Allegations by the former Conservative minister Nusrat Ghani that she was sacked for being Muslim has reignited accusations that the party is institutionally Islamophobic.
Ghani, who was the first Muslim woman to speak from the Commons dispatch box, sent shockwaves across the country this weekend when she alleged in a Sunday Times interview that her “Muslimness” was raised when she was removed from a ministerial job in 2020, and said she was told it was “making colleagues uncomfortable”.
The allegations follow what campaigners describe as decade-long fight to get the Conservative party to take these allegations seriously and root out Islamophobia.
Campaigners warn little will change unless there is an independent investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into Islamophobia and the party adopts the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims’ definition on Islamophobia.
In March 2019, the Guardian revealed how 15 Conservative councillors who were suspended over posting Islamophobic or racist content online had their membership quietly reinstated. Some had described Saudis as “sand peasants” or shared material comparing Asian people to dogs.
In April 2019, the Guardian exposed how two Conservative local election candidates and a woman honoured with an MBE were among 40 new self-professed Tory members who shared or endorsed racist and inflammatory Facebook posts, including Islamophobic material. Muslims had been described as “bin bag-wearing individuals” and there had been calls for the “cult” of Islam to be banned.
In the same month, it emerged that Ghani had been bombarded with emails from a Conservative activist praising Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech.
In September 2020, a poll commissioned by the anti-racism organisation Hope Not Hate found that almost half of Conservative party members believed Islam “a threat to the British way of life”; more than a third of card-carrying Tories believed that Islamist terror attacks reflected a widespread hostility to Britain among the Muslim community and nearly six in 10 thought “there are no-go areas in Britain where sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter”.
In response to Ghani’s allegations, the Muslim Council of Britain said it was “now time” for the EHRC to investigate the party, to determine if any breaches of the law have taken place. Its call for an external, independent investigation was echoed by other anti-racist organisations.
“Ten years ago, Baroness Warsi, another prominent female member of the Tory party, made a very pertinent comment about how Islamophobia passed the dinner table test. She said on the dinner table you could discuss football, you could discuss the weather and be openly Islamophobic and it’ll be perfectly acceptable,” Shockat Patel, a board member of Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend), said.
He added that for the party to be rocked by more allegations of Islamophobia by another Muslim woman shows that “no lessons have been learned. Islamophobia is still alive and kicking within the Tory party.”
Patel said the party is well aware of the issue at hand. Mend submitted more than 100 cases to the Tory party from organisations during its investigation into Islamophobia.
The long-awaited review into Islamophobia in the Conservative party, chaired by Prof Swaran Singh, was published in May 2021. It was immediately condemned as a whitewash by Muslim Tories. While many welcomed its conclusion that anti-Muslim sentiment “remains a problem” within the party, they disagreed with the review’s conclusion that there was no evidence of institutional racism.
Sajjad Karim, a former Tory MEP, claimed in June 2021 that Muslim members of the Conservative party were deliberately excluded from an inquiry into Islamophobia within its ranks and called for an external investigation into the party.
At the time, Green Lane Masjid, one of the largest mosques in Europe, welcomed the comments by the Conservative party to start making tangible changes within its membership.
But a spokesperson for the organisation said the failure by the Conservative party to since accept a definition for Islamophobia points to a deeper issue, one in which anti-Muslim hostilities are not allowed to be proactively identified and addressed.
Mohammed Saeed, the chair of trustees at Green Lane Masjid, said: “It is our responsibility to campaign against all forms of racism and inequality so that the current and future institutional systems being implemented by our government do not unfairly discriminate against or harm people.
“Racism at all levels robs people of equality. If accusations of racism exist in the corridors of power within our country, we have a responsibility to have them properly investigated.”