THE news that Boris Johnson has ordered an inquiry into claims by Nusrat Ghani, a Muslim former junior transport minister, that she was sacked from his government because of her faith, is very welcome, but I find myself asking why this is coming out now.
Nusrat Ghani, 49, who lost her job in February 2020, told The Sunday Times she was told by a whip that her “Muslimness” had been raised as an issue.
“I was told that at the reshuffle meeting in Downing Street that ‘Muslimness’ was raised as an ‘issue’, that my ‘Muslim woman minister’ status was making colleagues uncomfortable,” the paper quoted Ghani, as saying.
“I will not pretend that this hasn’t shaken my faith in the party and I have at times seriously considered whether to continue as an MP.”
The Prime Minister’s spokesperson said yesterday: “The prime minister has asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an inquiry into the allegations made by Nusrat Ghani MP.” Johnson had initially urged Ghani to file a formal complaint through the Conservative Party, but she declined, arguing that the allegation centred on government rather than party work.
“Letter boxes” and “bank robbers”
However, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a former Conservative Party co-chair and the first Muslim woman to hold a British cabinet post, has long called out the failings of the Conservative Party to tackle Islamophobia within the Party – since her time in David Cameron’s cabinet in fact – yet little has ever been done about it. Not in Theresa May’s time as leader of the Conservatives and certainly not until now under Johnson’s leadership. Johnson himself has made some horrific comments about Muslims. As Foreign Minister in 2018, he wrote a column for the Telegraph comparing Muslim women to ‘letter boxes‘ and ‘bank robbers‘.
After he wrote, “It is absolutely ridiculous that people should choose to go around looking like letter boxes”, adding that any female student who appeared at school or in a lecture “looking like a bank robber” should be asked to remove it, there was a surge in hate crimes towards Muslims, according to Tell Mama, a group which supports victims of anti-Muslim hate and which also measures and monitors anti-Muslim incidents.
And, as far back as 2005, in the aftermath of the London bombings, Johnson questioned the loyalty of British Muslims and insisted that the country must accept that “Islam is the problem”.
“It will take a huge effort of courage and skill to win round the many thousands of British Muslims who are in a similar state of alienation, and to make them see that their faith must be compatible with British values and with loyalty to Britain,” he wrote.
“That means disposing of the first taboo, and accepting that the problem is Islam. Islam is the problem.”
But it is not just the current leader of the Tory Party. In 2016, Zac Goldsmith, the then Conservative candidate for London Mayor, ran what many saw as a disgusting campaign against Labour’s Sadiq Khan.
Goldsmith’s campaign sent out leaflets to other ethnic minority groups suggesting that Khan would put their family jewellery at risk and describing the Labour candidate as a “real danger to London”. And, on the eve of the election, an editorial by Goldsmith was published in the Mail (where else?!) with a headline urging Londoners not to hand victory to a party “that believes terrorists are its friends” and accompanied by a photo of a blown-up London bus.
Then there was Conservative MP Bob Blackman who faced no action from the Party back in 2018 after sharing an anti-Muslim article on Facebook. The article was headlined ‘Muslim Somali Sex Gang Say Raping White British Children “Part of their Culture”‘.
Baroness Warsi has tried to be a voice for the concerns many have about Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and her comments dating back a few years echo what Nusrat Ghani is saying today. Baroness Warsi said about four years ago that she was told that her Cabinet colleagues felt ‘uncomfortable‘ with her presence in Government.
“I remember being told once in Cabinet [that] ‘colleagues are uncomfortable with the amount of notes you’re taking around the Cabinet table. You seem to take a lot more notes than anybody else’,” she said. But her claims were dismissed by Theresa May.
A YouGov poll conducted in 2019 among Conservative Party members found that:
43% of Conservative Party members “would prefer to not have the country led by a Muslim”;
45% believe that “there are areas in Britain in which non-Muslims are not able to enter”;
67% believe that “there are areas in Britain that operate under Sharia law”;
39% believe that “Islamist terrorists reflect a widespread hostility to Britain amongst the Muslim community”.
Yet, until yesterday, Boris Johnson and his predecessors have dismissed the issue and sought instead to attack those making allegations.
Many of us have been well aware of the endemic Islamophobia in the Conservative Party but of course the media has sought to focus instead on the alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party. And we all know why – everybody, Labour MPs included, did not want Jeremy Corbyn to gain power and used it as a, very effective, smear.
So, I am still asking the question: why has Nusrat Ghani come out with this two years after the fact and why is it getting so much media coverage now? (Though still not as much as the far less antisemitism found in the Labour Party. And speaking of the Labour Party, interesting to note Keir Starmer tweeted yesterday in “solidarity” with Nusrat Ghani but still hasn’t bothered with his own Muslim MPs.)
Could it be that the press barons see the writing on the wall for the Conservatives?
Socialist always. Journalist and ESL teacher while travelling the world in better days.
Times change, my values have not.
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