A high profile Conservative Party grassroots activist forum is littered with Islamophobic comments, VICE can reveal. Boris Johnson's comments in a Telegraph column this week that women who wear the burqa look like "letterboxes" and "bank robbers" have stoked anti-Muslim racism on the forum.
Blog posts about the Tory Islamophobia scandal on the ConservativeHome website received comments which compared the burka to "SS uniforms" and talked of the need to discuss "how to eradicate the cancer" of "Islam and Middle Eastern cultures". One commenter said Muslims should be "explaining and justifying what their faith has to offer civilised society", while another seemed to threaten Muslims.
Commenters came up with more offensive epithets for burqa wearers, with one saying they are "going about looking like Guinness bottles or Darth Vader". A fair few commenters were worried about wearers of the burqa having vitamin D deficiency.
The topic also opened the door to a broader racism: "Do we English wish to be integrated with the foreign populations colonising, displacing and replacing us?" asked one commenter. Another observed "we have let in too many Moslems (and others)".
ConservativeHome calls itself "the home of conservatism" and is popular among the Tory grassroots. It publishes a number of high profile Conservative commentators and hosts events at the Conservative Party conference. In 2016, Theresa May attended the ConservativeHome conference party.
The site is owned by Lord Ashcroft, former deputy chairman of the Conservative Party. It was co-founded by Tim Montgomerie, who wrote speeches for former party leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, and Stephan Shakespeare, CEO of the YouGov polling agency.
Significantly, it was the website chosen by Tory chairman Brandon Lewis to publish an article outlining the measures his party will take to tackle Islamophobia in June. It has also publicly backed calls for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.
The website's comments policy makes clear that the site is primarily for Conservative Party supporters, saying, "Supporters of other political parties won't be allowed to colonise the site and the marking system on comments." Commenters have names such as "SonOfThatcher" and "BrexitForce"
On Thursday, as the furore around Boris Johnson’s Telegraph article grew, with Theresa May joining calls for him to apologise, ConservativeHome editor Paul Goodman weighed in with an article about the "Difficult, and often embarrassing, conversations" that the party needs to have. He warns that the party has a "Tommy Robinson tendency", but dismisses comparisons between Labour's anti-Semitism scandal and the Tories' Islamophobia scandal, writing: "in Labour's case the rot starts from the head down; on the Tory side, May and other Cabinet members have no history of indulging people and organisations who support terror against Muslims".
This provoked many comments supporting Boris Johnson's remarks and criticising Theresa May's call for an apology and the possibility of an investigation. There were a number of Islamophobic comments. One commenter compared women wearing the burqa to Nazis: "The burqa is a uniform, a symbol of allegiance, and to an intolerant religion at that. I don't really see how it is different from the SS uniform, aside from that one is acceptable to criticise and one is not."
Another said: "It is overdue that the risk of allowing them to roam around incognito was brought to an end."
One comment read like an implicit threat: "People like the EDL want to protect English communities from the very apparent depredations of Muslim grooming gangs and other predatory behaviour. Muslims in Britain are very lucky that this country is so lax and tolerant – there aren't any organisations intent on murdering them and burning down their mosques. It's a shame that the reverse cannot be said."
Others denied the existence of Islamophobia while making racist comments: "Btw what is 'Islamophobia' other than a sly mechanism to shut down legitimate criticism of Islam? And Goodman can witter on about islam being one of the 'great Abrahamic religions' but fact remains, Islam is aggressive, expansionist, fundamentally misogynistic, and wedded to violence and brutality in a way that neither Christianity or Judaism is. We should have guts to call a spade a spade."
Another said: "I'm sure none of 'us' care what religion people are, but don't accuse me of being islamophobic if I don't like people walking round in black sacks and unable to speak the language. I don't care what religion you are – go home…"
Discussion went from comments about the burqa, to comments about Islam and people generally deemed as foreign: "It is time there was honest debate on the negative aspects of Islam and middle eastern cultures that appear to have taken root in Britain, more importantly how to eradicate the cancer," said one commenter. Another: "Why do you think the English people, if asked and if freely able to express their own feelings, would be accepting of vast and ever growing Muslim populations here, or indeed any immigrated populations?"
"If you are saying that we have let in too many Moslems (and others) and that they cannot be absorbed as previous influxes have been, then of course you are right," agreed another.
