Labour, the BBC and Islamophobia

Member ratings
  • Well argued: 60%
  • Interesting points: 71%
  • Agree with arguments: 58%
73 ratings - view all
Labour, the BBC and Islamophobia

Lee Anderson and Annaliese Dodds (image created in Shutterstock)

Three of the kindest people and most interesting people I know are British Muslims. One is a young woman from Bangladesh, the others are middle-aged men from Afghanistan and Turkey. I always enjoy my times with all three.

I hesitated to write to the young woman in the first few weeks after October 7. As a Jew, I worried if an e-mail might seem somehow inappropriate and insensitive. But then I thought dialogue and contact are always better than silence so I sent an e-mail and wrote, “I have been deeply upset by some of the antisemitism that has surfaced lately, the worst that I have seen in this country in my lifetime. I am sure that you are worried about signs of Islamophobia here too and I do hope you, your sister and brother have not been personally affected by this.”

To my great relief, she replied almost immediately and sent a long and thoughtful response, thanking me for “reaching out”. She wrote,
“It’s Islamophobia awareness month now so am working with the council on a few events that I’ll be speaking at, it’s definitely all very thought provoking. Not to mention exhausting, I feel very tired at the moment with all of the relentless bad news, and having to go to work and do life things as normal. [My brother and sister] and I have been having some tough conversations about life in the UK, as I am sure your family has too. I really hope we can look forward to a better future with a complete stop to this ongoing loss of life and war.”

I was shocked to read that they had been discussing whether they had a future in this country, presumably because of the rise in anti-Muslim feeling. It told me more about what it might be like to be a British Muslim now than anything I have read since.

Over the last day or two, there has been an explosion of accusations by Labour politicians and some commentators attacking Conservative politicians, especially Suella Braverman and Lee Anderson, for their “Islamophobia”, and others (including the Prime Minister) for their “ambivalence about Islamophobia”, for their failure to speak out against anti-Muslim feeling in the same way they have spoken out against antisemitism.

There are a number of problems with this that need to be addressed and haven’t been. First, with some honourable exceptions – Robert Jenrick, Kemi Badenoch, Eric Pickles, among them – Conservative politicians have not always been as supportive of Jews at our moment of need as we would have hoped. Labour politicians even less so. Only a few Cabinet ministers and Shadow Cabinet ministers attended the big march against antisemitism in the Autumn and Robert Jenrick was the only senior figure who spoke at the rally.

It is not the case that the Government has rushed to support Britain’s Jewish community and left Muslims out in the cold. Few of her colleagues were prepared to support Suella Braverman, then Home Secretary, in calling out what she called the “hate marches” that have taken place in our capital city most weekends. Few have shown real empathy at what has been a traumatic time for many British Jews: first because of what happened in Israel on October 7, and the continued plight of the hostages, most of whom are still in captivity; and second, because many of us have friends and/or family in Israel and the hatred that has been visible on our streets, in many of our universities and on social media, and the anti-Israel bias that has disfigured our main TV news networks – BBC News, Sky News and Channel 4 News – has been unforgettable and unforgivable.

Almost every day there have been startling examples of anti-Israel media bias. At the time of writing, I have just heard Sarah Montague tell an Israeli interviewee, “Around the world people are looking on [at Gaza] in horror.” She could have said, “Around the world some [my emphasis] people look on in horror.” But she didn’t. She couldn’t say that because she’s a BBC presenter and in the cosy world of BBC News, now everyone shares their view of what’s been happening in Gaza. They can’t imagine that there are thoughtful people out there who might disagree with them, in the same way they couldn’t imagine there were thoughtful people who didn’t share their view of Brexit.

Second, both BBC presenters and Labour politicians have jumped on various Conservative politicians for being Islamophobic. What they haven’t done is carefully distinguish between (a) Islamophobia and (b) expressing concern about hate marches, by Muslims and the Left, hate speech, calls for genocide (“From the river to the sea”), the intimidation of British Jews, including graffiti, driving convoys of cars with Palestinian flags through Jewish neighbourhoods, screaming antisemitic abuse and the rest.

