It has been an interesting time in British media over the last few months. One of the prevailing narratives has been that there is an endemic anti-Semitism problem in the Labour party. Almost every branch of the mainstream media, from the BBC, to the Guardian, to Sky News have had many leading articles on the topic. If it feels like this story is on the news everyday, that’s because it is. The dominant narrative is that Labour and anti-Semitism are one. I have written about the controversy here, but what I want to ask today is a more simple question: is anti-Semitism worse than Islamophobia?
If you ask this question in polite society, I think that people would be faux outraged that you would have the temerity to ask such a question. The correct response is something like prejudice in all forms is abhorrent and needs to be tackled. And that is a statement that most people would agree with. So why has there been crickets around Islamophobia in the Conservative party?
Michael Fabricant was expelled from the Conservatives for posting the racist, offensive tweet below:
Except of course he wasn’t.
He gave an apology and business carried on as normal. If you search “Michael Fabricant” on the internet, there is almost nothing about him after the initial furore. I could find no outrage from fellow Tory MPs, nor could I find lots of follow up stories on mainstream news sites. This is a duel problem – you have a government that says nothing when one of its MPs posts highly offensive, Islamophobic material, and a mainstream media that pays hardly any attention to the story before moving on to something else.
Baroness Warsi was the first Muslim woman to serve in a government cabinet. She resigned her position in 2014 after describing David Cameron’s position on the Israel-Gaza policy as “morally indefensible”. She has been vocal in her calls for an enquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative party. Lord Sheikh, a Conservative peer has made the same demand of the party. Writing to May, he said
“I call on you as the prime minister to take the following two steps immediately. Firstly, set up an independent inquiry – we must investigate instances of Islamophobic conduct and isolate them swiftly”.
“Secondly the prime minister should reach out to all outreach groups of the Conservative Party such as the Conservative Muslim Forum and actively engage in dialogue.”
I have 10 Downing Street’s official response:
On one side you have a government that is slow to move on Islamophobia and a media that is seemingly apathetic when it comes to Islamophobia. This has real consequences, with 3 in 5 Muslims saying that they have been the victim of a hate crime.
On the other side, you have an opposition party whose leader has said nothing about the issue of Islamophobia. Except that’s not remotely true. Mr Corbyn has repeatedly said anti-Semitism is wrong and it will not be tolerated in the party. That last sentence wasn’t mine but the BBC’s. You may not have seen it as it was buried in the middle of an article that spent the first half presenting Ian Austin’s defence of his actions that have seen him face the possibility of disciplinary action and the second half recapping all the people and groups that have condemned Corbyn for not doing enough on anti-Semitism. I guess, repeatedly saying it is wrong and it will not be tolerated within the party, investigating and suspending members who are found guilty of anti-Semitism, having an entire careers worth of public serving fighting against racism in all its forms and having a party that has fully adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism (remember the entire outrage over this is over four working examples – all of which are to be found elsewhere in the document) is not doing enough.
At this stage I should point out that my views are not based on living in an echo chamber. Google trends points out how much more Labour is connected with anti-Semitism than Conservatives with Islamophobia. It makes sense. There only seems to be room for one scandal in the Conservative party and that is Brexit.
Can I be really honest? It is politically ok for the Conservative party to drag their heels on Islamophobia because the polling says that Islamophobia and suspicion of Arabs is high in England.
This attitude has been fostered by a media that has made Arabs in general and Muslims in particular the new evil, much like Eastern Europeans, blacks, Irish, communists and, ironically, Jews before them. It is this irony that sickens me most. The demonization of Jews culminated in the murder of 6 million of them. The parallels with the demonization of Muslims today is clear. Biographer Joachim Riecker said that “Hitler saw the state ‘poisoned’ [by Jews] from within”. A majority of Britain’s believe Islam is not compatible with “British” values. Is it a leap to think that if British people are told that there is a “swarm” of Muslims coming, that they too would think the country was being poisoned? It would seem the Conservatives are willing to bet that Islamophobia will be tolerated if not embraced at the ballot box. That isn’t idle speculation – it was their tactic in the London mayoral election.
Anti-Semitism is terrible. It should be investigated where it is alleged and those found guilty should face the stiffest sanctions possible. Islamophobia is as bad as anti-Semitism and should be treated the same way. Except, we all know that, in England, it isn’t.