Prejudice against Muslims has “passed the dinner-table test” and become widely socially acceptable in Britain, Conservative Party chairman Baroness Warsi has claimed.
In a speech designed to stem “the rising tide of anti-religious bigotry”, Baroness Warsi – the first Muslim woman to attend Cabinet – warned that Islamophobia was seen by many Britons as normal and uncontroversial.
She said: “It seems to me that Islamophobia has now crossed the threshold of middle-class respectability.”
She added: “For far too many people, Islamophobia is seen as a legitimate, even commendable, thing. You could even say that Islamophobia has now passed the dinner-table test.
“So when people get on the Tube and see a bearded Muslim, they think ‘terrorist’; when they hear ‘Halal’, they think ‘That sounds like contaminated food’; and when they walk past a woman wearing a veil, they think automatically ‘That woman’s oppressed’. And what’s particularly worrying is that this can lead down the slippery slope to violence.”
Baroness Warsi used the speech, at Leicester University, to warn against the tendency to divide Muslims between “moderates” and “extremists”, which she said could fuel misunderstanding and intolerance.
She said terrorist offences committed by a small number of Muslims should not be used to condemn all who follow Islam.
“Let me say right away to British Muslims that I acknowledge that there is a minority of people that try to justify their criminal conduct and activity by suggesting that it is sanctioned by their faith,” she said, adding: “It is a problem that we must confront and defeat. But that problem should not lead to unfounded suspicions of all Muslims.”
Urging Muslim communities to be clearer about their rejection of those who resort to violent extremism, she said: “The deeper Islamophobia seeps into our culture, the easier becomes the task of the extremist recruiting sergeant.
“Those who commit criminal acts of terrorism in our country need to be dealt with not just by the full force of the law they also should face social rejection and alienation across society and their acts must not be used as an opportunity to tar all Muslims or divide our society on the basis of faith. At all times, we should be working to drain the pool of people where extremists fish.”