Too often, campaigners point to the other party's prejudices to detract from their own worrying record. This election, we should remember the fight for equality is a collective oneby Amber Khan / November 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
Traditionally, in the House of Commons, the distance between the government and opposition benches are marked by two red lines exactly two sword length’s apart so that no opposing members become entangled in a duel mid-debate. However, it would seem in contemporary times, when it comes to issues of anti-semitism and Islamophobia, the shield has become the weapon of choice for Parliamentarians.
Both of the major parties in the UK have a significant rising problem with bigotry. In 2018, it became evident that the Labour Party was receiving a large number of complaints of anti-semitism. There was a backlog of disciplinary cases and Labour Party members were reportedly being investigated for posting online comments which apparently included those such as “Heil Hitler,” “F*** the Jews,” and “Jews are the problem.”
More recently, it was reported that 30 whistle-blowers, including current Labour staff, are submitting their own evidence to the investigation launched by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into Labour’s handling of antisemitism.
Islamophobia within the Conservative Party has also become rampant. (To be clear, I am talking about Islamophobia as a form of cultural racism that targets hate at Muslim people or people perceived to be Muslim—not as criticism of Islam as a religion.)
The Muslim Council of Britain has filed their own complaint with the Equality and Human Rights Commission over Islamophobia within the Conservative Party. They submitted 20 pages of evidence detailing what they say are “hundreds of cases” and the “fundamental failure in every single way” of the party’s handling of the issue.
This latest move comes on the back of reports that, this year alone, Conservative HQ has been forced to expel 40 party members, some of whom were said to have posted comments online such as: “I was going through a few magazines the other day down at the local Mosque. I was really enjoying myself. Then the rifle jammed.”
A disappointing response
The response to this across the Commons has been disappointing. For example, when Labour MP Khalid Mahmood called on Theresa May to finally commission an inquiry within the Conservative Party into Islamophobia May, in typical slippery fashion, dodged the question and deflected with the stock line of attacking the Labour Party’s record on anti-semitism instead.
We were treated to another unedifying performance, again at PMQ’s, when May said it was a “disgrace” that Corbyn had “dodged his responsibility” for tackling anti-Jewish prejudice. In response, Corbyn lifted his metaphorical shield high and responded by saying she should “reflect” on her own parties’ problems with Islamophobia.
Even with the change in the Conservative leadership, the situation remains the same. Labour MP Tan Dehsi recently made an impassioned speech in the Commons about the Prime Minsters derogatory remarks concerning Muslim women, which research by anti-hatred group Tell Mama found was followed by a significant spike in anti-Muslim attacks.
Johnson, too, defended his remarks by citing anti-semitism in the Labour Party. (Incidentally, we were also regaled with the Johnson family tree and its distant Muslim branches, a tepid rehash of the “I can’t be racist if I have a black friend” trope.)
Our leaders are refusing to engage in a meaningful way with their own internal problems and we should demand better.
A stick and a shield
The main parties are simultaneously using anti-semitism and Islamaphobia as a proverbial stick to beat each other with and as a shield in defence of their own failings. There is a malodorous smell of hypocrisy from both sides.
Instead, they should reflect, admit to their own short-comings, reach out to the communities that they have alienated and take meaningful steps towards making amends.
What is happening at the highest political level is a microcosm of a wider debate. It is worth highlighting the particularly pernicious nature of pitting against each other two minority groups who, notwithstanding the friendships, have had a history of tension and enmity against each other. This is something that should be acknowledged and worked on, not cynically exploited.
Allying yourself with a community who are experiencing a rise in hate crime should not and does not have to be at the expense of another community going through something similar. The left and the right should look introspectively and examine why they are deflecting concerns of racism by attempting to discredit those raising the concerns, instead of directly addressing the arguments raised.
Both causes are entirely legitimate and not mutually exclusive. They certainly should not have to jostle for attention or recognition. Anti-racism must be consistent, otherwise is not anti-racism at all.
Standing together against prejudice
More positively, despite—or maybe because of—the lacklustre approach of the main parties on these issues, the Muslim and Jewish communities have recently come together to tackle the rise in hate and prejudice admirably.
Back in 2017 Muslim and Jewish organisations—The Board of Deputies of British Jews, Tell MAMA and Faith Matters—came together to jointly submit a claim to the Independent Press Standards Organisation over a column in the Sun newspaper that referred to a “Muslim problem.”
More recently, it was hearting to see Jewish and Muslim community leaders joining forces in a landmark challenge to hate crime in Scotland. Tell MAMA has learned benchmarking lessons from the Jewish organisation Community Security Trust. Nisa-Nashim is an initiative that creates local groups of Muslim and Jewish women who build friendships and work on social projects together, with their primary focus on Islamophobia and Antisemitism.
Around this time last year, the CST ran a joint digital campaign with Tell MAMA, “#DontLabelMe I am Human Too.” It ran throughout the High Holy Day period to promote the joint humanity which all share; that we may categorise ourselves as Muslim, Jewish, LGBT, BAME or any other individual identity, but we all share our humanity.
The path to equality is not easy but fighting for equality cannot be a selective fight—it has to be a collective fight.