Nusrat Ghani’s brave stand opens the lid again on Tory Islamophobia

A young woman protester holds up a home-made banner with the words Muslim Lives Matter.
Young demonstrators protest at anti-Muslim prejudice, which is endemic in the Conservative party. Photo credit: Alisdare Hickson, Creative Commons

As I write, the Tories are mired in problems largely of their own making, chief of these being what many, if not most, observers are describing as corruption and a lack of empathy for the less fortunate. However, deep-rooted Islamophobia remains an endemic problem for the Tories.

Conservative Wealden MP Nusrat Ghani recently called out the party for the discrimination she has faced. Writing in The Sunday Times, Ghani describes how her ‘Muslimness’ was raised as an issue and was sacked from her post as Transport Minister because of this. She was told she was “too Muslim” to progress her career and her “Muslim woman minister status was making colleagues feel uncomfortable”.

This is not the first time the Tories have been accused of Islamophobia. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has frequently spoken out on this subject and called on her party to address it. She said in 2018 that anti-Muslim prejudice had “poisoned the party”. Similarly, Sajid Javid called for an enquiry into Islamophobia during his failed leadership bid for the party in 2019.

Anti-Muslim sentiment is ‘damaging the party’

The Singh report into Tory Islamophobia, which followed Javid’s initiative, was duly published in May 2021. It revealed hundreds of Islamophobic incidents and concluded that: “Judging by the extent of complaints and findings of misconduct by the party itself that relate to anti-Muslim words and conduct, anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem within the party. This is damaging to the party, and alienates a significant section of society.”

Yet repercussions for the Tory party have been minimal. Mainstream media have in recent years largely ignored this issue. This is not an issue isolated to the Conservative Party, as the media play along. It may come as little surprise that the Mail on Sunday leads, with 78 per cent of its stories featuring Muslims negatively, against an industry average of 59 per cent. 

Meanwhile headlines highlight anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, allowing the Conservatives to point fingers at the Opposition and brush aside talk of problems with their own Islamophobia.

The nature of the denials was surprising

Swift denials and rhetoric tell the real story. Anyone who has faced discrimination would recognise it. Denials, downplaying and dismissals of such a painful subject hint at the level of problems inside the party. Ghani’s accusation of Islamophobia prompted party faithfuls to question why she was speaking out about this now, while others denied a problem existed. The nature of some denials was surprising. The Chief Whip, Mark Spencer, swiftly put out a tweet calling her remarks ‘false’ and ‘defamatory’. 

Nadim Zahawi, Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab all spoke of a lack of wrongdoing by the party. They said that it was down to Ghani to ask for an inquiry, as she had been told in 2020. Dominic Raab said there would be “no specific investigation”.

A portrait of Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani.
Sacked and now speaking out: the Conservative MP for Wealden, Nusrat Ghani. Credit: Chris McAndrew / UK Parliament

Michael Fabricant fell into the pattern of questioning the timing, as often happens to victims. The motives and methods of those who raise issues are frequently questioned, instead of allegations and what they reveal being faced.  Fabricant also said Ms Ghani is not “obviously Muslim”, whatever that means. 

Ghani responded on social media and stated her reasons for not speaking out. She said that she was told in 2020 that it would end her career to do so. She spoke of her disappointment and that she wondered why she remained in politics. 

She was supported by some MPs. William Wragg tweeted that she was brave to speak out. And there was cross-party support for Ghani, with Rupa Huq (Labour MP) highlighting abuse that she and others have faced. Huq spoke also about the bullying culture perpetuated by Commons whips, and gave examples of Islamophobia, such as Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign which sought to portray London Mayor Sadiq Khan as a Muslim extremist.

Khan won the election. Goldsmith’s reward for losing was elevation by the Tory Party leadership to the House of Lords.

A culture of bullying in the Tory party

Tory Chief Whip Mark Spencer’s swift denial, and those of other party members, point to a cultural problem. It suggests the existence of a culture of bullying, particularly of minorities. 

Many who have themselves faced discrimination understand both the courage and the time it takes to find your voice to speak out about such matters. It certainly took courage for Ghani to speak out. And she continues to show courage in proceeding with the investigation which Boris Johnson has now ordered.

Given that she has faced discrimination within her own party, it’s interesting to see what Ghani’s voting record tells us. She has voted against a right to remain for EU nationals, thus discriminating against them. She has voted for a stricter asylum system, for reduction on welfare and for stronger enforcement of immigration rules. 

I wonder how she reconciles the treatment of the Windrush generation, of asylum seekers and other immigrants with the discrimination she has herself faced? 

Six out of 10 believe in racist myths about Islam

This is not to deny her experience. Her sacking from the cabinet needs to be investigated. As do all of the allegations against the party. A YouGov poll found that six out of 10 Tory members believe in racist myths about Islam and think it is “generally a threat to western civilisation”. 

Islamophobia has deep roots in the party, as reported by campaigning organisation Hope Not Hate. They found that “Conservative Party members hold significantly more negative attitudes towards Muslims than the general public.”

I am left feeling that, as much as Warsi and Ghani have spoken out, they prop up a government and a party that marginalises and intimidates certain people in society. To stand by as Priti Patel pushes through the Nationality and Borders Bill is to stand by discrimination. To back Boris Johnson who called Muslim women ridiculous for wearing face coverings and said that they look like ‘letterboxes’ takes double-think

The Tories need a root and branch investigation into their culture and actions. They need to address the issues raised, and understand how the policies they are implementing perpetuate a culture of discrimination. 

If they want to truly represent all faiths and communities, isn’t it time they concluded that their political stance weakens their cause?

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