ISLAMOPHOBIA accusations, like so many other issues, have gone on to the back burner as coronavirus consumes all. The furore over Trevor Phillips, a victim of his own rights agenda, suspended from the Labour Party, has all but been forgotten.
But don’t imagine when this crisis has passed that Hope Not Hate – the so-called anti fascist, anti-racist ‘advocacy group’ – will forget to renew its campaign against the Conservatives. It published its latest ‘dossier’ on them two weeks ago before the world went mad, a report which excitedly claims new evidence of Islamophobia amongst Conservative Party officials and activists and demands the Tories take decisive action. The Conservatives should use this limbo to prepare their counter-attack.
Hope Not Hate has put together a collection of the ‘best’ comments it could dig up from over the last five years of various figures associated in some way with the Conservatives.
To borrow a phrase from Toby Young, the ‘offence archaeologists’ have done a sterling job. From these poorly-formatted Facebook posts and articles from dodgy clickbait sites, they provide the ‘evidence’. What Hope Not Hate might have suggested these messages represent is something rather different – that is, a profound concern about Islam and the Muslim population expressed by Conservative voters and elected representatives of the party.
That is why the Tories must be ready to counter them authoritatively and with a different narrative, rather than either condemn or deny out of hand, or capitulate to the smearing – especially if they want to keep the keys to Number 10 in 2024.
They should not be defensive or put on the back foot, notwithstanding the examples of language and ideas that are distasteful and many people would find offensive. Yes, there are some individual extreme, hateful and entirely unacceptable ideas that could constitute incitement to violence expressed. They need to be addressed under existing law if the evidence is there. But these are by no means reflective of the views of all of the individuals on this hit-list.
Many are, in the eyes of Hope Not Hate, ‘guilty’ of saying such things as, ‘Muslims leaving the UK would be a good thing’, or of ‘gleefully celebrating the election of Trump’.
Does the making of lazy statements which abound through the Twittersphere make them ‘phobic’, as opposed perhaps to being intolerant or prejudiced? Is the danger of casting them as phobic itself an extension of the category to any criticism of specific cultural practices? Does disliking halal slaughter make you an ‘Islamophobe’, does voting for Brexit make you a ‘racist’, or praising Trump make you a ‘fascist’. No.
This is the problem of Hope Not Hate’s approach – it does to people exactly what it is accusing them of. It is guilty of demonising them.
There are so many things wrong with Hope Not Hate’s analysis that it is difficult to know where to start. For one, it sets itself up for failure by adopting the term ‘Islamophobic’. As has been well documented – but much less accepted by those in power – the term is the creation of the Muslim Brotherhood, which conjured it up with the purpose of shutting down debate. This is why Douglas Murray received so much backlash for his seismic work, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam.
‘Islamophobia’ has now come to cover – much like its oft-used counterpart, ‘homophobia’ – not hatred of, or threatening actions against, the group in question, but any criticism and scepticism of the subject.
Thus, those who dare to criticise an MP for visiting a primary school with a drag queen in order to read stories to pre-pubescent children are told that they must hate gay people. In the same way, those who dare to feel discomfort about the fact that 82% of new UK citizens are either foreign-born or born to a foreign parent are branded as racist extremists. It is a classic way of silencing contrary opinion and is the stuff of lunacy.
The fact is that many people in this country are quite rationally worried about the impact of immigration, the pursuit of multicultural polices and ideology as well as of more recent identity politics.
In a poll for Ipsos-MORI in 2017, 88 per cent of people in Britain agreed with the statement that either there was too much immigration, or that immigration was causing a change to the country that they did not like. (R. Eatwell & M. Goodwin, National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy (London, 2018), p. 149.) This does not mean that 88 per cent of British people are racist; it means that 88 per cent are concerned, quite rightly, with the direction of travel of their nation.
In fact ,one could make the case that this dossier actually represents the wider opinion of a sizeable majority of the country, albeit in a very strongly-worded and brashly-done format.
And the fact is, quite simply, that people are more wary of immigration from countries that are markedly different from their own, as Robert Tombs explains so well in The English and Their History. Describing the biggest influx of immigration in our history after 2004 – by 2008, it was one million from the EU and two million from the rest of the world – he says: ‘Most immigrants until the 1980s had historical and cultural connections with Britain – language, sports culture and for West Indians, Christianity’ facilitating integration. By contrast, it is argued that the multicultural approach has perpetuated and even created ethnic divisions.
This is why EU immigration is less disliked than non-EU immigration. It is also why immigrants from non-EU countries are regarded with more caution, or even distrust. It goes some way to explain why Muslims have the lowest favourability score amongst the British public as a whole. (H. D. Clarke, M. Goodwin, & P. Whiteley, Brexit: Why Britain Voted To Leave The European Union (Cambridge 2019), p. 103).
I say this not to deride Muslims, but simply to show why is it even more pressing that the Government starts to understand in order to address these concerns both sympathetically as well as seriously.
I wrote in my introduction that the Conservatives need to take heed of the Hope Not Hate critique – not in the form of a Theresa May mea culpa, but certainly for dialogue with leaders of the Muslim community. But most of all, for understanding rather than trashing their own voting constituency if they want to win the next election.
I say this because, as far as I can see, they have failed to do so. Their success at the 2019 general election came on the back of a wave of support from Northern voters who had previously not supported the party. Many of these had voted for the Brexit Party in the European Parliamentary elections just seven months previously. A sizeable number supported UKIP back in 2015. Many live in the Midlands and Northern conurbations where there are sizeable Muslim populations and communities.
Backing the Tories was the only way to ensure Brexit was delivered – as such, lifetime Labour voters, those who thought the Conservatives were not conservative enough, and voters who had been disenfranchised completely, decided to support Boris Johnson.
But this was not a commitment to him or the party. It was a cautious and tentative loan, with the expectation that they would be paid back – with interest.
It is no coincidence that, at the time of the EU referendum, the belief that immigration represented a ‘major problem’ in the UK rose to its highest point of 48 per cent (Clarke, Goodwin, & Whiteley, Brexit, p. 148). Brexit was a vote to reduce immigration. It was also a vote for all that came along with this; most notably, a desire to strengthen our nation and make more manifest its British culture.
All of this is imperative for the Conservatives to understand; the fact that all party members named in this dossier were suspended upon its release suggests that they have not done so. This is not a Boris problem per se, but a wider one. You need only look back at Cameron’s branding of UKIP as ‘fruitcakes and closet racists’ to see how wide the gap is between the established party and those who voted for it in 2019.
The fact also that the Tories have already shown signs of weakening their post-Brexit immigration policy is another warning, as is the realisation from many figures that non-EU immigration is likely to increase, rather than decrease. (Farage speaking to The Sun – see 6:00-6:31).
There may be people holding positions in the Conservative Party who back calls for the deportation of Muslims. I don’t know. If there are, they shouldn’t be there. But it does not add up to an Islamophobia problem. That is as constructed as the notion itself.
But Tories still need to take the accusation seriously, not because it is a widespread issue in the party, but because it may mask genuine concerns that its voters have about the very make-up and culture of our country, that to date it has made no effort, from its metropolitan bubble base, to try to understand.