The Muslim Council of Britain (MBC), a large Muslim umbrella organization has called for an investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.
Rabat – Islamophobia has been a persistent hot topic in parliament in recent months as debate over a definition of Islamophobia and ongoing complaints within the Tory party continues under the backdrop of increasing national and global violence against Muslim communities.
MCB, which represents mosques, schools, and charitable organizations, formally urged the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to step in on repeated reported cases of Islamophobia within the UK’s ruling party, after repeated disregarded calls for the party to investigate and take action against its accused members.
“It is a sad day for us to have brought this complaint to the doors of the EHRC, but the concerns of Muslims at large about Islamophobia within the Conservative Party have fallen on deaf ears,” Harun Rashid Khan, MCB Secretary General said in a statement.
An ongoing issue
MCB cited 150 examples of Tory islamophobia and emphasized a trend of intolerance, lack of action on complaints, and denial within the party, such as Boris Johnson’s description of women wearing burkas as “letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Lack of action suggests “a culture within the Conservative Party where Islamophobia is not only widespread but institutional,” Khan said, regarding MCB’s decision to bring the issue to the EHRC.
Tory Chairman Brandon Lewis told Hope Not Hate, a British political action group, there is “absolutely no place for [Islamophobia] in this country or in the Conservative Party.”
While 14 Tory party members have been suspended because of islamophobic Facebook posts, Lewis has not yet said how many complaints the party received in total, despite calls to be more transparent in their processing of complaints.
The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, a non-partisan group aiming to support aspirations and challenges faced by British Muslims, proposed a working definition of Islamophobia to be used in parliament in December 2018.
Their definition states: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
While the definition, which is not legally binding, has been adopted by the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, the Conservative party said it needed “further consideration,” because of its implication on free speech.
The National Police Chief’s Council (NPPC) added that the current definition could cause confusion in police investigations and limit counter-terrorism enforcement.
“Free speech cannot be an absolute right or freedom to harm, but as it stands this definition risks shutting down debate about any interpretation of the tenets of Islam which are at odds with our laws and customs, which in turn would place our police officers and members of the judicial system in an untenable position,” NPPC Lead for Counter-Terrorism Neil Basu said in a statement.
Recent attacks add to urgency
Outside of parliament, MCB has called for greater aid in protecting Muslims and mosques following the New Zealand Christchurch attack and recent violence within the UK.
The number of attacks on Muslims within the country has been on the rise, with street incidents increasing by 30 percent and online incidents increasing by 16.3 percent from the previous year, according to a 2017 report by TellMAMA [Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks].
“Every single one of us who goes to the mosque could picture themselves in that mosque in New Zealand, living those exact moments. With guys going around Birmingham smashing up mosques, it brings it a bit [closer to] home,” resident Abdullah Saif told Aljazeera following the March 2019 string of attacks on Birmingham mosques.
The risk of being a victim of a hate crime was highest for Muslim adults and 46 percent of Muslims said “prejudice against Islam makes it very difficult to be Muslim in this country,” according to a report by the APPG on British Muslims.
In response, the government has increased the funding any religious group can apply for to increase security at their place of worship.
The MCB request coincides with EHRC’s announcement of a formal investigation into anti-semitism within the Labour Party.
The EHRC responded that it is following its “usual processes” in addressing complaints and has not confirmed a full investigation.