Husain warns in his new book that British Muslims lead increasingly separate lives

26 Jun

Among the Mosques: A Journey Across Muslim Britain by Ed Husain

As your train pulls in to the station in a town you do not know well, you notice a new mosque, with minaret, standing in clear view of the tracks, and wonder what is going on inside, but reflect that you lack the knowledge of Islam, perhaps also the linguistic equipment, to make sense of what you would see and hear if you were to pay a visit.

And you reflect that you do not want to give offence. It is really much easier, and more tactful, to leave the worshippers at that mosque to their own devices, than to pester them with ignorant questions which might sound suspicious or even hostile.

For you, inhibited traveller, it would be a good idea to read Ed Husain’s book. For he has gone by train to nine towns and cities across the United Kingdom, and in each of these attended Friday prayers at the central mosque, entered many other mosques, Islamic schools and bookshops, questioned everyone from the imams and the faithful to chance passers-by in the streets, and created from these dialogues a portrait of some of the most unknown districts in Britain.

Husain is a Muslim who in his first book, The Islamist, described how he became, at the age of 16, a fundamentalist, and how he saw the error of his ways. His next work, The House of Islam: A Global History, reviewed on ConHome under the headline “How Islam and the West went wrong”,

“is animated by a burning sense of indignation at the way in which the Muslim faith has been narrowed and traduced by the rise of Salafi literalism, which as he says is ‘eerily similar’ to the puritanism which from the 16th century afflicted the Christian world.”

In his third book, he examines what has become of British Muslims, “the grandchildren of the British Empire”, in such centres as Dewsbury, Manchester, Blackburn, Bradford, Birmingham and London.

He has accumulated a mass of evidence, any one bit of which might be dismissed as inconsequential. But although his account is shot through with moments of hope, its general tendency is to warn that we have not being paying attention to a growing gulf within our own country.

In the “deeply divided” town of Blackburn, once represented in Parliament by Jack Straw, he finds:

“Much like Dewsbury, it is clear that a caliphist subculture thrives here, a separate world from the rest of British society.”

In Bradford, which has 103 mosques, he wonders how the city has become so segregated, and is appalled to find that the police are not allowed into mosques to speak to the congregants about not grooming white girls.

An imam tells him the groomers have nothing to do with Islam:

“There are two factors involved in those cases again and again: drugs and alcohol. Does Islam permit those things? Of course not. Yes, they have Muslim names and Pakistani backgrounds, but our mosques are not responsible for their criminality. These issues will be with us for a long time in Leeds, Bradford, Halifax, Keighley and other cities. But unless the police can prove it is not down to drugs and alcohol, we will not open the mosque doors to them…

“In 2010, they brought in laws to end corporal punishment. We as teachers in the mosque have no power over the children. They become teenagers and have no respect for us. The British limited us to the four walls of the mosque and then stopped our ability to control children.”

Husain argues for some time with this imam, but no meeting of minds takes place. He finds instead a closing of minds; a determination not to integrate:

“After travelling the length and breadth of Great Britain, meeting Muslims from every major denomination, it is clear to me that blind reliance on scripture and clerics is overwhelmingly strong within British Islam.”

But into what are British Muslims supposed to integrate? This is the question to which Husain works round at the end of his book. In his opinion,

“A fuzzy ‘integration’ whose success is judged by Muslims speaking English, baking cakes and playing cricket will not work. Caliphists are only successful in winning followers for their imagined utopia of an ‘Islamic State’ because the majority community is unable to tell a more compelling story of why Muslims should have a stake in maintaining Britain as a pluralistic, tolerant, secular democracy.”

Many at Westminster supposed that devolving power to Edinburgh would be a sufficient way to persuade the Scots to remain in the Union.

Only now is the realisation dawning that a positive idea of Britishness, as something more than the freedom to do one’s own thing, is required.

A similar misconception has underlain the failure of integration to which Husain draws attention.

The British idea of freedom includes a strong predisposition to respect other people’s privacy.

What one does in one’s own home is nobody else’s business. So too what one does in one’s church, temple, synagogue or mosque.

But this right to privacy does in fact have limits. It does not extend to the right in one’s own home to beat up one’s spouse, or in one’s place of worship to preach sedition.

