NUS head pulls out of Tory conference over 'disturbing Islamophobia'

President says event focused on Islamophobia definition rather than bigotry faced by Muslims

The leader of the National Union of Students has pulled out of engagements at the Conservative party conference in protest at what she said was “deeply disturbing, downright Islamophobia” at a fringe event on Sunday.

The NUS president, Zamzam Ibrahim, had been due to speak at two sessions at the conference, in Manchester, this week but withdrew, claiming she could not participate in a conference that “denies the bigotry faced by Muslims on a daily basis”.

Ibrahim was responding to reports of an event called Challenging “Islamophobia”, hosted by the Policy Exchange thinktank and chaired by the writer and broadcaster Trevor Phillips. Also on the panel were the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, the Tory MP Nusrat Ghani and the Muslim doctor and commentator Dr Qanta Ahmed.

The student leader did not attend herself, but journalists tweeting about the event reported that much of the debate focused on challenging the definition and use of the word Islamophobia, rather than the issue of Islamophobia itself.

Ibrahim also took exception to an exchange in which Phillips said he thought he was the only person present to have been nominated as “Islamophobe of the Year”, to which Peter Tatchell responded: “I’m jealous.” Tatchell later said he was making an “ironic joke”.

The former Conservative party chair Lady Warsi echoed the NUS leader’s dismay at the event, saying on Twitter that she felt “sick to my stomach to see the party I chaired sink to such depths”.

When “Islamophobe of the year” is worn as a badge of honour, anti Muslim rhetoric is promoted & colleagues r too scared to say publicly what they’ve told me privately.
Welcome to todays @Conservatives #CPC19
Truly ashamed of my Party & fear for Muslims under this government 😢

— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) September 29, 2019

Policy Exchange later said it was wrong to suggest any panellist at the event denied the existence of anti-Muslim bigotry. “The panellists, including two practising Muslims, Dr Qanta Ahmed and the Tory MP Nusrat Ghani, were clear that such bigotry exists and must be rooted out wherever it is found,” a spokesman said.

“Some panellists argued that the term anti-Muslim hatred or prejudice would be more useful than Islamophobia but at no point did anyone either on the panel or in the audience argue that such hatred is not a feature of our society, including the Conservative party itself.”

The Tory party has come under pressure to hold an inquiry into reports of Islamophobia within its ranks. Announcing her decision to withdraw from the conference, Ibrahim said: “As president of NUS and a Muslim woman, I cannot in good conscience participate in a conference that openly and willingly denies my own lived experiences, and the bigotry faced by Muslims from the far right, from elements of our media and in communities across our country on a daily basis.”

Tatchell said nobody had denied the existence of anti-Muslim bigotry. “Every speaker at the event condemned prejudice, harassment and discrimination against the Muslim community.

“But we also expressed concern that parliament’s sweeping definition of Islamophobia could be used to inhibit free speech and undermine legitimate criticisms of Islam, including criticisms of Islamic sexism and homophobia.”

Phillips said the reporting of the event was unrepresentative of what was actually said. “The idea that offends me is that what is being said here is that anybody who does not have the mark of approval of Baroness Warsi and others can’t have anything to say about the position of British Muslims and I think that’s wrong.”


Sally Weale Education correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Tory Islamophobia inquiry chair in row over Kashmir views
Swaran Singh’s neutrality in question over comments conflict is not Muslim-only tragedy

Simon Murphy

18, Dec, 2019 @11:14 AM

Article image
Conservative conference fringe meeting was no ‘Muslim-bashing fest’ | Letter from Peter Tatchell
Letter: I defended Muslim communities and made concrete proposals to protect Muslims against discrimination, writes Peter Tatchell, who was on the panel at the meeting


01, Oct, 2019 @5:09 PM

Article image
Watchdog urged to launch inquiry into Tory Islamophobia
Muslim Council of Britain submits complaint to Equality and Human Rights Commission

Rajeev Syal

28, May, 2019 @12:53 PM

Article image
Sayeeda Warsi chides Trevor Phillips over Muslim comments
Former Tory party chair says ex-equalities chief’s views on race and integration are flawed

Kate Proctor, Peter Walker and Sam Gelder

09, Mar, 2020 @7:38 PM

Article image
Government criticised for rejecting definition of Islamophobia
Working definition has already been adopted by Labour, Lib Dems and Scottish Tories

Jessica Elgot Chief political correspondent

15, May, 2019 @11:39 AM

Article image
Facebook posts about Sajid Javid deepen Tory Islamophobia row
Home secretary subject of online attacks by people claiming to be party members

Simon Murphy

09, Apr, 2019 @1:07 PM

Article image
EHRC threatens to intervene over Tory Islamophobia claims
Watchdog under pressure to investigate party as Cabinet Office launches inquiry into Nusrat Ghani’s allegations

Aamna Mohdin and Aubrey Allegretti

24, Jan, 2022 @7:06 PM

Article image
Tory Islamophobia row: Warsi accuses Hancock of 'whitesplaining'
Warsi hits back at minister for saying ‘others take a more balanced approach’ than Muslim peer

Damien Gayle

09, Nov, 2019 @10:33 AM

Article image
Nearly half of Tory members would not want Muslim PM – poll
Islamophobia survey finds just 8% believe it is a problem within the Conservative party

Jessica Murray

24, Jun, 2019 @2:14 PM

Article image
Islamophobia, Trevor Phillips, and free speech | Letters
Letters: Words have power – you need to choose them carefully, writes Colin Montgomery. Plus letters from David Robjant, Jonathan Longstaff, and Pete Wearden


11, Mar, 2020 @5:54 PM