LONDON: Anas Sarwar — the Labour parliamentarian and son of PTI leader Chaudhary Sarwar — claimed Monday that he lost his bid to lead the party in Scotland due to racism and Islamophobia, with questions posed earlier over his Pakistani background, skin colour, and religion.
Sarwar lost to Richard Leonard — a British politician who currently leads the Scottish Labour Party and is a Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) for the Central Scotland region — last autumn, in a contest sparked by Kezia Dugdale’s resignation.
Sarwar — who is also an MSP and has held the deputy leadership position in the party — said a Labour councillor told him he could not back him in the Scottish party’s leadership contest as the country was not ready for a “brown, Muslim Paki”.
“A leader of a Labour council group told me very clearly the reason that he couldn’t support me in the leadership election was that, in his words, ‘Scotland wasn’t ready for a brown, Muslim Paki’,” he said.
“Paki” is often used as a derogatory, racial slur specifically aimed towards those of Pakistani descent.
In the interview with Daily Record’s David Clegg, the MSP said the first incident happened as he was canvassing support from senior Labour figures.
“When I challenged [Labour councillor] on that, saying it was a racist, Islamophobic comment, he said that wasn’t his opinion, it was his fear about what his constituents believe.”
In a separate incident, another Labour member told the Sarwar that she could not support his leadership bid after she saw a picture of his wife Furheen wearing a hijab.
“My wife wears a hijab, and she said, based on the picture she saw of my wife, she couldn’t vote for me in the leadership election,” Sarwar noted, adding that his wife is “a Scot in every way possible” and “her identity is way more than what she chooses to wear on her head”.
‘Support Scots’ law’
“I get comments on social media all the time about Pakistan. I wasn’t born in Pakistan, I was born in Scotland and I’m just as Scottish as anybody else. I get comments about racism, […] saying I want to impose Sharia law.
“The number of posts I saw during the leadership election saying we can’t allow a Muslim leader because he’ll impose Sharia law on the country was unbelievable. I support Scots’ law, not Sharia law.”
Sarwar also spoke ahead of the launching event of a Scottish Parliament cross-party group aimed to tackle Islamophobia. In general, people in Scottish society see past an individual’s faith, colour, and country of origin, he commented.
“But what we have to challenge here is institutional racism, institutional Islamophobia, institutional sexism, and homophobia. It is those institutions that need to be challenged directly.”
Sarwar believes recent terrorist events have fuelled Islamophobia around the world, with the issue being particularly prominent on the Internet. Recorded hate crimes towards Muslims in Scotland almost doubled between 2015 and 2016.
He said it was not just an issue for the Labour Party but that the party should hold itself to a higher standard.
Labour Party’s response
Reacting to Sarwar’s claim, a Labour spokesman said, “What Anas has revealed is completely unacceptable. Labour has a zero tolerance approach to any form of racism and bigotry
“This reported behaviour falls well short of what we expect from any member or elected representative of the Labour Party.
“Labour is taking steps to ensure this issue can be thoroughly investigated, and as part of that the General Secretary is contacting Anas to identify the individual involved and take appropriate action.”