Consider this passage from the Church of England’s Prayer Book:

“We beseech thee also to save and defend all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governors; and specially thy servant ELIZABETH our Queen; that under her we may be godly and quietly governed: And grant unto her whole Council, and to all that are put in authority under her, that they may truly and indifferently minister justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion, and virtue.”

Husain remarks:

“In Britain’s synagogues on Saturday mornings, as in many of its churches on Sundays, a prayer is always said for the good health of the Queen. Historically, Muslims too have always prayed for the head of state’s wellbeing, as a symbol of thanksgiving for the security and stability of the lands in which they live. This prayer is more important now than ever to connect young Muslims to their country, monarch and government.”

When asked at a mosque in Rochdale to address an assembly of 120 children who are attending its Quran class, Husain tells them:

“never forget that you are children of this soil. You were born here and you belong here. Let nobody tell you otherwise. Muslims serve in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces and are present in every aspect of life here. Serve your country and your faith, and know that there is no contradiction between the two of them. Those who say we must choose between them, one or the other, are wrong. It’s like asking us to choose between our mum and our dad. Our religion tells us to serve our country, and our country gives us the freedom to be religious in a way that China or Russia does not.”

What a brave book this is. For as Husain says, for fear of giving offence, we often remain silent.

Labour voters make Kim Leadbeater, sister of Jo Cox, early favourite in the Batley and Spen by-election

20 May

Kim Leadbeater, sister of the murdered MP Jo Cox, will win the Batley and Spen by-election for Labour. That at least is the firm belief of a number of drinkers in The Union Rooms pub in Hick Lane, Batley.

For ConHome this was an unexpected message. We approached Batley by train from Leeds. The station before is Outwood, in the constituency of Outwood and Morley, where during the 2015 general election campaign we detected “a change in the political weather” in favour of the Conservatives, and Ed Balls, the Labour incumbent, was duly defeated by Andrea Jenkyns, by the slender margin of 422 votes. She now has a majority of 11,267.

The station after Batley is Dewsbury, a marginal seat captured for the Conservatives in 2019 by Mark Eastwood.

So there ought to be good chances of a Conservative victory in Batley and Spen, held for Labour in 2019 by Tracy Brabin by 3,525 votes. Only a fortnight ago, in the Hartlepool by-election, a Labour majority of 3,595 was demolished, and became a Conservative majority of 6,940.

At the top of Hick Lane, the visitor to Batley finds a tremendous stone Wesleyan Chapel, now used by Europabeds, whose slogan is “Sleep in Style, Wake in Comfort”.

On the opposite side of the road stands another splendid building, the words “West Riding Union Bank Limited 1877” carved in stone over the gothic porch, now in use as a Wetherspoon pub.

“I vote Labour,” said Mick Carter, a retired painter and decorator, who was having a drink in the garden at the back. “I can’t vote Conservative. They tell too many lies.

“I think they should do a comedy act, those two. Pinocchio and Coco the Clown. I wonder why they won’t answer a straight question.”

He meant Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock.

Carter was pleased recently to have received a letter, posted in Wakefield, from Sir Keir Starmer: “They must know I’m a Labour supporter.

“The only reason I was going to go off Labour was when Corbyn was in. I couldn’t stand that Corbyn. But when Starmer came in, he could stand up to Boris, couldn’t he.

“Boris could run rings round Corbyn. But Starmer, he can actually keep on top of him.

“Really by rights what he [Johnson] should have done is have a lockdown much earlier, I’d say February instead of March.

“Now he’s making more mistakes. He should have kept the border shut, it’s too late now, if this variant [from India] is out, it’s his fault.

“Before he came to Batley [the Prime Minister visited a vaccination centre there on 1st February] he says we can’t go anywhere. But he comes 400 miles with his entourage to Batley.

“But the day before he said you’ve got to stay at home. But they never tell lies. Bloody hell.

“And I’ll tell you another thing I couldn’t stand about the Conservatives. You know they’re that bad, they didn’t even treat the cancer patients.

“They treated them like garbage. ‘We’re too busy,’ they said.

“I’ll tell you someone who doesn’t like that Boris, he doesn’t even treat them right, the Scottish people.

“You know what he is. He’s a dictator. You do as I say. I’m in charge of the country. That’s what he tells them in Scotland. You know why? She’s a woman.

