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How the Conservative Party should fix its Muslim problem

The Party needs to become much more transparent about its disciplinary processes, and needs to celebrate Muslims' contribution to Britain more vigorously.

Summary

Posted 16 May 2019

There are several pages on my website about the Conservative Party's failure to deal adequately with anti-Muslim bigotry its ranks. In particular:

The toxification of politics threatens us all

Why the Conservative Party needs to tackle anti-Muslim prejudice

Why the Conservative Party has a problem with anti-Muslim bigotry

I have also made a number of media appearances on the same subject.

Last week the editor of Conservative Home asked me to write a piece about what the Conservative Party should do. It was published on Conservative Home on 14 May, and you can read it below.

Mohammed Amin: How the Conservative Party should fix its Muslim problem

Mohammed Amin MBE is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum and Co-Chair of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester. He is writing in a personal capacity.

About 30 years ago, Perrier discovered that it was selling mineral water contaminated with benzene. The way the company successfully dealt with this problem has become a business school case study in crisis management.

Conversely, when Arthur Andersen encountered problems from its audit of Enron, it handled the issue so badly that the firm was destroyed. A textbook example of how not to do it.

In Britain, over the last three years, we have seen the Labour Party engulfed by accusations of antisemitism. For a detailed explanation and analysis, I recommend reading the second edition of Dave Rich’s book “The Left’s Jewish Problem – Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism.” In my view, Labour has been unable to shake off the problem because the attitudes involved go right to the top.

Like society as a whole, the Conservative Party has always contained some members who are xenophobic generally, or anti-Muslim in particular. However, I have never believed that this extended to the Party’s leadership. Otherwise I would not have been a Party member for 36 years. Nevertheless, we have seen a growing problem with significant numbers of Conservative Party members making anti-Muslim comments. Occasionally, this has extended higher up, for example with Boris Johnson denigrating Muslim women who wear the burqa by comparing them to letterboxes and bank robbers.

Despite the Party Chairman asserting a zero tolerance approach on Conservative Home, the bad news continues to emerge. In the time-honoured words of Lenin, “What is to be done?”

I have some specific advice.

Get serious about transparency

I recommend watching Brandon Lewis being interviewed on the Andrew Marr Show on 28 April 2019. [Hyperlinked on Conservative Home, but not here, as the programme will only be available on the BBC website until 27 May 2019.]

At 43:57 Mishal Husain asks him some very straightforward questions about cases of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party. Despite claiming to be transparent, the only demonstrated transparency in Lewis’s replies is that the Conservative Party has a code of conduct visible to the world on its website.

The Party should:

Commission an independent enquiry into anti-Muslim bigotry and how the Party has dealt with it

In 2018 a former Party Chairman who is a Muslim, alongside the Party’s longest serving Muslim Peer, and also the Conservative Muslim Forum, all called for such an enquiry. The refusal to respond positively to these requests from senior Muslims within the Party has not been well received by British Muslims generally.

In the context of Islamist extremism, Michael Gove has pointed out that you cannot manage by shooting the crocodiles one by one as you spot them. You have to drain the swamp. That is why an enquiry is essential.

More active celebration of Islam’s contribution to Britain

In 2007 David Cameron wrote a Guardian newspaper column called “What I learnt from my stay with a Muslim family.” While I am happy to be corrected, I cannot remember a single speech since then from either him or Theresa May focusing entirely on the positive contribution of Muslims to Britain. I do not count positive comments which may have been included speeches focusing primarily on radicalisation.

What is needed is not just a single speech, but a series of speeches to celebrate the contribution to our country of Muslims who are by now five per cent of Britain’s population, and highlighting individual role models. In particular, all Britons need to hear repeatedly about the very large and vital contribution Muslims made to Britain’s armed forces in both World Wars.

Respond to calls for the adoption of a definition of Islamophobia

Many leading British Muslims and Muslim organisations have called on the Government to formally adopt the definition of Islamophobia published in November 2018 by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims.

The Government has ignored these calls.

In my view, the Government is right not to adopt the definition. As I explained on this site in February, “It is time to abandon the word “Islamophobia”

However I cannot find anywhere an actual statement from the Government saying why it is not adopting the definition. Silence is not a good strategy in this case. It simply makes the Government, and therefore the Conservative Party, look as if it does not care about anti-Muslim hatred.

What is needed is a clear explanation of why the definition is not a good one, and that adopting any definition of Islamophobia would add nothing to the existing protections in hate crime and equalities legislation. At the same time, the Government should outline what it is doing to combat anti-Muslim discrimination and anti-Muslim hatred.

Closing comments

Problems don’t go away unless you tackle them. At present, the Conservative Party’s only perceived strategy for this problem is dealing with cases one by one, as quietly as possible. It is not working.

Conservative Home readers' comments

Whenever I write an Islam related article on Conservative Home, there are normally many comments, mostly anti-Muslim. In comparison, this article attracted only 58 by 16 May. Conservative Home periodically house-keeps its website by removing comments from old articles. Until then, it is worth reading the comments below the original article.

What struck me is that most people commenting appear to make whatever point they wish about Muslims and Islam without any attempt to engage with what the article actually says. Their approach seems to be: if an article mentions Muslims, always post this comment.

The comments also illustrate quite well something that I have observed consistently over the last decade when reading comments. Those writing the comments have very selective memories (or limited knowledge), so everything bad that has been done by people like them is forgotten or ignored, while the worst examples of behaviour by people different from them are highlighted.

 

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