Khalid Mahmood should lose the Labour whip

Picture of Khalid Mahmood, an overweight, clean-shaven South Asian man with a dark grey suit jacket, white shirt and dark blue tie, sitting against a backdrop consisting of the Policy Exchange logo.
Khalid Mahmood

A clip has been circulating on Twitter of the Labour MP Khalid Mahmood addressing a webinar on the recent Prevent programme review by the Tory-aligned think tank Policy Exchange, a notorious source of anti-Muslim propaganda going back to the Blair years and an incubator of policies and politicians for the Tories particularly during the Cameron years, complaining that too many adverts featured Muslim women who wear the hijab which he claimed could be intimidating to Muslim women who do not wear hijab. He also recently pontificated to Policy Exchange on treason and aiding the enemy and its moral wrongs, yet here he is throwing the Muslims under the bus and supping with those who have been fomenting hatred towards us for decades. The 38-second clip (in the original video the offending passage starts at 32:50) shows him saying:

“This is where the narratives have been brought in. An advert or a community organisation, they will represent the Muslim woman with a headscarf, so it intimidates other Muslim women who do’t want to wear the headscarf. So the establishment, essentially, is getting in on this bandwagon. So, that is where the problems are.”

This complaint reflects a particular cognitive bias, whereby if you see a larger and larger group of people that you are not used to seeing where you are now seeing them, you imagine that they are more numerous than they really are, and if they become large enough, you think they are a majority or have taken over. For example, men often say this when the proportion of women in their workplace approaches 30%. It’s true that we have seen Muslim women appear here and there in advertisements and in stock pictures in the media, although in some cases Muslims themselves have complained about this: pictures of Muslim women in headscarves often accompanied media stories about Covid, for example. But advertisers have featured women of other minorities in adverts as well, to broaden their appeal to their customer base and not just white people (or white women, in the case of clothing and cosmetics adverts). And it isn’t true that Muslim women who do not wear hijab have any reason to feel intimidated by merely seeing women who do. It is not those who do not wear hijab who have additional difficulty in finding work or who are harassed in public for their beliefs, usually following reports of the misdeeds of Muslim men. They may experience pressure to wear hijab when around other Muslim women who do, but peer pressure is quite normal in any community, religious or otherwise.

By advocating that Muslim women who wear hijab be less visible, be less represented in the media and in advertising and even in community organisations, he is advocating that Muslim women who wear hijab have fewer opportunities and that life be made harder for them. So, while pouring scorn on the notion of Islamophobia and accusing organisations that combat it of fostering a victim mentality, Khalid Mahmood is contributing to actual Islamophobic narratives. He also falsely asserts a ‘mainstream’ of the Muslim community which is not distinctively Muslim and which is in a lot of cases not even practising, nor following aspects of the Shari’ah which are different from white British custom. This has never been a Muslim definition of a ‘mainstream’ Muslim; mainstream Islam is the mainstream of Islam, not a fringe group that resemble non-Muslims.

Finally, Khalid Mahmood should have the same treatment as anyone else who assists any other group that openly works against the Labour party: he should be expelled. He is addressing a think tank linked to the Tory party which openly foments hostility and suspicion against a religious minority, namely Muslims. In the three years that Starmer has been leader, members have been expelled for addressing the meetings of proscribed dissident Labour groups which merely question the dominant narrative about antisemitism during Jeremy Corbyn’s time as leader, and these include Jews or people of Jewish origin who disagree with that narrative (which is favoured by mainstream Jewish community groups) who have been called self-hating Jews or “as-a-Jews” in the media. I know it isn’t really surprising given that Trevor Phillips has also been readmitted to the party, but if they are serious in making the party a community where racism has no place, this must include Islamophobia and other hostility to visible minorities, not just antisemitism. So much of what Khalid Mahmood said in this address to Policy Exchange resembles things that got people expelled for using “antisemitic tropes” when said about Jews: that we have a victim mentality or that our community leaders foster one, that Islamophobia does not really exist. Starmer and those around him appear to have calculated that Muslims are politically disposable, while Jews are not, because they have strong media connections, and are (at least stereotypically nowadays) white and middle-class and are generally respected by others of that class.

An anti-racist party shouldn’t have any place for someone who calls for a minority to be shut away, made less visible, excluded from the public space. End of. He must be thrown out.

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