The resignation of Sajid Javid, the Conservative Party’s highest-ranking Muslim cabinet minister, comes in a fortnight when the party has hit a new low in its handling of Islamophobia.
Let us not forget that the departing chancellor had promised to hold an inquiry into the party’s tolerance of Islamophobia after the Muslim Council of Britain and others documented mounting evidence of anti-Muslim racism.
We were told there would be zero-tolerance to all forms of racism, but there is still no specific inquiry on the cards.
Only last week, we learned that the Tory backbench MP Daniel Kawczynski chose to travel to Italy for a nationalist far-right conference, speaking alongside figures who famously voice Islamophobic and anti-Semitic views, including the Hungarian PM, Viktor Orbán.
Kawczynski was not there to challenge but to hear people who “represent serious ideas and concerns, some of which are shared by many citizens of the UK”.
His actions were met with public condemnation by religious groups and anti-racist allies. It was only then that the Conservative Party “formally warned” him that his attendance “was not acceptable” (plus, in the party’s words, “Kawczynski has accepted this and apologised”).
It seems CCHQ’s “zero-tolerance policy” on racism didn’t extend to suspending him, investigating how he was allowed to attend, or withdrawing the whip.
Another prominent Conservative politician, the former MEP Daniel Hannan, despite his at times commendable take on Muslims, spoke at the very same conference last year and even appeared at a Los Angeles conference organised by an “anti-Muslim” group and headlined by British far-right activist Katie Hopkins. He is being honoured by the Conservative Party.
From all this evidence, it is difficult not to form the conclusion that the party does not truly care about being tough on racism, as long as it can pretend to look tough on racism.
This tepid commitment to fighting bigotry was demonstrated in full force when, on Sunday, the government seemingly abandoned its own adviser on the Islamophobia definition, Imam Qari Asim after a non-story in the Sunday Times. Asim was reported as having explained how some Muslims may have different understandings of free speech. Let us not forget that he was appointed to the role after the government refused to endorse a definition of Islamophobia formulated by British Muslims at a grassroots level.
Following Asim’s observations of other people’s views (not his own), Trevor Phillips, former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Conservative MP Bob Seely and ideological cheerleaders including the Henry Jackson Society, Policy Exchange, Civitas, Quilliam and the Heritage Foundation erupted in faux rage and called for his resignation.
Contrast this with the Imam’s support from the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and the Board of Deputies, which represents British Jews, who rallied around him – and yet the government refused to defend him (according to the Sunday Times report, “it is understood that officials in Downing Street think he should not remain in his post”).
These two cases are symptomatic of the wider approach we have seen the Conservatives take when it comes to Islamophobia: that is, letting its own representatives and members get away with legitimising or propagating racist views, while undermining Muslims.
It may not be traditional hatred, but it is a wider racism that is targeting the Muslim identity – or Muslimness. This is the very definition of Islamophobia that the government is refusing to accept, despite it being adopted by all other main national political parties, Muslim communities up and down the country and the top academics in the field.
While last week it was the failure to reprimand Kawczynski, in the past it has been defending Zac Goldsmith and his dogwhistle mayoral campaign, failing to suspend Tory MP Bob Blackman after a consistent stream of Islamophobia on social media, and not cracking down on Islamophobia among its ranks online – for example, quietly reinstating 15 councillors who were suspended over Islamophobic and racist online posts.
On Sunday, it was the failure to support Imam Qari Asim when his words were taken out of context. But in the past it has seen Conservative ex-MEP Sajjad Karim revealed last September that a minister made “clearly Islamophobic” remarks about him in conversation with another Tory MP within earshot (he says he never heard back after his request to meet with party chairman James Cleverly about it), allowed Mohamed Sheikh, founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, to be hounded with Islamophobic emails, and, crucially, failed three million British Muslims with a “general investigation” rather than the one all Tory leadership candidates pledged on Islamophobia.
The actions of this past week alone suggest that either the party openly gives the greenlight to racism, or it fundamentally fails to understand what Islamophobia actually is – that is, so much more than just anti-Muslim hatred.
Islamophobia is peddling conspiracy theories: Sajid Javid being part of “the Muslim brotherhood take over”. Islamophobia is playing into tropes: discussing “Muslim rape gangs” and the “Muslim invasion”. Islamophobia is not speaking out against structural discrimination, which leaves British Muslims earning £350 a month less than their non-Muslim counterparts.
Islamophobia is much more than just anti-Muslim hate, but it appears the Conservative Party turns a blind eye to both. It is why it fails to reprimand individuals engaging in Islamophobia. It is why it has neglected to take its promised action on Islamophobia. It is why it stayed silent as its own adviser on Islamophobia was being attacked – and if it can do this so nonchalantly to its own appointee, the rest of us certainly don’t stand a chance.