Muslim councillors accused of ‘systematic misogyny’
Last month the Muslim Women’s Network (MWN UK) wrote to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, complaining about ‘the systematic misogyny displayed by significant numbers of Muslim male Labour councillors’.
The letter followed a political storm that erupted when Birmingham’s Lord Mayor elect Muhammad Afzal, above, told the group that forced marriages were no longer a problem; that the British Prime Minister was an “Islamophobe”; and that domestic violence was happening:
Mainly in the Christian community because they get drunk.
Shortly afterwards he resigned, but Afzal, who is chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, claimed:
Recent publicity in the local media has given rise to unfair and indeed untrue comments being ascribed to me. I have tried to put the record straight but sadly it has not been possible to do so as rumour and innuendo has replaced facts.
If Afzal and his cronies thought that was the end of the matter, they were wrong. Allegations of threats and intimidation against female Muslim councillors by a cabal of male Muslim candidates over a period of many years were followed up in a Newsnight investigation aired by BBC2 last Friday.
During the course of the programme, Labour MP for Luton South, Gavin Shuker, said he was “disappointed” by his party’s response. He told BBC Newsnight:
In recent weeks, when I’ve spoken up about this issue, I felt extremely pressured to be silent on the things I know to be true.
Shuker raised his concerns in response to claims made by MWN UK concerning the “blocking” of vocal, independent Muslim women by male members of the Labour Party who are of Pakistani heritage.
I’ve been disappointed with the response of the Labour Party. I would like robust action from the leadership – both from the NEC and from the leader of the Labour Party to say ‘If there are these practices, we will take time to root them out.’
When people come forward with legitimate concerns, they should be backed, not silenced. This is not just a moral imperative; it’s an electoral imperative. We can’t carry on treating the Muslim community as fools – we need to serve up great candidates at every single level. The community knows when there are abuses of power.
One Asian woman, a former Labour councillor, agreed to be interviewed by BBC Newsnight as long as her identity was kept hidden. She claimed Pakistani-heritage councillors on the English council where she served, who are still sitting councillors, regularly protect corrupt Asian businessmen, including one who ran a club in which:
Inappropriate behaviours of a sexual nature were going on between young white girls and Asian males.
Newsnight spoke to other women who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions. Many talked of clan politics perpetrated by these patriarchal communities, the so-called “biraderi”, imported from the south Asian subcontinent, in which votes are delivered in blocks.
Many said threats and intimidation were used to force them out of politics. One woman said:
I was standing to be a councillor and the big man of the Asian councillors came to my house to convince my husband to get me to stop down. It was frightening … They were threatening and scaring my family into getting me to step aside.
I complained to Labour branch but they sided with the men. These men told them they would get more votes and members for them. My life was made hell after the complaint. The aggression was too much to bear. I’m a single mum and was worried about my daughter’s safety. These men were capable of anything. In the end, I was deselected, despite all my commitment to the party.
MWN UK’s Shaista Gohir, above, told Newsnight:
What’s worrying, these men have become a law unto themselves. That can’t be in a vacuum, it’s been going on for decades. Muslim men are saying to us ‘We’re glad you are saying what we’ve all known about. It just gets brushed under the carpet by senior Labour officials.’
But the Labour Party said it had been:
At the forefront of the fight for women’s equality.
We have transformed the representation of women in politics and championed equality for women in the workplace.
Any complaints or evidence of sexism, intimidation, received by the Labour Party are dealt with fairly, according to our procedures and the law.
Labour Party elected representatives are expected to maintain the highest standards of behaviour and conduct at all times.
Any allegations of individual elected representatives whose behaviour falls short of that should be reported to the Labour Party or the appropriate authorities.
Hat tip: Antony Niall