Don’t use Muslims as ‘punching bags’ this general election amid Gaza attacks, parties urged

In March, The Independent exclusively reported on an MP’s warning of an ‘explosion’ in Islamophobia attacks not being reported to police. (Joe Giddens/PA Wire)
In March, The Independent exclusively reported on an MP’s warning of an ‘explosion’ in Islamophobia attacks not being reported to police. (Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

The UK’s top organisation for Muslims has urged political leaders not to use minorities as a “punching bag” during campaigns for the upcoming general election amid concerns over an increase in attacks on mosques in the wake of attacks in Gaza.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is calling for “hopeful” political lobbying following Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement on Wednesday that the next polling day will take place on 4 July.

Britain’s leading political parties face a crisis in confidence among Muslim communities amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

“I urge our political parties and all those seeking our votes to pursue a campaign that is hopeful: to resist the urge to scapegoat Muslims and minorities and proposing a future where all Britons can play a positive role,” Zara Mohammed, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain said.

“The call comes in a year where we have seen politicians and their supportive media double down on their rhetoric against Muslims: casting them as the enemy within and questioning their right to play an equal part in our democracy.

“As the general election campaign begins in earnest, we urge politicians and the media to resist the temptation of using Muslims as a punching bag to score cheap political points; such actions are reprehensible and must be firmly rejected to foster an inclusive environment that respects all communities.”

A recent poll by HOPE not Hate revealed that 58 per cent of Conservative Party members think Islam is a threat to the British way of life while the Labour Party’s support amongst British Muslims has sharply declined amid major concerns about Sir Keir’s initial response to the Gaza war.

During the last general election in 2019, the MCB accused the Conservatives of having a “blind spot” when it comes to Islamophobia as former prime minister Boris Johnson’s comparison of veiled Muslim women to “letterboxes” led to a 375 per cent increase in Islamophobic attacks the following week.

A damning 2021 inquiry revealed that anti-Muslim sentiment “remains a problem” within the party, while a separate report revealed that media coverage of Muslims and Islam in the UK is mostly negative.

The Gaza conflict, Ms Mohammed said, is currently a key concern for many Muslim people across the UK, as well as a range of other issues close to home.

It was recently revealed in March that Islamophobic incidents have skyrocketed by 356 per cent across the country, involving people being targeted over their support for Palestine as the Israel-Hamas conflict continues.

Speaking to The Independent, some Muslims have said they had bricks thrown through their windows for displaying the Palestinian flag, while one teenager said he was interrogated by his teachers after he wore a Palestinian badge at school.

In February, Scotland’s then-First Minister Humza Yousaf said there is still “deep-rooted, systemic and endemic” Islamophobia in the UK and that it is getting worse.

“British Muslim communities are diverse, yet there are common issues that affect us all,” the MCB continued.

“There is no doubt that the ongoing atrocities in Gaza is foremost on our mind, and Muslim communities are united with the majority of Britons in ending the killings, wanting their government to uphold international law and affirm Palestinian statehood.

“There are also a range of domestic issues that we, as citizens and members of a faith community, will be considering when deciding our votes. These include combatting all forms of racism, including the adoption of a definition on Islamophobia.

“It also involves defending religious liberty, and ensuring safety at places of worship. We urge proactive engagement with diverse Muslim communities, addressing health and elderly care disparities, and supporting refugees and asylum seekers. We advocate for increased participation and integration of minorities, fair press standards, and reforms in the criminal justice system.”

This comes after the government committed over £117m to protect mosques, Muslim schools and community centres from hate attacks over the next four years.

In March, The Independent exclusively reported about an MP’s warning of an “explosion” in Islamophobia attacks not being reported to police.

The Labour and Conservative parties have been approached for comment.

The London Mayor’s office declined to comment.