“Him in Manchester sticks up to him. And he’s Labour. You know that Andy Burnham, I think he’ll take over from Starmer. He seems OK that Burnham. He seems to know what he’s talking about.”

Does Carter expect Labour to hold Batley and Spen?

“I think they will. I think, is it Kim, she’ll take over. I think she will. I hope so.

They murdered that other woman, that Jo, in Birstall. You can’t do stuff like that.”

Carter is 63, and works part-time as a gardener, having been forced to give up painting and decorating after falling down a flight of stairs.

“Do you know what he [Johnson] offered the NHS? One per cent.”

A second man: “It’s an insult.”

Carter: “Then he redecorates his flat. How much does it cost? £500,000. She wants gold doorknobs. That’s what it says in the paper the other day.

“I would have done the job for about four grand.”

The second man said: “It used to be a good place, Batley. Everything’s gone now. It used to be buzzing. We’ve had them all here, the top stars, at Batley Variety Club. Shirley Bassey, the Drifters, Tom Jones.

“They couldn’t get Elvis. They offered him £50,000 a night. Louis Armstrong, Neil Sedaka, Showaddywaddy, Gene Pitney.”

At a second table, a woman aged 25, who works as a retail assistant and was drinking a Sex on the Beach cocktail (vodka, peach schnapps, cranberry juice, orange juice), wanted to talk about Tracy Brabin, who has just stood down as MP for Batley and Spen after being elected Mayor of West Yorkshire:

“I can’t stand her. She cares more about how she looks than actually dealing with the issues we’ve got in the community.

“I do normally vote for Labour but since Tracy Brabin took over I haven’t bothered to vote any more.”

Would she vote for Kim Leadbeater?

“Most likely yeah. If she’s got the same views as her sister. She [Jo Cox] actually took an active role within her community.”

What does she think of Boris Johnson?

“He’s a buffoon. I can’t stand him. His priorities have been elsewhere. He cares more about how he looks [laughter].

“This whole pandemic, he could have done more, sooner, like New Zealand.

“My father passed away last year when it peaked, in April. My Dad, he barely went out. He went out to the hospital, we thought he had cancer, unfortunately he contracted coronavirus.

“He did have additional health problems. If only he [Johnson] had done it sooner like New Zealand. He’s a joke, he’s an embarrassment.

“This new type of the virus in India, why didn’t they close the borders?

“My Dad were only 60 when he passed away. Not being able to see him, to be around him, we didn’t even see him in the chapel of rest, apparently his body was contaminated, he was put in a plastic bag, which we didn’t need to know.

“It happened on day eight of the hospital admission. He left behind three children, five grandchildren, his wife.”

She reverted to Johnson: “In five to ten years we’ll be a military-led country. He’s a dictator. He is literally a clone of Donald Trump. He and Donald Trump are the same person.”

A man sitting next to her, pouring himself drinks from a jug of Godfather (whiskey, amaretto, Pepsi), said: “Everyone thinks that.”

The woman did a rather good imitation of Johnson: “I, I, I, I, I’ll be going down to get a drink myself.”

She went on: “I don’t like him but he makes me laugh.”

There was much laughter during these conversations. Nobody seemed to mind an ignorant southerner coming into a pub in West Yorkshire and asking people about their politics. A sort of friendly defiance of the Prime Minister prevailed.

At a third table, a man said: “Well I certainly wouldn’t vote Labour. I don’t think that Labour’s doing a good job.

“I used to vote Labour. I vote Conservative now, and I always will do now, I think. I think Boris has done a marvellous job, the way he’s handled the pandemic, the furlough.

“I work at Tesco. We’ve been very busy at Tesco. Never stopped.”

Another man, a retired dryliner and decorator aged 60, said of politicians generally: “They’re all the same. I’ve never voted in my life. I never will.”

But he said of Johnson: “I think he’s all right. I like him actually. His charisma, his hair style. For crying out loud, put some hair lacquer on.

“I have actually voted once, and that was Conservative, about 30 years ago. I did actually vote for Thatcher a few times.

“I know Thatcher caused a lot of shite, but she argued, ‘You get stuck into your work and that’s what you get paid for.’

