OPINION - Lee Anderson has poured petrol on the fires of hatred and Rishi Sunak should condemn his racist remarks

 (Matt Writtle)
(Matt Writtle)

More than two days on from Lee Anderson’s vile racist, anti-Muslim and Islamophobic remarks, we have yet to hear the Prime Minister call it what it is: Islamophobic, anti-Muslim hate and racist. Remarkably, Rishi Sunak released a statement yesterday on hatred in politics, but failed to mention anti-Muslim sentiment at all. Then his deputy, Oliver Dowden, repeatedly refused to accept that Anderson’s remarks were racist, anti-Muslim or Islamophobic. This speaks volumes.

It shouldn’t be hard to call out comments that are so unambiguously ignorant, prejudiced and racist. Yet those at the top of the Conservative Government are stubbornly refusing to do so. It’s a tacit endorsement of anti-Muslim hatred and can only lead to the conclusion that anti-Muslim bigotry and racism are not taken seriously. Racism is racism and should always be called out, whichever minority it is targeted against. There can be no hierarchy.

Only a few days ago the charity Tell Mama revealed that anti-Muslim cases in the UK had more than tripled over the last four months. This huge spike has included Muslims being physically and verbally abused and anti-Muslim prejudice becoming a daily reality for many on social media. Lee Anderson’s comments have only poured petrol on the fire of this hatred.

Only a few days ago a charity revealed that anti-Muslim cases in the UK had tripled over the last four months

Depressingly, this is not a one-off incident, but another example of a pattern of behaviour that’s been increasingly infecting the Conservative Party for years. We’ve seen many instances of blatant anti-Muslim hatred being promoted and tolerated from top to bottom of the party — from prime ministers and mayoral candidates to donors and those running to be MPs.

Before Boris Johnson was elected leader of the party, he compared women wearing burqas to letterboxes and bank robbers. And in the last week alone, former home secretary Suella Braverman has used anti-Muslim tropes peddled by the far-Right while Liz Truss stayed silent when Donald Trump’s former right-hand man, Steve Bannon, described hate merchant Tommy Robinson as a “hero”.

But what we are seeing is more than a hierarchy of racism. It’s a deliberate, dangerous political strategy — a strategy to weaponise anti-Muslim prejudice for electoral gain. This is understandably leaving communities across London and Britain feeling insecure and afraid of what the future might hold. I called out the Labour Party when it had a problem with antisemitism, and I am pleased Keir Starmer has got on top of it with tough action. It’s now time for the Conservative Party to do the same with anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia. This must not only include finally accepting the cross-party definition of Islamophobia and ridding the party of those with appalling views, but also ensuring anti-Muslim hatred is no longer used as a political tool.

With just over two months to go until the Mayoral elections, I hope we don’t see a repeat of the divisive, and deeply racist and Islamophobic campaign the Conservatives ran in 2016. This is not just about me. Campaigning tactics like this by the Conservatives and the far-Right send the damaging message to wider society that Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment are acceptable. With tensions running extremely high, political leaders must now take proactive steps towards building stronger and more integrated communities. This means working to calm, not inflame, community tensions and seeking to unite, not divide. This is how we can strengthen social ties and bonds of trust between people of all faiths, races and backgrounds.

Sadiq Khan is Mayor of London