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Policy Exchange fringe event “Challenging Islamophobia” at the Conservative Party Conference

Baroness Warsi has criticised this event as promoting anti-Muslim sentiments. In my view her criticisms are not valid apart from one.


Posted 16 November 2019

I have attended the Conservative Party Conference for many years. At the conference, I rarely enter the main auditorium since its sessions are completely stage-managed for television.

Instead, I spend my time at the fringe events where the speakers are much more open and there is genuine opportunity to ask questions which are not pre-vetted.

One event at this year’s conference provoked a significant amount of critical publicity.

On this page are:

Details of the event

The event was organised by the think tank Policy Exchange on Sunday 29 September. The title was “Challenging Islamophobia.”

I would have attended if I had been at the conference. However, although I had sent off my application to attend in March, the Conservative Party perfectly reasonably did not send me a conference pass since I had resigned from the Conservative Party in July!

The panel was chaired by Trevor Phillips OBE, Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange. @TrevorPTweets

The speakers were:

Criticism from Baroness Warsi

The first I heard about the event was when I saw the tweet below:

I feel sick to my stomach tonight to see the Party I chaired sink to such depths
Where British Muslims have become a convenient scapegoat for populism ,a butt of insulting language to increase poll ratings & an event on Islamophobia is an opportunity to demonise Muslims #CPC19

— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) September 29, 2019

Baroness Warsi was not present at the event, but by the following day had listened to a recording as evidenced by her tweet below.

Just listened to a recording of this”event”sent by a colleague & it’s disgusting.
Over 35 minutes into this panto TP asks the panelist’s for “30 secs on whether we should have a definition of Islamophobia and whether there should be an inquiry into Tory #Islamophobia
30 secs!

— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) September 30, 2019

She then wrote an article online in “The Guardian” by Baroness Warsi: “Challenging Islamophobia? An event at conference tells me the Tories don’t care” which I read shortly afterwards.

A brief internet search while writing this page failed to find any independent criticism of the event by someone who had been there or was not repeating Baroness Warsi. If any reader finds some and tells me, I will add a link on this page.

My position on the event

Perhaps as a consequence of my professional career, I never comment on anything without reading or watching it in full. Accordingly, I said nothing after seeing the above tweets and article. It was a few weeks before I found a link to the presentation video on YouTube. It took me even longer before I found the time to watch it!

Having done so, I do not share Baroness Warsi’s concerns about the event apart from one point. She writes in her Guardian article:

Even more disturbing was how the panel tried to shore up their anti-racism credentials by denouncing antisemitism within the Labour party. It was the worst kind of hypocrisy.

I thought this terrible playing of “race politics’ was confined to the divide-and-rule practices of the colonial past.

I have been raising the issue of Islamophobia within my party for nearly four years and have often been asked whether it is “as bad as Labour antisemitism”. I have refused to engage in this debate, because those who do are no friends of any minority.

I will not play “Muslim victimhood” versus “Jewish victimhood” or any other form of racism – those of us who truly care about equality believe all need protection.

I agree that it was completely unnecessary for the speakers to refer to antisemitism within the Labour Party. That is simply not relevant to the issue of anti-Muslim bigotry or hatred generally, or in particular within the Conservative Party. It wasted time that should have been devoted to the topic under discussion.

In my opinion, apart from the above point, it was an excellent event, with all of the speakers expressing appropriate concerns about anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Muslim hatred.

It is not worthwhile my responding individually to the points in Baroness Warsi’s article or her tweets. Instead readers should watch the entire recording for themselves and form their own conclusions. It is only one hour long.

However, there are two points where readers may appreciate some additional information.

Islamophobe of the Year

Somebody on the panel mentioned this award being given by a UN agency. That is incorrect. The award is given each year by the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

The confusion may have come about because it states at the foot of the IHRC’s page “IHRC at UN” that “The Islamic Human Rights Commission is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.”

The IHRC’s website does not have a consolidated list of award recipients. However, by searching I generated a page listing press releases about the award recipients in previous years. There is also a partial list on the Wikipedia page “Islamic Human Rights Commission.”

I do not take the IHRC seriously as a human rights organisation, and the levity of the panellists when discussing the award was in my view entirely appropriate.

Letter supporting Boris Johnson’s Telegraph article

I have myself been very critical of the article that Mr Johnson wrote in “The Telegraph” in August 2018. See my page: “The toxification of politics threatens us all.”

However, others are entitled to take a different view.

The letter read out by Trevor Phillips was from someone who had originally been planning to come and be the fourth panellist. However, rioting in Jakarta had made him decide that he needed to stay in Indonesia.

The individual concerned was Yahya Cholil Staquf. He is General Secretary of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Supreme Council which is the world’s largest Muslim organization, with over 50 million members.

I have reproduced below from the transcript what he said about the article:

“Perpetually focusing attention outward, as seen in the endless call for an Islamophobia investigation into Britain’s governing party, only adds to the problem by distracting from the need for debate within and about Islam.

Jokes are not inherently Islamophobic or hateful. And this includes Boris Johnson ’s joke about the burqa.

Seeking to police what other people think and say is an authoritarian means of preventing free discussion, rather than an expression of compassion.”

I do not know how familiar Yahya Cholil Staquf is with the situation in the UK, or exactly what he thinks in depth about Mr Johnson’s article. However, readers need to be aware exactly who he is. It is utterly ludicrous to imply that his letter read out by Trevor Phillips was in some way anti-Muslim.

That unfortunately is the clear implication of the tweet by Adam Bienkov quoted within Baroness Warsi’s own tweet above: “Trevor Phillips now reading out a letter which includes a defence of Boris Johnson calling Muslim women who wear the burqa “letterboxes.

I do not know how much the original tweeter, Adam Bienkov took in about Yahya Cholil Staquf’s background when Trevor Phillips introduced the letter, as it is often easy to miss things when not familiar with the information.

However, it is essential that readers watching the video below are fully aware who Yahya Cholil Staquf is, and that he not someone who could ever be described as being "anti-Muslim."

Some notable quotes

I have selected one quote from each of the panellists.

Nusrat Ghani

“The Left in the Western world are so busy feeling my pain [that] they have no idea what I am trying to achieve.”

Qanta Ahmed

“Islamism is fundamentally illiberal, it is fundamentally domineering, it is fundamentally about a supremacism that is a total rejection of Islam’s values.

Islam intrinsically demands pluralist belief. I cannot be a believing Muslim if I don’t accept the Gospel, if I don’t accept Jesus, and I don’t accept Moses, I cannot become a Muslim. That is pluralism written.

This is absolutely rejected by Islamism. At the centre they have a cosmic enmity to Judaism.”

Peter Tatchell

“With regard to why the Left has this hands-off view, there [are] two basic reasons.

First of all, they say that if they challenge Muslim people over extremist ideas that they will be fuelling the fire, that they will be colluding with the far right, that they will be exacerbating prejudice.

Well at one level, yes. And it is also true that [with] a very marginalised community we don’t want to heap more upon the Muslim community. But if the Left and liberal opinion, and indeed the right as well, does not want to speak out, it leaves a vacuum which the far-right like the BNP, the EDL, and so on have exploited.

So when liberals vacate the space, it gets seized by the far right. And they don’t target just the extremists, they make generalised and unjustified attacks upon all Muslim people.”

A video recording plus a link to a transcript

I recommend watching the recording below:

The website of “The Mirror” newspaper has published a “Transcript of Tory conference Islamophobia fringe event that provoked angry row.”

I found that the transcript was incomplete. Accordingly, although it is useful for checking things afterwards, I do not regard it as an adequate substitute for watching the recording.


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