“The unions were all going on strike for no toilet paper [a dispute at a local firm at the time].”

A third man: “Margaret Thatcher was bang on.”

The retired dryliner: “You worked for your money.”

The third man: “At the last election I voted for Paul Halloran. He’s helped a lot of people in the community, has Paul. There was a woman in a wheelchair, he helped her get access to her house, the council said it couldn’t be done.”

At the 2019 general election, Halloran stood for the Heavy Woollen District Independents, a local successor to UKIP, and as Paul Goodman last week noted on ConHome, came a strong third, with 6,432 votes.

Phil Taylor, 69, who did “lots of jobs mainly in the building trade”, said at once, when asked for his view: “Oh I’m going to vote for Jo Cox’s sister. Kim is it?

“I’ve seen her many times on telly. I think she’ll stand up for the area. Once she starts she’ll never shut up. She’s the fastest talker. She never comes up for air.

“If she’s got summat to get a point over she won’t half drill it home.

“Jo Cox came in here once, she were having her breakfast, she were a nice lass.

“It were the first time I seen her. She was sat in that room, having her breakfast. Tragic what happened to her. Coming up to her anniversary next month, 16th of June I think it were. Terrible.”

He is correct about the date.

“Mrs Peacock, she were the last Conservative, I remember her. I thought she was all right, to be honest. She spoke good. Elizabeth Peacock [who in 1983 won a narrow victory in the newly created seat of Batley and Spen, holding it by slender majorities until 1997] – they showed her on telly the other night.”

In the EU Referendum, Batley and Spen voted 60 per cent Leave. Taylor was one of those Leavers, and said Batley had deteriorated after Britain joined the Common Market:

“It used to be a lovely town this, at one time. Like everywhere in the country, shops and that started closing down. Batley had a massive Conservative Club, it were being demolished, they’re turning it all into flats.

“But I think it’s starting to pick up now. There’s more properties opening when you walk up town. There’s mainly Asian places and eatery places – Turkish and Indian and Chinese.”

At the centre of Batley, just along Commercial Street from the pub, lies the Market Place, which contains a number of handsome stone buildings, including the Zion Chapel of 1869, still in use as Batley Central Methodist Church; the Town Hall, formerly the Mechanics’ Institute and currently in use as a vaccination centre; the Carnegie Library, which opened in 1907; and the Police Station, which to the anger and regret of local residents closed in 2018.

We took a late lunch at SIBU, an Asian Soul Food restaurant which has just opened at the Market Place end of Commercial Street, almost next to Jo Cox House, a charitable venture set up in her memory.

Ismail Achhala, 21, who is studying International Relations at the University of Leeds, with other members of his family set up the restaurant.

He lives in Dewsbury, is a member of Dewsbury Conservative Association, has campaigned there for Mark Eastwood, and has “converted” his younger sister, who is studying dentistry, to the Conservative cause.

He explained that he had joined the party because of David Cameron: “Just the character he had, the policies.

“I could see a Prime Minister and I was proud of him. All I could see with the Labour Party was infighting.”

Achhala’s grandfather came to West Yorkshire from Gujarat in 1967, worked most of his life in a factory, and after ten years could afford to bring his grandmother over.

She is still alive, aged 94, and has 40 grandchildren, of whom the oldest is 43 and the youngest two. At elections she always tells her family to support Labour: “Vote the red box.”

“Thatcher was a villain in her eye,” Achhala said.

What did he think of Thatcher?

“She was much needed,” he replied.

He added that while Tony Blair was in power, there had been a “drainage of services” from the local area:

“Nobody wanted to come and live in Batley. Now there’s high demand. It’s very recent.”

But there is a crime problem: “It doesn’t feel as safe as it used to. They’ve put all the police in one place in Dewsbury – I don’t think that it’s a good idea.

“At night you’ve had stones thrown at the windows. Why should we have to put the shutters up? It spoils the look of the place.

“Before you’d see police patrols at night. Now you feel there’s no support.”

He mentioned the row at Batley Grammar School, where there were demonstrations after the showing of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed in a lesson. A teacher has been suspended and gone into hiding pending the outcome of an inquiry.

This bitter clash between free speech and respect for religious belief has had extensive coverage in the national press, but no one in the pub mentioned it.

