Growing up in Luton, I’ve seen first-hand the consequences of dangerous hysteria whipped up about Muslim communities and how these narratives have empowered the far-right. Whilst far-right organisations like Britain First and the English Defence League have plagued towns like mine for many years, the issue goes beyond a few bad apples.
Islamophobia is not exclusive to the far-right; it is a systemic issue. It is present in our media, in our major political parties and more broadly across our society. It is the failure of mainstream media outlets and politicians to adequately address this vile bigotry that has allowed it to thrive. Not only have many of our politicians and media outlets ignored the issue; some have played an active role in whipping it up.
Last year, a Hope Not Hate report revealed widespread Islamophobia present within the UK’s governing party. The report found that 57% of Conservative Party members had a negative view of Muslims and nearly half believed Islam is a threat to the British way of life.
In November 2019, the Conservative Party promised an inquiry into Islamophobia by the end of the year. It’s now been over 600 days since the Prime Minister promised an inquiry into Islamophobia within the party, and we are yet to see any sign of it. This inquiry is being led by Sarwan Singh, who has previously been criticised for his comments about "Muslim victimhood”. Just a few weeks ago, it was revealed that the inquiry also has journalist Wasiq Wasiq on its panel, who has previously written that we need to junk the concept of Islamophobia.
It’s evident that this inquiry is very unlikely to materialise in a meaningful form anytime soon, and by failing to conduct an external investigation into this issue, the EHRC is also in dereliction of its responsibilities to the Muslim community.
This issue isn’t confined to the Conservative Party. Last year, the Labour Muslim Network released a report on Islamophobia within the Labour party which found 29% of Muslim Labour members had suffered Islamophobia within the party. More than half of those surveyed said they didn’t trust the Labour leadership to tackle Islamophobia. Prior to these findings, a leaked internal party report found that widespread Islamophobia from senior officials within the party had gone unchallenged.
According to the report, James McBride, a member of staff within Labour’s policy unit at the time, shared a clip of political commentator Douglas Murray speaking on BBC Daily Politics after the 2017 Westminster attack. Murray had previously said "conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board"; and the report’s findings revealed McBride said on a WhatsApp chat with colleagues that he found it “difficult to disagree” with Murray’s claim that parties were refusing to admit that terrorism comes from Islam. McBride also reportedly said that “even so-called moderate Islam” has “hard questions” to answer about terrorism.
An inquiry into this leaked report which also uncovered various instances of anti-Black racism directed towards Black Labour MPs has been delayed, leading many to feel as though the party isn’t taking instances of anti-Blackness seriously.
If Britain’s two major political parties can't root out Islamophobia within their own ranks, what hope is there that they will do an effective job at tackling Islamophobia across the rest of society? The attempt to depict the demonisation of Muslims as something that is merely the preserve of fringe far-right groups seeks to absolve many in both the media and the political sphere of their own complicity in Islamophobia.
Instead of holding political parties and public figures to account on this issue, many media outlets have been complicit in it themselves. For years, the tabloid press have frequently dedicated their front pages to vilifying and demonising the Muslim community. In fact, a major study by the Muslim Council of Britain found most UK News coverage of Muslims is negative.
It is abundantly clear that Islamophobia is an issue that is pervasive across society, yet it gets nowhere near the amount of scrutiny that it should. Such inaction has consequences. Islamophobic hate crime is on the rise. Between 2018-2019, nearly half of all reported religious hate crime offences in the UK were directed towards Muslims.
Two years ago, a neo-Nazi terrorist massacred 51 Muslims whilst they were worshipping in a Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was an attack driven by an Islamophobic ideology that continues to be prevalent in our society, and nowhere near enough has been done to challenge it. The dehumanisation of Muslims doesn’t occur in a vacuum; it is enabled by rhetoric from the top. It’s vital that we take the issue seriously.
Image via J_P_D on Flickr