I have not yet heard anyone on a TV or radio news programme ask: is it a coincidence that, just a few days after the Rochdale affaire — when Labour had to get rid of a Muslim candidate because of his astonishingly offensive remarks, while some UK Muslims had threatened not to vote Labour in the next general election — so many Labour politicians have come onto the airwaves to express their concern over Islamophobia? Andy Burnham, Lisa Nandy and Anneliese Dodds are among those condemning the Conservatives for being Islamophobic. It was Dodds who asked, “Why are senior Conservatives finding it so hard to call out Islamophobia?”

In a recent piece for TheArticle, I wrote that British politicians should never play games with ethnic divides. In the current climate, it is like dropping a match in a pool of petrol. That’s what Labour are accusing Lee Anderson and Suella Braverman of. Certainly neither has used measured speech and both should have chosen their words more carefully. But, although you won’t hear BBC presenters asking about this, isn’t that exactly what senior Labour politicians are now doing? In order to try and win back the crucial “Muslim vote” in many Labour constituencies, they are desperately trying to convince Muslim voters that they are the only party for British Muslims and the Conservatives are Islamophobic.

What Labour politicians are not saying is 1) there are only a few Conservative politicians, admittedly both fairly senior figures, whom they are condemning and that both were forced out of government because their remarks were considered beyond the pale; 2) the British Muslim community need to speak out more against those who call for genocide and spout antisemitic hatred, those who threaten Jews in their own communities, those who call for Sharia law in Britain and call to close down theatres or bookshops which show “anti-Muslim” plays or sell “anti-Muslim” books.

“Why can’t we debate Islam?” Salman Rushdie said in a recent interview in the French news magazine L’Express. “It is possible to respect individuals, to protect them from intolerance, while being sceptical about their ideas, even criticising them ferociously.” We know the price Rushdie has paid for holding these views. That we cannot debate them is not the sign of a strong or confident community. This is exactly the sort of violent intolerance and rage that politicians, including Labour politicians, should be condemning.

Finally, the BBC’s Political Editor, Chris Mason, has just posed this question on the BBC News website: “In an election year, is it in the interests of our political parties to seek to calm things down, or crank things up? Right now, the evidence suggests the latter.”

Senior Labour politicians are certainly not seeking to “calm things down”. They want to “crank things up” because it’s election year and they are eager to win back the “Muslim vote” which could decide the general election. In 2020 Keir Starmer defended Jeremy Corbyn at a leadership hustings in Liverpool, claiming that Corbyn, who he had campaigned for in two successive general elections, had been “vilified” by the media. He did not stand up for Britain’s Jews then, less than four years ago, when he stood up for Corbyn. There was a choice and Starmer made his choice in the general elections of 2017 and 2019 and in that speech in 2020. Starmer is now dithering over which matters more: the elusive but crucial “Muslim vote”, or telling Jews that he supports Israel’s right to defend itself.

The war between Israel and Hamas has recently claimed the jobs of one Home Secretary, a deputy Tory chairman and eight Labour shadow ministers; it could still claim the job of the Speaker. It is still very possible that this war could play a crucial role in this year’s election. Worse still, the Speaker is not alone in worrying whether it might claim the life of at least another MP. There has already been astonishing footage of Labour MPs and members of the Shadow Cabinet (including Annaliese Dodds) being harassed and intimidated by groups of pro-Palestinian protesters, though it is worth noting that those Labour politicians have not rushed to condemn this kind of abuse. Of course not. They have the so-called Muslim vote in their sights and there are many they are prepared to throw under the bus in order to win it.

There was an opportunity here to have a grown-up conversation about what kind of multicultural Britain we want — whether radical Islamism is the right way forward for Britain and for our Muslim friends and fellow-citizens. But instead this is fast turning into a debate about Islamophobia inside the Conservative Party. Labour hopes this will win back voters and BBC news programmes hopes this will win back audiences. I hope they are both wrong.

 

A Message from TheArticle

We are the only publication that’s committed to covering every angle. We have an important contribution to make, one that’s needed now more than ever, and we need your help to continue publishing throughout these hard economic times. So please, make a donation.


Member ratings
  • Well argued: 60%
  • Interesting points: 71%
  • Agree with arguments: 58%
73 ratings - view all

You may also like