“I don’t approve of threats of violence,” Akhhala said. “It’s a very tiny traditional community in Batley. You report it to the authorities and you leave it to them.

“I think that working with faith leaders there is a way of sorting these things out.”

It occurred to me that while in Batley, I had met a number of people from Labour backgrounds who now support the Conservatives, but no one who has made the opposite journey. Achhala remarked:

“The direction Boris is taking the party in is very different – he’s opening it up to more voters – the working class who are trusting in him.”

So does he think the Conservatives will win the by-election?

“It’s too tight,” he replied. “I think Labour have got the edge. We need someone to work for the party in Batley. You don’t feel like there’s anything going on.

“There’s a huge Asian working-class community in Batley. There’s also a massive middle-class Asian community that have moved up, but even they’re still Labour.”

With great pride, and infectious optimism, Akhhala showed ConHome the kitchen at SIBU, which has chefs from the Philippines, Malaysia, Nepal, India and Britain. This is globalisation the Batley way.

The Yorkshire Post reports  that Labour will choose its candidate for Batley and Spen on Sunday. Councillor Ryan Stephenson, who represents Harewood ward in Leeds, was yesterday evening selected as the Conservative candidate.

Both parties have enough potential supporters to win this seat, if only they can persuade their people to turn out.

This year there are a record number of Mayoral races. West Yorkshire is the latest addition.

2 Apr

Already this week, I have contemplated the Mayoral contests for London, the West Midlands, and Tees Valley. Those will probably be the highest profile elections, but there are a number of other Mayoral contests taking place.

James Palmer, the Conservative Mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, is seeking re-election. Last time he won by a clear margin – though there is the note of caution that the election took place in 2017 at a time when Conservative fortunes were generally buoyant. The only really difficult territory is Cambridge itself. In that city the Conservatives have no council seats at present; it is a Labour/Lib Dem battleground. All the seats on Cambridge Council are up for election this year.

Palmer was previously the Leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council and worked in the family dairy business. Since becoming Mayor, he has written on this site about his work on transport infrastructure, apprenticeships, and promoting business investment.

A closer result last time was for the West of England Mayoralty. This post is to lead the West of England Combined Authority which covers the local authorities of Bristol, South Gloucestershire, and Bath and North East Somerset. Tim Bowles, the Conservative incumbent is standing down. Samuel Williams is the Conservative candidate. He is a businessman who was the candidate for Bristol Mayor two years ago. Some local authorities have a directly elected Mayor instead of a council leader. Some regions have a Mayor with a wider role – in addition to the local authorities. This means some places have two directly elected Mayors – those in Liverpool have one for the City and another for the region; those in Tower Hamlets have one for their borough and another for London. Those in Bristol have one for their city and another for the West of England. The Conservative candidate for Mayor of Bristol is Alastair Watson. He is a former Lord Mayor of Bristol – a quite different role. I hope that is all clear.

Andy Burnham is surely very likely to be returned as the directly elected Labour Mayor of Greater Manchester. He won with a big majority in 2017 – even though there were some spectacular Conservative successes elsewhere. Political expediency appeared to triumph over consistency with his messages regarding lockdown. We did see some interesting General Election results in 2019 – not least the Conservatives gaining Leigh, the constituency Burnham himself used to represent. It comes under Wigan Council. Other councils in the Greater Manchester Combined Authority include Bolton, Bury and Trafford which have reasonable levels of Conservative support. But Manchester itself has no Conservative councillors while Oldham and Salford remain challenging. However, in Salford the Conservatives have been making progress and now have eight councillors. Salford has its own directly elected Mayor. Arnie Saunders, a Conservative councillor described by the Salford Star as a “jovial rabbi”, is the Conservative candidate. The Conservative candidate for Mayor of Greater Manchester is Laura Evans. She has written about her candidacy for us here.

Liverpool City Region is even more solid Labour territory – though it does include Wirral. Steve Rotherham, a left winger and former Labour MP, is standing again. The Conservative candidate is Jade Marsden.

