Why I’m proud to be the Labour Muslim Network’s new parliamentary chair

Afzal Khan
© David Woolfall/CC BY 3.0

There is no doubt that this is a challenging time for us all. The unprecedented scale of the coronavirus pandemic has forced us all to retreat into our homes, our health service was pushed to breaking point and close to 50,000 people have lost their lives in the UK alone. But it is also true that this crisis has hit some communities much harder than others.

The first four doctors to succumb to Covid-19 while working on the frontline of the NHS – Adil El Tayar, Alfa Sa’adu, Habib Zaidi and Amged el-Hawrani – were all Muslims. This fatal pattern has continued, and Muslims are at the highest risk of mortality from coronavirus compared to any other religious group according to the government’s own statistics.

Not only are Muslims feeling a disproportionate impact of coronavirus, but we are now also being blamed for spreading the virus. Last week, Craig Whittaker, the Conservative MP for Calder Valley, explicitly stated he believed the Muslim community was “not taking the pandemic seriously”. He did so as Muslims in parts of the North West and Yorkshire – including his own constituency – were celebrating Eid al-Adha in the context of unexpected and badly communicated local restrictions. This is not just insensitive and deeply upsetting to the many Muslim families who have lost loved ones, but overtly racist and demonstrably untrue.

While Muslims are blamed for the spread of Covid-19, far-right bigotry and Islamophobia continues to rise both online and offline. That is why I am particularly proud to become the parliamentary chair of the Labour Muslim Network (LMN) at this time.

Since its launch in 2017, the network has done an incredible job of connecting thousands of members from across the country and engaging with grassroots members and communities on the ground. From parliamentary events to campaigning on issues close to the hearts of British Muslims, LMN has worked tirelessly to enhance the voice of Muslim members and supporters of the Labour Party.

I was delighted to see the launch of the ‘Muslim Labour members and supporters’ survey. As the largest consultation ever of Muslims in our movement, this project aims to delve into the experiences of members at all levels of engagement with our party. Through listening to these voices and experiences – of ordinary members, councillors, and Parliamentarians – we can help to create a more accessible and open party.

Now, however, I believe that LMN is entering a critical time. Coronavirus has exposed the deep inequality in our country and there are widespread calls for meaningful change. With Boris Johnson in Number 10 and a Conservative Party dogged by Islamophobia scandals, the Labour Party must continue to stand with the Muslim community in the fight for a more just and equal society.

This is exactly what LMN aims to achieve. Our priorities are vast and varied, but our focus is clear. We will tackle Islamophobia wherever it rears its head. We will work to facilitate engagement between grassroots members, public officials and the Labour Party. And, we will be a voice for Muslim members and supporters in driving the policy and priorities of our party. 

When I joined the House of Commons in 2017 as the MP for Manchester Gorton – where in 2011 nearly 30% of people identified as a Muslim – I vowed to always champion equality and stand against racism and discrimination of any kind. It was hard to imagine then that three years later we would in the midst of global pandemic that has now killed close to a million people worldwide, but the commitment I made then has never wavered. In fact, it has been reinforced during this crisis. 

Coronavirus has thrived off inequality reinforced by structural and institutional racism. The Black Lives Matter movement has galvanised anti-racism campaigners and has shown the strength of feeling, not just in the Black community, but across the UK of the need to tackle racism. We must now continue to do everything in our power, both individually and collectively, to support each other irrespective of colour, race, or faith. I passionately believe that equality is everyone’s fight.

It is sometimes hard to look beyond this crisis, but we must do so. This crisis has seen our country come together and support frontline workers. It has galvanised BAME communities and our allies to tackle racism and discrimination with renewed vigour. That is why I am hopeful for the future. 

I accepted LMN’s invitation to become parliamentary chair because I believe that we can make a serious impact on the experiences and engagement of thousands of Labour Party members and supporters across the country. If you join us on this journey, together I believe we can all change our society, our country and our future for the better.

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