Tackling Islamophobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:28 pm on 7 December 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 2:28, 7 December 2023

I want briefly to raise a few points about my constituency. I have a multicultural constituency. It has been a migrant community for more than a hundred years, and there is a sizeable Muslim community. In fact, I helped establish the first mosque—the Islamic centre in the centre of Hayes—30 years ago. We rub together pretty well. At the weekend, we had an open day at the Islamic centre to talk about how the different religions work together. There was a particular discussion about the role of Jesus Christ, and I thought it was interesting and fascinating to hear people’s views. Nevertheless, we do have problems.

Before 7 October, we had an arson attack on the Muslim women’s centre in Yeading Lane in Hayes. For the women, the tragedy of it was that the arsonist burned through the room where the holy Koran was stored. The House can imagine the distress caused. I previously raised this issue with a Minister on the Floor of the House, and was given an assurance that there would be support. At the moment, we are seeking a meeting with civil servants to go through the details; any help the Minister could provide in arranging that meeting would be really helpful, because it is quite pressing. As the insurance money hopefully comes through to repair the building, we need the security put in place fairly rapidly.

Political parties have to be straight with one another on this issue. With regard to the Conservative party, Baroness Warsi has played an exceptional role—a heroic role. I cannot understand why the Human Rights Council did not carry out an investigation into the Conservative party when Baroness Warsi and others produced their report about the Islamophobia within that party, and I think it reflects badly on the HRC. I normally support the HRC—in fact, I have been on picket lines in support of its staff when there were staff cuts—but I think it needs to examine its behaviour that regard.

Turning to the Labour party, we have to be straight— I know that at the moment in the Labour party, being straight can sometimes be dangerous. I want to raise a number of points. First, the Labour Muslim Network, which was founded a number of years ago, did an excellent job in researching and exposing Islamophobia within our own party. We need to listen to that. I cannot understand how three years on, the Labour Muslim Network is trying to establish itself as a formal affiliate to the Labour party, but still has not been allowed to affiliate.

Secondly, it is accurately reported that in my local area, for example, Ali Milani—who is one of the founders of the Labour Muslim Network, and was an excellent candidate for Uxbridge in the general election—was warned off standing again in the by-election. It was made clear that he would not be allowed to stand, which is unacceptable. I put on record that any party that allows the deselection of my hon. Friend Apsana Begum is not protecting the Muslim community in the way I would expect it to. I want to send that message. I have raised these issues in private—I have written to the leader of the Labour party—and the reason I am now raising them in public is that I have not had a sufficiently positive response that addresses those issues.

The final point I want to make with regard to the Labour party is this: why is it that when someone is accused of Islamophobia and they apologise, disciplinary action is then ended and there is no issue with regard to the Whip or whatever, but in a number of instances where a person has been accused of antisemitism, the Whip is withdrawn and they spend months awaiting any form of investigatory process? In his inquiry into the Labour party, Martin Forde addressed the issue of a potential hierarchy of racism within our party, and I am afraid that the way in which we treat individuals reinforces that concern. We all condemn antisemitism and Islamophobia, but we have to treat all forms of racism with equivalence, as well as the individuals against whom allegations have been made. I think we have a job of work in our own political parties to ensure that we tackle Islamophobia effectively, in a way that will make us—particularly the Labour party—the anti-racist party that we have always wanted to be, and an example to other political parties.

Finally, I want to emphasise the point that Paul Bristow made: at every meeting I have in my constituency with regard to the Muslim community, I am so proud of the way that it that has come forward in a migrant community over the past 50 to 70 years and now plays such a significant role in my constituency, but also nationally. Whenever there is a problem—whenever there is an issue that I need support on and I put the call out—it is the Islamic centres and the mosques that come forward and provide the resources. In fact, the Islamic centre in Hayes was visited by the Prince and Princess of Wales only a few months ago, just to thank the people there for the work they have done in raising funds for Afghanistan and elsewhere. I put on record my thanks to the Muslim community and my gratitude for all the work they do, and my pride in being able to represent the Muslim community in my constituency.