Watch: Labour MP breaks down in tears recalling Islamophobic abuse
A Labour MP broke down in tears during a debate as she recalled the 'barrage' of Islamophobic abuse she has suffered.
Zarah Sultana, 27, the MP for Coventry South, was crying as she said she had been “subjected to a barrage of hate”.
She gave her emotional story during a Westminster Hall debate on Thursday about a definition of Islamophobia.
The government pledged two years ago to come up with a working definition for the term, but campaigners and politicians are still waiting.
In her speech, Sultana recalled some of the hate letters she had received since becoming an MP at the last general election in December 2019.
She said: “One person for example wrote to me, and I quote, ‘Sultana, you and your Muslim mob are a real danger to humanity’.
“Another wrote I am a ‘cancer everywhere I go’ and soon, they said, ‘Europe will vomit you out’.
“A third called me a ‘terrorist sympathiser and scum of the earth’ and that is sanitised of their unparliamentary language.”
She told fellow MPs: “Before being elected, I was nervous about being a Muslim woman in the public eye.
“I had seen the abuse prominent British Muslims were subject to. I knew I wouldn’t be in for an easy ride. And today I would like to say I was wrong to be worried when young Muslim girls ask me what it’s like.
“I would like to say there is nothing to worry about, that they would face the same challenges as their non-Muslim friends and colleagues, but I cannot say that because in my short time in Parliament that is not my experience.”
Sultana began crying as she added: “I have discovered that to be a Muslim woman, to be outspoken and to be left-wing is to be subjected to this barrage of hate. It is to be treated by some as if I were an enemy of the country I was born in. As if I don’t belong.”
MPs debated a definition of Islamophobia set by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims and called on the government to adopt it.
This wasn't an easy speech to give, but I can't be silent about Islamophobia. pic.twitter.com/lU26RsmSez
— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) September 9, 2021
Communities minister Eddie Hughes said: “We remain committed to there being a robust and effective definition and we will outline our steps to achieve this in due course.”
Sultana posted a video on Twitter of her contribution to the debate, writing: “This wasn't an easy speech to give, but I can't be silent about Islamophobia.”
Sultana’s speech drew support from MPs at Westminster Hall.
Labour MP for Bradford East, Imran Hussain, said: “It is a sad day when we have my honourable friend the member for Coventry South reduced to tears for merely trying to do her job.
“That (she) has come here and told this house that she feels she is unable to carry out her job as a democratically elected member of Parliament is shocking and disgusting.”
Conservative MP for Wycombe, Steve Baker, said: “I am very sorry indeed that she has been treated so very disgracefully. There can be no place at all in our society for the way she has been treated.
“We can all see how she has been affected by it, and I do not mind admitting that I am affected by watching her report what she has experienced. It is just a disgrace.”
Yasmin Qureshi, Labour MP for Bolton South East, said she too had been targeted.
“I have had emails and messages on social media saying that I am, and I quote, words beginning with ‘f’ and ‘b’, and that I should be sent off to Saudi Arabia to be raped.”
Paul Bristow, the Conservative MP for Peterborough who introduced the debate, said: “Since being elected in 2019, I have heard a few speeches that will remain with me for the rest of my life. I was humbled and privileged to listen to her speech.”
In her speech, Sultana mentioned an incident in the House of Commons in July in which junior home office minister Victoria Atkins asked her to “lower the tone” after the Labour MP accused prime minister Boris Johnson of “fanning the flames” of racism during the Euros football tournament.
“This Islamophobia does not come from a vacuum,” Sultana said on Thursday at Westminster Hall.
“It is not natural or engrained; it is taught from the very top. These fires are fanned by people in positions of power and privilege.
“When our England football stars were subjected to vile racism, in the chamber I highlighted that the prime minister had fanned those flames by ridiculing Muslims and black people. At the dispatch box, the minister told me to watch my tone.”
Watch: Zarah Sultana told to 'lower the tone' during racism debate