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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 15 October 2018

Campaigners decry attack on Tory plan to tackle Islamophobia

Conservative efforts to root out Islamophobia defended against Baroness Warsi's complaints

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi. Stephen Lock
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi. Stephen Lock

Campaigners against Islamophobia distanced themselves from Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the former chairman of Britain's ruling Conservative Party, as she reignited her feud with its leadership over Islamophobia.

Weeks after the Conservative chairman Brandon Lewis announced it would work with campaigners to fight the scourge, Lady Warsi said his efforts would not tackle "systemic prejudice" in the party.

"The current plan to tackle Islamophobia, however, is woefully inept," she wrote in the Guardian newspaper. "Lewis has oddly announced that he will work closely with the hate-crime reporting service Tell Mama.

"Hiding behind bureaucracy and using process as a fig leaf is not the answer."

Iman Atta, the director of Tell MAMA, told The National that Lady Warsi was mischaracterising its work. It has been at the forefront of the campaign to counter the letters threatening anti-Muslim violence and works with companies and institutions seeking to address prejudice.

"Our engagement with the Conservatives has been a discussion at an individual level," he said. "There is yet a more structural and deeper rooted plan to be developed and which needs to be done sooner rather than later and we will be pushing for this as good practice that must systemically iron out issues around anti-Muslim bigotry. We are clear about this and which looks at local and national issues.

"Comments that we just deal with hate crime, inferring that it is only around street based cases are neither accurate nor without their own slant. The reality is that staff have dealt with institutional anti-Muslim hate or Islamophobia for 6 years now and we can identify, structure and help implement measures against it.

“Tell MAMA has about 15-20 per cent of cases that come in about institutional anti-Muslim hate on an annual basis. These are issues that are entrenched into organisational systems and which Tell MAMA works on at various levels."

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Mohammed Amin, the chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, has pushed the party to go further and set up an inquiry into anti-Muslim prejudice in its ranks. But he too was dismayed that Lady Warsi did not mention the Forum's efforts to engage the party leadership.

"Our view is there are bad eggs in every party but these are not evenly distributed. There is antisemitism and Islamophobia in Labour and the Conservatives but there is many instances of anti-semitism in Labour and not many of Islamophobia. It is the other way round in the Conservatives," he told The National.

"We call for an independent inquiry but not necessarily a public one, though certainly its executive summary should be published. It should be able to conduct interviews at all levels and come up with overall recommendations. It is not enough to rely on disciplinary measures."

Mr Lewis said last month the party would involve Tell Mama in guiding its efforts to root out prejudice.

"A single case of abuse is one too many, and since becoming Chairman I have taken a zero-tolerance approach," he said. "We have a clear and fully transparent process for investigating complaints under the party’s Code of Conduct. In response to the cases brought to us, we have immediately suspended members and launched investigations. Many of these have led to expulsions."

Lady Warsi picked up on a call from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the party in May.

Mr Amin however said the MCB focus on the issue was a divisive one in the party.

"There are Conservatives who are calling for this to be looked at including myself who has been a member of the party for 35 years," he said. "The MCB is widely regarded as pro-Labour as can be seen from some of its leading members and there are many in the Conservative Party who can choose to ignore that but they should not ignore us."