Eight years ago, this site hosted one of the first calls from the centre-right for a Parliamentary inquiry into anti-Muslim hatred in Britain. It is against that background that we turn to the Muslim Council of Britain’s call for an independent investigation into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party. There are three preliminary points.
First, anti-Muslim hatred is an evil, since it is directed at people. Its consequences can include crimes as serious as murder – actual, as in the killing of Ekram Haque in front of his three year-old granddaughter in Tooting, and attempted, as in the van attack near Finsbury Park Mosque last year. But Islamophobia, in so far as the term has any meaning at all, is directed at a religion. And there is no reason why people should not, in a free society, be averse to any religion or none at all – be it Islam or Christianity or Judaism or atheism…or even Jedi. Most people are more than capable of criticising a religion without seeking to harm its followers. It is significant that the term was taken up after attempts to censor Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, complete with book-burnings and death threats.
Second, there are versions of Islam of which any sensible person should be phobic (including followers of other forms of the faith). How can one react otherwise to the religious worldview that helped drive 7/7, the slaughter of schoolchildren in Manchester last year, and the murder of Lee Rigby? To be sure, there are extremist versions of other religions: of Christianity in bits of America’s Bible Belt; of Judaism in the West Bank; of Buddhism in Myanmair, where Rohingya Muslims are the victims. But none have the global reach of the civil war within Islam, and its spillover into non-Muslim majority countries. Violent Islamism, that bastard child of Wahabi ideas and western technology, is a menace to the traditional, classical Islam as well as to non-Muslim westerners – in some ways, more so.
Finally, the MCB’s initiative suggests that it has given up on attempts to get into Ministers’ good books. After all, accusing the party which forms the Govenment of prejudice against Islam would be an unlikely means of furthering these. ConservativeHome is told that Ministers have historical concerns about the MCB reaching back to the Daud Abdullah affair. Amber Rudd was apparently pondering whether or not to restore relations. But the organisation’s criticism of the appointment of Sara Khan as anti-extremism commissioner put pay to that. Her replacement, Britain’s first Muslim Home Secretary – whose appointment suggests that there may be less to Tory anti-Islam prejudice than some claim – is unlikely to change the present position.
The MCB should be congratulated on its ingenuity in suggesting a parallel between anti-semitism in the Labour Party and anti-Muslim prejudice among the Conservatives. We doubt that one exists. But we would say that, wouldn’t we? To cut to the chase, the MCB has issued a charge-sheet, and its details are not rendered illegitimate by its source – or by the wider use of Islamophobia, in some quarters, as a rhetorical device to delegitimise fair criticism of Islamist beliefs and practice. Downing Street and CCHQ’s instinct will be to duck for cover, say as little as possible, deal with individual cases as usual, and hope that the fuss goes away. We think that both can do better.
Sayeedi Warsi has backed the MCB up. In doing so, she has pointed a way forward. An independent review would not be disproportionate. There is no reason why a Muslim shouldn’t conduct it – and no reason, either, why that person shouldn’t be a woman, as Warsi is, a scion of the establishment, as she now is too, and fearless. So we suggest that Brandon Lewis ask Khan to conduct a probe herself. What else is an anti-extremism commissioner for, if not to investigate claims like these? She could look at anti-semitism in Labour at the same time, too. CCHQ would do better to lance any institutional boil than let it fester.