Such comments were not uncommon: "do we English wish to be integrated with the foreign populations colonising, displacing and replacing us?" said one. Another warned of a "Muslim take-over of Britain".
Another article by Goodman entitled, "Where bungling the burka row has got the Conservative Party. Damned if it investigates Johnson. And damned if it doesn't", attracted further racist comments.
"I must admit they don’t look like bank robbers but they do look like terrorists," said one user. Another warned of an increase in "the electoral relevance of a band of fundamentally alien and intolerant believers increases".
Underscoring how Johnson is pandering to a racist tendency in the party, there are also numerous commenters battling against the wave of Islamophobia. One commenter makes the comparison: "Imagine, for a moment, if a senior Labour MP had described Hasidic Jews as resembling criminals; just for a bit of fun, of course. There would be universal calls for the MP's political scalp. Boris's playful anti-Islam jibes are still anti-Islamic no matter the context."
Nevertheless, Johnson's article clearly inspired the party's xenophobic support base, as VICE found dozens of Islamophobic comments accompanying these two articles.
Many Islamophobic comments were also left on ConservativeHome before the current row – even on the article by Brandon Lewis outlining the measures to tackle Islamophobia in the party. Many comments on Brandon Lewis's piece have been deleted, but some remained months after publication when VICE looked yesterday.
One such comment is a link to "The Religion of Peace", a website which "examines the ideological threat that Islam poses to human dignity and freedom" – in other words, it exists to portray Islam as a uniquely backwards and dangerous religion. Another is a link to a YouTube search of "Third World Ghettos in the UK".
Mohammed Amin, chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum, wrote an article entitled, "When does criticising Islam morph into inciting hatred of Muslims?" It received charming comments such as: "I believe Islam to be a primitive and backward religion but I support good people like [LBC presenter] Majad Nawaz." If someone said, "I believe Judaism to be a primitive and backward religion, but I support good people like [name any secular Jew]," we'd know exactly what to call it.
Another said: "There is no other religion on earth which commands believers to kill people who want to leave the religion, but there are terrorist groups, mafias and cults which have the same rule. Make your own judgement…"
Fiyaz Mughal, founder of TellMAMA, an organisation which monitors anti-Muslim racism, called VICE's revelations "extremely worrying".
"Clearly Boris's comments have in a way legitimised the rather toxic view of some people who see Muslims through a dehumanised lens," Mughal said. "The rhetoric amplifies what they may be thinking… out come the racists like a bad version of Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'."
A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, which has been calling for the Tories to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia since 2016, told VICE: "This revelation tells us that racists clearly feel emboldened by Boris Johnson's Islamophobic comments. We are not surprised that such bigoted and racist comments should appear on a website popular with Conservative activists. Only an independent inquiry will establish how pervasive these and similar sentiments are in the party and the true extent of the problem, given the examples of Islamophobia we have highlighted over the last few months."
A ConservativeHome spokesman said: "The ConservativeHome comments policy is very clear that any abusive, insulting, racist, and homophobic comments will be deleted as soon as they are reported, something VICE notes as being in effect in the course of its research. The site reserves the right to ban offenders without right to appeal, and does so. We thank VICE for notifying us of these comments in breach of the site's comments policy, and these are now being deleted."
VICE's revelations come after the Red Roar, a centre-left blog, revealed that Johnson’s comments had led to anti-Muslim comments on popular Tory Facebook groups. And on Thursday night, the founder of the Conservative Muslim Forum, Lord Sheikh, told Newsnight that he had received dozens of "vile" Islamophobic emails with "obscene language" after calling for Boris Johnson to be removed from the Conservative Party.
In a comment on Brandon Lewis's article on ConservativeHome, Mohammed Amin, chair of the Conservative Muslim Forum, says: "I have just glanced through all 207 comments to this article, which exist at the time of my writing this comment. I suspect that many of them, particularly the most vitriolic anti-Muslim comments, do not come from members of the Conservative Party. However, to the extent that they do, those comments illustrate the urgent need to ensure that people who espouse those views have no leadership position of any kind in the Conservative Party, local or national. Further if such people express those bigoted anti-Muslim views publicly, then they should be expelled from the Party after a due process investigation."
A reply to this comment reads: "Chatham house survey 48 percent want ALL immigration stopped from Muslim countries. How you gonna ever get elected if you keep defying the people’s will?"