Muslim leaders back Lady Warsi’s comments on Islamophobia

Muslim leaders tonight backed the Conservative party chairwoman, Lady Warsi, after she claimed Islamophobia had “crossed the threshold of middle-class respectability” in Britain and was now seen as normal and uncontroversial. The Muslim Council of Britain warned the spread could be “the beginning of something horrendous” in a British society with an estimated 2.4m Muslims.

At Leicester University tonight Warsi claimed that parts of the press had embraced casual Islamophobia and that other parts of society including employers and even school children would be next. “You could even say that Islamophobia has now passed the dinner-table-test,” she said, accusing Polly Toynbee, a Guardian columnist and Rod Liddle, a Sunday Times columnist, of invoking Islamophobia.

Her comments were the most strident intervention yet in religious affairs by a member of the coalition government and there were reports they had not been cleared by Downing Street. David Cameron’s official spokesman said: “She is expressing her view. He agrees that this is an important debate”.

Gulam Noon, the curry magnate, and Akeela Ahmed, chief executive of the Muslim Youth Helpline, were among other leading British Muslims to supported Warsi. “Islam is under attack, there is no doubt,” said Noon. “It is the responsibility of the press, the government and the Muslim community, to deal with it.”

Ahmed warned that young people increasingly feel Muslims are viewed as being different or apart from society. “I have Muslim friends who complain they go out after work and it is ok for their non-Muslim colleagues to make jokes about people with long beards or wearing burqas,” she said. “If you were to replace the word Muslim with black or Jew, you would be jumped on straight away as racist or antisemitic.”

Ibrahim Mogra, chairman of the mosques and community affairs committee at the Muslim Council of Britain, said Warsi was correct to try and tackle growing anti-Mussim attitudes which he said have been partly been caused by the public becoming “desensitised” to anti-Muslim messages in the media in the wake of Islamist terror attacks in the US and Europe while he said Muslims’ positive contributions to British society attract less coverage.

“When I reflect on the tragedy of the Holocaust I think about how the Jew was persecuted as a misfit and somebody not to be trusted, as an alien. The drip, drip of hatred and bigotry by the Nazis led to them being described as rats and murdered in a horrible way. This situation is nowhere near that but there is always a beginning for everything. I hope this is not the beginning of something that could be horrendous. We said ‘never again’ and we have to nip this in the bud.”

Guardian, 21 January 2011