Yes, Antisemitism is Taken Seriously – But What About Islamophobia?
Categories: Latest News
Tuesday May 09 2023
Recently, Diane Abbott, a prominent member of the Labour Party, was suspended due to concerns regarding antisemitism. In a letter to the Observer, she stated that Jewish individuals did not face the same form of “racism” as Black individuals but encountered “prejudice.” Following her suspension, Ms Abbott swiftly withdrew her comments and publicly apologised for any harm caused. Nevertheless, Sir Keir Starmer was quick to come down on Ms Abbott and, previously, Jeremy Corbyn over concerns surrounding antisemitism. In contrast, Sir Keir has demonstrated a relatively lacklustre approach to Islamophobia. For example, Sir Trevor Phillips’ suspension for Islamophobia was controversially lifted despite substantial evidence of his Islamophobic remarks. Moreover, Zara Sultana has alleged that Sir Keir has not expressed solidarity with herself or Apsana Begum over the barrage of Islamophobic abuse they have been subjected to whilst in office. Consequently, while it is admirable that the Labour Party has a zero-tolerance policy for antisemitism, the same cannot be said for Islamophobia yet.
Indeed, in 2020, a leaked internal report revealed a disturbing record of Islamophobia and inaction within the Labour Party. The report showed former senior party members supporting Islamophobic views and discussing delaying investigations into Islamophobia. Meanwhile, it provided evidence of inconsistent approaches to punitive measures and the purposeful mishandling of complaints due to “factionalism” within the party. In one case, the report revealed complaints against the former MP for Poplar and Limehouse, Jim Fitzpatrick, for displaying a “pattern of racist behaviour” and Islamophobia. Fitzpatrick was shown to have sat on the board of an affiliate of the Islamophobic Henry Jackson Society and also allegedly referred to a local Bengali wedding as an ‘Islamist plot’. Despite the serious nature of the complaints against Fitzpatrick, they were dismissed by then-general secretary Iain McNicol because the complainant was “not a member of the Labour Party but a political opponent to Mr Fitzpatrick and the Labour Party”. However, the report acknowledged that “there is nothing in the Labour Party’s rules which state that individuals who are not members of the party cannot submit complaints to Labour… Many of the complaints which are currently investigated by the party are submitted by individuals who are not members, and to not investigate them on that basis would entail turning a blind eye to prejudice and discrimination”.
Most recently, in July 2022, the independent Forde report damningly found a significant “racist, sexist and otherwise discriminatory culture” permeating the structures of the Labour Party. Specifically, one such submission to the Forde report stated, “Islamophobia is not treated with the same seriousness within the Labour Party as other forms of racism”. Such revelations of Islamophobia were consistent with previous allegations of Islamophobia within the party, including the findings of the groundbreaking Labour Muslim Network (LMN) report in November 2020 and its poll in March 2022 detailing the experiences of Muslims within the party.
Specifically, the poll of March 2022 revealed that an increasing number of Muslim members and supporters felt that the Labour Party did not represent the Muslim community. This rose over 20% since the 2020 report. When asked how effectively Islamophobia is being tackled, 40% of the respondents stated that the Labour Party has dealt with issues of Islamophobia “very badly” Similarly, 46% said that Sir Keir Starmer, as the party’s leader, has handled Islamophobia “very badly”. Such findings indicated that Muslim members and supporters were being let down and alienated by the Labour Party and its leadership. Muslims were not only excluded from the political process, but indifference towards Islamophobia was apparent.
Indeed, the survey findings in March 2022 came days after the Labour Party was accused of Islamophobia after three Muslim candidates were told they would be removed as council candidates in Tower Hamlets. It was reported that the candidates were discriminated against because of their Muslim background; the selection interview process was thought to be culturally insensitive and Islamophobic, including an allegation that an event held to celebrate the work of the Anti-Apartheid “London Recruits” was mistaken by one interviewer as being a jihadi recruitment event. The Labour Party claims to be an anti-racist party committed to eradicating and campaigning against all forms of racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. However, the poll findings in March 2022 and the incident that preceded it suggested that the Labour Party was breaching its new code of conduct, which was approved by Labour’s ruling national executive committee last July to create a safe space for its members and supporters. It is concerning to see that the Labour Party, the longstanding party of choice for the overwhelming Muslim voters, appears to be turning a blind eye to Islamophobia within its party despite having adopted the APPG definition of Islamophobia. While adopting a definition is a critical first step in tackling this phenomenon, the Labour Party and specifically Sir Keir must put aside the contrasting approach to leadership and treat Islamophobia with the same urgency as antisemitism by utilising the APPG definition as a framework for rooting and eradicating Islamophobia within the party.
The denial and overlooking of Islamophobia within political parties will inevitably jeopardise Muslim political participation and further alienate Muslim voters. A previous survey by Muslim Census found that 1 in 4 Muslims aged 18-24 were disengaged with politics because they saw that “all current parties are deeply Islamophobic” and did not find representation in any political party. Instead, they would make a statement by not voting rather than voting for a party that will potentially further harm their community. Consequently, with a general election not far away, the Labour Party risks losing 40% of their regular Muslim vote. As such, representative parties must have relatively high levels of political engagement, including from Muslims, to ensure their policies reflect the community’s needs. Encouraging the next generation to participate in the political system and influence positive social change is vital.
Ultimately, Islamophobia in the UK is widespread and is not confined to one party or political orientation. Political parties must root out Islamophobia within their ranks. Failure to do so inevitably facilitates an environment that allows Islamophobia to remain unchallenged. MEND hopes that all political parties will take a renewed stance on tackling racism and prejudice in all its forms. Concerning the Labour Party and Sir Keir, a commendable zero-tolerance policy towards antisemitism has been adopted. However, only by doing the same for Islamophobia will ensure that Muslim votes for the party are not taken for granted whilst helping to restore wider confidence in Muslim communities’ confidence in Labour’s ability to govern our nation justly, with a willingness and ability to confront intolerance and division in broader society.