Iman Atta OBE is the Director of Tell MAMA. She has been a human rights campaigner in the Middle East and in the United Kingdom.
As a third party hate incident reporting service for Muslims, Tell MAMA’s role is to work with victims, advocate for them and gain access to justice for them. This sometimes means ensuring that perpetrators go through the criminal justice system, so that a strong message is sent to those who target Muslims for hate, to show that they will be held to account.
Yet lately, in the political jostle about ‘who speaks for Muslims’, there is an increasing tussle as to who speaks for the three million of us in Britain today. The answer is that simply that no single organisation can speak for the range and diversity of these Muslim communities. Any organisation that claims to do so should look back to the 1970’s style of community leadership that so fractured them.
That prejudice and racism exist, and are triggered by local, national or international incidents, is something that we in Tell MAMA have long been documenting for over six years. We also called for an inquiry by the Conservatives into anti-Muslim hate two years ago, back in 2016.
Such calls are secondary to our core work. Nonetheless, our voice carries weight, especially since we are the only organisation working on anti-Muslim hatred which is heard by Government, the police and other policy shapers. The scrutiny of various power structures is something that we have always conducted – though we have not needed repeatedly to shout about it.
The recent slew of anti-Muslim cases emanating from Conservative members, a problen that we have highlighted for many years in Tell MAMA, demonstrates that an inquiry is needed, and that candidates representing the Conservative message, have effectively become mainstreamed in their prejudice and intolerance towards Muslims.
Such an inquiry though must do a number of things. It must include a small number of key bodies that have spoken out publicly when Conservative and Labour Party members have promoted anti-semitism and anti-Muslim comments. Some of those organisations now calling for an inquiry by the Conservatives were strangely silent when antisemitism was being highlighted on an almost daily basis by Jewish organisations, with comments emanating from Labour members and councillors. Any inquiry must also have the complete support of the Conservative Party machinery, be transparent – and not just be ‘seen to be transparent’. It must also be able to call any Conservative member to give evidence to it.
It is also key that the composition of any inquiry be made up, by and large, of external organisations which work on tackling anti-Muslim hate and racism. It therefore cannot predominantly be made up by Conservative politicians. Public scrutiny is key to building public confidence. This inquiry should also have a remit to make recommendations about membership rules, internal disciplinary processes and communication to the wider public.
I have also raised the extension of the remit to ‘communication structures’ and public relations engagement with the wider public, since it is essential that all political parties be as open and transparent in their decision-making and their communication as possible. It was partly the latter, and the weakness in communicating its message, which meant that the Chakrabarti report on anti-semitism in the Labour Party, simply died a public death and did little to stem the accusations of ‘too little, too late’ that were thrown at the Labour Party.
The reality is that the Conservative Party is not immune to those who hold prejudiced views and who have been Party members for some time. It is also in control of the machinery of the state, and this places on it an added burden and responsibility of scrutiny. That is why we made the call in 2016 for an Inquiry into anti-Muslim prejudice within its ranks, and why that call still stands today, irrespective of which groups think they speak for Muslims. Now, more than ever, the Conservatives need to show that they are a party for all.