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Boris Johnson's Tories are not serious about investigating Islamophobia

Media complicity means prime minister can feel confident he won't pay a price when the long-awaited Tory report on Islamophobia appears
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers his keynote speech to delegates on the final day of the annual Conservative Party conference on 2 October, 2019 (AFP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s much vaunted inquiry into the noxious cesspit of Conservative Party Islamophobia: anyone seen or heard of it? 

It’s gone missing. Has it been murdered? Taken away by aliens? Vanished into the Bermuda Triangle? Nobody seems to know. But there are reasons to be suspicious. Scotland Yard has plenty to go on when it comes to motive.

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The Tory Party is full of Islamophobes who would dearly love to see the report disposed of. Starting with the prime minister himself, who has compared Muslim women who wear the burqa to "letter boxes" and "bank robbers".

Here are the facts as we know them.

It’s approaching two years since Boris Johnson, ambushed at a party leadership hustings, reluctantly committed himself to an investigation. Within a matter of weeks, a squirming Johnson had watered it down to include not just Islamophobia but "other forms of prejudice". 

Then Johnson’s deputy Michael Gove - on record as saying that "a sizeable minority" of British Muslims hold "rejectionist Islamist views" -  pledged to complete an inquiry into Islamophobia by the end of the year in 2019.

That pledge came to nothing. 

Where is the report?

On 17 December 2019, the Conservative Party announced that Swaran Singh, professor of psychiatry at the University of Warwick, would lead the probe. Sixteen months have now gone by. The Independent claimed last week the report is complete. But the Conservatives say not. 

Middle East Eye’s own investigation found evidence that the Tory Party probe has systematically failed to investigate evidence of Islamophobia

The Daily Telegraph reports that former Tory chair Sayeeda Warsi handed over “the names and contact details of several dozen people who wanted to give evidence about their experiences.” But it adds that “at least eight complainants received no contact from the inquiry, it is claimed."

The Telegraph quotes Kyle Pedley, a former deputy chairman of Stourbridge Conservative Association, saying that the panel's failure to take evidence from him cast it as a "seemingly whitewashed and perfunctory inquiry".

Middle East Eye’s own investigation, published last week, found evidence that the Tory probe has systematically failed to investigate evidence of Islamophobia.

Most remarkable of all, we revealed that Singh’s investigatory team has not approached Hope not Hate, the hugely respected campaigning group that fights racism and which last year produced a report that found there was “widespread suspicion, prejudice and hostility towards Muslims amongst Conservative Party members and an almost total denial that the party has an Islamophobia problem.” 

Delegates attending the annual Conservative Party conference (AFP)
Delegates attending the annual Conservative Party conference (AFP)

One might have thought that any serious investigation into Tory Islamophobia would have been keen to interrogate Hope Not Hate. The fact that it hasn’t means that Singh is not conducting a serious investigation.

Meanwhile, there’s been a steady stream of fresh Islamophobic incidents since. Michael Fabricant MP in November wrote in a now-deleted tweet that criticism of the party over Islamophobia risked damaging "Anglo-Muslim relations", suggesting Muslims were separate to the rest of the UK.

Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has shown signs of wishing to emulate Zac Goldsmith’s notoriously Islamophobic mayoral campaign of four years ago. He’s been out campaigning with an activist who had posted Islamophobic comments. Shaun Bailey himself has deleted a tweet praising Tommy Robinson supporters.

Shami Chakrabarti was asked to lead the Labour Party’s investigation into antisemitism and other forms of racism on 29 April 2016. The report was published on 30 June 2016 - two months later. No such hurry from Singh.

A failed approach

It’s not just that he’s failed to approach those with evidence of Islamophobia. Singh's enquiry also approached Maajid Nawaz, founder of the controversial counter-extremism think-tank Quilliam, who has objected to the use of the term "Islamophobia" itself. 

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Meanwhile, Middle East Eye last week revealed that the Conservative Party has recruited a panelist who thinks the idea of Islamophobia needs to be junked. Wasiq Wasiq has also written pieces for Spiked, which argue the government is not Islamophobic

There’s a pattern here. Early this year Boris Johnson appointed William Shawcross as reviewer of the controversial Prevent strategy.

Shawcross is on record as stating that: "Europe and Islam is one of the greatest…most terrifying problems of our future, I think, and all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations and frighteningly large numbers of the young men in these, both in Britain and in Germany and in France, are turning to radical Islamism."

Appointments like these suggest that the Johnson government sees British Muslims as an "enemy within", to use the appalling term deployed by Margaret Thatcher about striking miners 40 years ago. The evidence is now mounting that the Tory Party investigation into Islamophobia and other forms of racism is not serious. 

Tory high command know they can get away with this only because of the complicity of Britain’s media.

Total impunity

Remember that in March 2020, when the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) submitted its dossier of 300 cases of Islamophobia among party members and those affiliated with the party to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), examples of which included calls for Muslims to be "thrown off bridges" or forcibly sterilised, the Daily Mail, Sun, Telegraph, Express and Financial Times failed to report the story.

The British press has been complicit in pushing Islamophobic tropes and inaccurate stories about Muslims itself

Indeed the press has been complicit in pushing Islamophobic tropes and inaccurate stories about Muslims itself. So Boris Johnson can feel confident he’ll not pay a price when Professor Singh produces what now looks certain to be a travesty later this year.

When detectives turn up at the scene of the crime they won’t have to look hard for the culprit; the British prime minister.

But don't expect charges to stick. Johnson's accomplices - to be found in Britain’s notoriously Islamophobic press - will make sure of that.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in both 2022 and 2017, and was also named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Drum Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He was also named as British Press Awards Columnist of the Year in 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His latest book is The Fate of Abraham: Why the West is Wrong about Islam, published in May by Simon & Schuster. His previous books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran and The Assault on Truth: Boris Johnson, Donald Trump and the Emergence of a New Moral Barbarism.
Basit Mahmood is a journalist who has written for, Newsweek, the Independent and Huffington Post.
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