But there will be more interest in the contest for the directly elected Mayor of Liverpool City Council. Joe Anderson, the Labour incumbent is not seeking re-election. He was arrested in December after accusations of corruption. The replacement Labour candidate is Joanne Anderson, no relation, who emerged after a messy selection process. The three who made an earlier shortlist – all Labour councillors – were barred from standing. Given that commissioners have been sent in to run the City, the election result is rather otiose for the immediate future.  Katie Burgess is the Conservative candidate. She certainly has no shortage of material for her campaign messages about Labour mismanagement.

West Yorkshire is electing its first Mayor this year. The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has the following member councils: Wakefield, Kirklees, Calderdale, Bradford and Leeds. That area includes Shipley, which comes under Bradford – represented by the Conservative MP Philip Davies. Keighley, another Bradford constituency was gained by the Conservatives in 2019. Calder Valley comes under Calderdale and has a Conservative MP. Most encouragingly we have the constituency of Wakefield – which was gained by Imran Ahmad Khan for the Conservatives at the last General Election. Parts of Leeds are covered by the constituencies of Pudsey, Morley and Outwood and Elmet and Rothwell – all three with Conservative MPs. (Morley and Outwood includes some wards that come under Wakefield Council.)

Then we have Dewsbury – another seat gained by the Conservatives at the last election and now represented by Mark Eastwood. It comes under Kirklees – as do another Conservative constituency, Colne Valley.

Yet even if we take the 2019 General Election as a guide – a cheerful set of results to reflect on – Labour would still have been slightly ahead among votes cast in this region. Some of their MPs still had big majorities – notably in Bradford. The electoral system for the Mayoral race may make it tougher still – with Green Party and Lib Dems voters tending to give Labour their second preferences.

Tracy Brabin is Labour’s candidate. She is currently the Party’s MP for Batley and Spen. She was embroiled in controversy after issuing a statement attacking the teacher suspended by Batley Grammar School for showing a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, but then changing her stance. The Conservative candidate is Matthew Robinson. He’s a councillor in Leeds and works helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Robinson is the underdog but this should be a competitive race.

Peter Oborne & Jan-Peter Westad: Conservative MPs with Muslim constituents are starting to speak up about Kashmir

26 Oct

Peter Oborne is a columnist for Middle East Eye. His books include Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran and Wounded Tiger: A History of Cricket in Pakistan. Jan-Peter Westad is a freelance journalist.

This week marks the 73rd anniversary of Jammu and Kashmir joining India. The region has been a source of bitter dispute between India and Pakistan ever since.

In India, October 27 will be celebrated as “Accession Day”. But in Pakistan, and for many Kashmiris, it is known as Black Day.

With Narendra Modi’s treatment of Kashmir becoming steadily more brutal, commemorations this year will be sombre.

Kashmiris have been under heavy restrictions since India revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir on 5 August last year.

This status had given special privileges to permanent residents of Kashmir, including state government jobs and the exclusive right to own property.

It was designed to protect the state’s distinct character as the only Muslim-majority state in India.

Many of these rights have since been undermined by further legal changes. Government jobs that were previously reserved for Kashmiris have now been opened up to Indian citizens. It has also been made easier to revoke residency rights.

With the outbreak of coronavirus, heavily armed police line the streets in ever greater number. Following a communications blackout at the time of the revocation last year, internet access and other means of communication remain limited.

With the outbreak of coronavirus, heavily armed police line the streets in ever greater number. Following a communications blackout at the time of the revocation last year, internet access and other means of communication remain limited.

Journalists, too, face harassment and imprisonment. Nearly 400 journalists & civil society members have called for the release of Kashmiri journalist Aasif Sultan who has been in jail for more than two years.

Only last week, the office of the Kashmir Times, an English-language daily newspaper, was sealed off by Indian officials.

Properties have been destroyed and innocent people are losing their lives. According to human rights organisations, between 1 January and 20 June, there were 229 killings, of which 32 were civilians, 54 were government forces and 143 were militants.

One would have thought this would be a matter of grave concern for the British government, which has gone to great lengths to announce itself as a defender of human rights in recent months.

Earlier this year, Dominic Raab announced new sanctions on human rights abusers. A move he said was “a demonstration of Global Britain’s commitment to acting as a force for good in the world.”

The Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office embarked on a highly publicised campaign to protect worldwide media freedoms last year. It constantly uses social media to warn, for example, that “journalists are under attack across the world, threatening basic human rights such as freedom of expression.”

