An inquiry into Islamophobia only addresses one symptom of a much wider problem. Afroze Fatima Zaidi details the Conservative party’s track record of harming the most marginalised and vulnerable groups in British society with their policies.
I should start by acknowledging that Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has achieved much against the odds to get to where she is in her political career. She has also been tireless in her efforts to call out the Islamophobia within her own party, often being a lone voice amidst overwhelming denial. But for me, as a politically engaged Muslim woman of Pakistani heritage in the UK, Warsi being a woman from the same background is of little relevance. Her contribution to politics means little in terms of representation if the party of which she continues to be a member has proven itself, time and again, to be fundamentally unjust in its treatment of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups within British society.
While I sympathise with Warsi’s efforts, because it can’t be easy being an Asian Muslim woman trying to address bigotry against her own people in a party that is overwhelmingly white (both racially and ideologically), I do have a message for all British Muslims. “Is the Conservative party institutionally Islamophobic?” or “How deep does the problem of Islamophobia run in the party?” are not the questions we should be asking. If our bar for establishing the merit of a political party is only based on how it serves our own people, then this is a very low bar indeed. Political engagement, at its core, is not just about being concerned with how decisions made by those in power affect me or my loved ones. Rather it is about how those in power serve society at large, in all its multiple facets, including and especially those at its margins, who have historically at best been ignored and at worst been left to die.
When you treat Islamophobia as an isolated problem, and not a symptom of the deeper oppressive structure of the Conservative party, you’re saying that Conservatives are a legitimate option for Muslims were the Islamophobia addressed. But as Muslims, if we were to consider the effects of Tory policies on sick people, poor people, disabled people, women, children, the elderly – all groups our faith instructs us to protect and take care of as part of our social responsibilities – we would soon realise that supporting the Conservative party is not a legitimate option.
Cuts to healthcare spending were linked to a reported 10,000 additional deaths during January to March 2018 alone. Tory policy has been directly linked to what is now referred to as the “homelessness crisis”, and between 2013 and 2017 homelessness caused 230 deaths; the annual rate of people dying doubled in this five year period. Between April 2013 and April 2018, an alarming 21,000 working class and disabled people have died waiting for benefits from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Changes to the benefits system have put women at greater risk of abuse, and single mums on benefits are increasingly becoming homeless. A year ago, the number of children living in poverty had risen to an astonishing 4.1m children, with tax and welfare reforms being predicted to plunge a further 1.5m children into poverty. And of the staggering 120,000 excess deaths that have been linked to Tory austerity, the majority are reportedly people aged 60+ and in care homes. This is a mere snapshot of the devastating impact of Tory policy on the most vulnerable groups of people.
And it doesn’t end there. Along with proving itself as the party that cares little for the plight of those in need, it is also known for being brazenly racist, xenophobic and homophobic. Of the dozens of Black people deported as part of the Windrush scandal because they were no longer deemed worthy of living in Britain, eleven have died. This figure only takes into account those the Home Office accepted as having “wrongfully deported”, and the real number of deaths caused by Windrush deportations is likely to be much higher.
So while we are talking about the Conservative party having an Islamophobia problem, let’s not forget that it also has a racism problem, a xenophobia problem, a homophobia problem, a classism problem, an ableism problem, a sexism problem, etc. It’s not enough for us to hold the ruling party to account for their Islamophobia, because a less Islamophobic Conservative party will do little to address the systemic injustices that the Tories have facilitated during their time in power. Instead of just watching our own backs, we need to join in solidarity with all other oppressed, marginalised and vulnerable people in British society, and recognise in doing so that the Conservatives will never be a party that truly serves our interests.
Afroze is a freelance writer, researcher and academic editor. She completed her MPhil in Theology and Religious Studies in 2015 at the University of Birmingham. Her research interests include Islamophobia, racism, feminism and the intersections therein. Afroze has been actively engaged with her local community for many years and continues to be involved in inter and intra-faith activities on a voluntary basis. Follow @afrozefz