rebecca Hilsenrath, represented “a strong Jewish presence at the top of Britain’s equality watch-dog”.
    Perhaps this explains their eagerness to investigate allegations of anti-Semitism and their apparent disinterest in investigating Islamophobia or other forms of prejudice and inequality.
    Please let me know what you can do to raise your concerns about this most recent unacceptable development.
    Yours sincerely, David Cannon.

  • Two questions :
    i) Who funds the EHRC ?
    ii) Who appoints the membership of the EHRC?

  • David Cannon says:

    David Hawkins can you please provide precise details?

  • christina Evans says:

    It is disgraceful how the EHRC have reacted, but unfortunately not surprising. The public don’t understand the full facts and they genuinely believe its Jeremy Corbyn that is rascist, they don’t say he is anti-Semite anymore, the public say he is a rascist. It is not rocket science to see what has happened here. Firstly EHRC were investigating the labour party for antisemitism. Then a complaint against Islam has not been upheld against the Tories. The public think its Corbyn that had the islamophobia complaint made against him. You cant help wonder if this was intentional. Jeremy Corbyn has had the old schoolyard trick played on him. Bullies turn it around so the ones who are not the bullies but are the defenders have it turned on them to make it look like they are the bullies. It is grossly unfair on the muslims as well, why is it been allowed to happen ? it is not right, they are as British as anyone . They do have their own religion and are entitled to it. We are mainly atheists now, yet that is not why this is happening. This country is supposed to be tolerant of all people, this is increasingly not the case.

  • Martyn Meacham says:

    All racism is disgusting, and in this day and age, we are supposed to be ‘enlightened’…. Is racism handed down from parents to children, I wonder?

  • Anne says:

    One could criticise the Muslim treatment of women, but this ongoing crime could be attributed to all faiths and races, all of which are patriarchal.*
    Unlikely that Tory Govt would be bothered about that.

    However, would an investigation jeopardise the sacred relationship with their extraordinarily wealthy Emirate friends who now own/support icons of British upper classness; and Saudi which buys more UK manufactured armaments than any of the many other, inappropriate, customers. It employs Brit technicians to maintain the Typhoon and Tornado bombers used to slaughter Yemeni civilians – contrary to UK law and the Min of Def’s supposedly squeaky-clean export policy. That’s ‘British Values’ for you!
    How can one expect any morality?

    *(In the UK, guess who has suffered most from Austerity and Covid-19; earn less because traditionally female jobs, eg nursing, are considered more a duty and less valuable; though film stars – and even Teresa May gets paid less for speaking engagements than her male counterparts. Last week, Govt suggested a 2yr pay freeze for nurses! How many women are murdered by their partners/ex partners every year? etc…etc….)

  • RC says:

    David Cannon asks David Hawkins for precise details of Rebecca Hilsenrath’s partiality. The query is somewhat vague, but vis a vis her support for Zionism, the Mission Statement of the Hertsmere Jewish Primary School, which appears to be one of the two she founded (the other is Yavneh College) includes in its statement of Orthodox Judaism “the centrality of Israel in Jewish life”. Interestingly, my google search on this issue in the last fifteen minutes was much less productive than a comparable search at the time of the launch of the EHRC inquiry into the LP – has the record been cleaned to avoid this issue? Next search to be conducted on Yavneh College.
    It is also interesting to look at the somewhat fawning material on her in legal websites: she appears to endorse the increase in the corporatisation of the legal profession, which seems to be in sync with the ConDem attack on easy and universal access to legal justice (remember Vince Cable on tribunal fees, and look at e.g. the Barrister Blogger on the general ConDem, wrecking of the justice system in general). The bourgeois legal system is built around private property and to replace it will take a huge struggle including but not restricted to regular codification, a unicameral annual parliament, sharp popular control of parliamentary drafting and of the Law Commission. As it stands, we often need to use the bourgeois law but it is an undemocratic substitute for solidarity.

  • RH says:

    Peter Oborne should be praised for his continuling pursuit of genuine investigative journalism. Such as he are an incrasingly rare beast in this ‘profession’ populated fom an increasingly limited network of the privileged.

    That :
    “the EHRC concluded “it would not be proportionate to initiate our own investigation at this stage”.

    … is hardly surprising, given its partial bhaviour in respect of Labour.

    The body (fulfilling a much-needed role) is obviously not fit for purpose as presently constituted – another symptom of current flaws in the civic life of a nation more in the grip of graft and fakery than ever.

  • Margaret West says:

    A couple of years ago I read a review of a book by Shlomo Sand*** in
    “The Guardian Review”:
    https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/may/04/the-end-of-the-french-intellectual-by-shlomo-sand-review
    As its title suggests the book is concerned about the quality of French intellectual life – in which the author provides a history. On reading the review I was struck by a quote of a passage which occurs at the end of the book. This concerns a comparison of anti semitism (at the time of the Dreyfus affair ) with current islamophobia:

    ‘ Sand looks at a cartoon of Muhammad published in Charlie Hebdo, “a cruel-looking bearded figure wrapped in a white jellaba, his eyes hidden and holding a long pointed knife”. He has seen that image before. Where? In the Jew-hating cartoons published in the 1890s in La Libre Parole to whip up antisemitic sentiment during the Dreyfus affair. “ ‘

    *** a professor of history in Tel Aviv

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