But Raab and the government’s words on Kashmir have been conspicuously sotto voce.

At the time of the revocation in August last year, Raab “expressed concern” to India about their actions, but no action was taken.

Britain’s then high commissioner to India, Sir Dominic Asquith, was similarly limp.

He said the “UK’s position has not changed one degree….We are no different today than we were a year ago, which is, the question of Kashmir has to be sorted out bilaterally between Indian government and Pakistani government, taking into account the wishes of Kashmiri people.”

The government’s position appears to be unchanged, as Nigel Adams, the Asia Minister, made clear. Responding to a written question in July saying it was for India and Pakistan “to find a lasting political resolution on Kashmir”.

To sum up: the official policy of Boris Johnson’s government has been to ignore the Kashmir issue. And pretend that it does not exist.

Hence the importance of the resuscitation of “The Conservative Friends of Kashmir” group in September.

This comprises a group of nine Tory MPs. They tend to have one thing in common: a significant number of Muslim voters in their constituencies.

Many are in areas of Yorkshire or the North West with high Muslim and Pakistani populations, including Mark Eastwood, MP for Dewsbury.

The so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats in the north of England do not just contain a large number of white working class voters. Large numbers of Muslim voters live in them too.

Marco Longhi is MP for the red wall seat of Dudley North in the West Midlands, another region with a large Muslim and Pakistani population. He’s part of the group.

Another member, Steve Baker, is MP for Wycombe where, according to the last census, 13.4% of the constituency are Muslim and 11.8 per cent are Pakistani.

There are more than a million British Pakistanis. Many of whom hail from Kashmir. As many as 70 per cent have been estimated to originate from the Mirpur district of Azad Kashmir, which is administered by Pakistan.

Many British Pakistanis maintain close ties to family in Kashmir. They view the situation in India-administered Kashmir as a great injustice and a burning issue.

And it’s now becoming an issue for certain Conservative MPs keen to hold onto their seats. These MPs are not helped by a foreign policy which gives the appearance of kowtowing to Narendra Modi’s BJP government.

The chairman of Conservative Friends of Kashmir is Peterborough MP, Paul Bristow – another area where the Muslim population of 9.4 per cent is above the national average.

When we rang him last week, he told us that “we’ve left the Kashmir issue to the Labour party and that can’t happen anymore.”

“The fact that a much more aggressive India has abandoned any attempt to be a secular government, combined with basic issues of human rights, means that Kashmir is now an issue for us,” he said.

He stressed how he felt when talking to his constituents who can’t talk to family and friends back in Kashmir.

He told us that his organisation was there to encourage more people from the Kashmiri diaspora into his party’s fold, rather than take a stance on the politics of the region. “We are making it clear that the Conservative Party is for them too.”

But talking about his own views on the UK Government’s foreign policy, he outlined three main objectives. “We need to shine a spotlight on human rights issues in Kashmir.

“We also need to raise the issue of self-determination. Britain doesn’t just say that sovereignty over the Falkland Islands is a matter between Britain and Argentina. We say it’s an international matter. The same should apply in Kashmir.”

“Thirdly, we need to take account of the views of people in Kashmir itself. Not to do so, is morally indefensible.”

These sentiments are bold. They put Bristow and some of those in his band of Tory MPs at odds with government policy. It’s no coincidence that they’ve already come under fierce attack from Bob Blackman, the MP for Harrow East.

Mr Blackman was awarded the Padma Shri award (perhaps the nearest thing India has to a British knighthood) from the Indian government earlier this year, and is a strong supporter of the Modi government.

He is on record defending Modi’s decision to revoke the special status of Kashmir and has previously encouraged voters to support Modi’s BJP party in elections in India.

Until now, Blackman has been far more reflective of Tory opinion than Bristow and his colleagues in the Kashmir group.

There are many reasons for this, including the need of post-Brexit Britain to maintain trading links with Modi’s India, to which must be added Islamophobic opinions among Tory members, with one recent poll finding nearly half of Conservative members believe Islam to be “a threat to the British way of life.”

But when I put these statistics to Paul Bristow, he pointed to the example of Peterborough, which has two Muslim Conservative councillors and a Muslim Conservative mayor. He is battling to build relations with British Muslims. Lets see how he gets on.