January 21, 2011

Warsi’s Islamophobia speech sparks debate

by Jan Harris

Baroness Warsi, co-chairman of the Conservative Party and the first Muslim woman to serve in the cabinet, made a controversial speech at Leicester University sparking a debate on Islam.

In her speech the Baroness claimed ‘Prejudice against Muslims in Britain is at an all-time high’ and laid much of the blame on the way Islamic issues are reported by the media.

She said that Islamaphobia had become socially acceptable and quoted comments from Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee who said “I am an Islamophobe, and proud of it”, and associate editor of The Spectator Rod Liddle who said “Islamophobia? Count me in”.

Her speech criticised the way stories are manipulated in the press for the sake of sensationalism, citing as an example a report that the student union at Leicester University had persuaded the union cafe to turn exclusively halal, when in fact it was decided that just one of 26 cafes on the campus should serve halal food in order to cater for the large number of Muslim students.

Baroness Warsi also warned that dividing Muslims into either moderate or extremists added to prejudice because it defines if someone is good or bad based on their religion, rather than by their criminality.

Although the speech provoked a variety of reactions in the press, Baroness Warsi said she felt its impact was a positive one.

The Bradford Council for Mosques backed the speech, agreeing that the actions of a few had given the whole British Muslim community a negative image.

However, writing in The Telegraph, conservative commentator and politician Norman Tebbit said that the Baroness was wrong to accuse Christians of bigotry and suggested she should go to the Mosques and listen to what some of them are saying about the Christian faith.

Downing Street has refused to endorse her Baroness Warsi’s views and many people will find them unpalatable, but at least people are talking about the issues, which has to be a good thing.

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