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Report says UK Conservatives seen as insensitive to Muslims

LONDON (AP) — Prime Minister Boris Johnson helped create an impression that his Conservative Party is “insensitive” to Muslims with a newspaper column comparing veil-wearing women to “letter boxes,” a report into prejudice in Britain’s governing party said Tuesday.

The inquiry, set up by the party in 2019 to investigate all forms of discrimination, said “anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem” within the Conservative Party at local and individual levels. But it didn’t conclude that the party was institutionally racist or failed to take complaints seriously.

“While the party leadership claims a ‘zero tolerance approach’ to all forms of discrimination, our findings show that discriminatory behaviors occur, especially in relation to people of Islamic faith,” said the committee, led by Srawan Singh, an academic and former member of Britain’s equalities commission.

But it said it didn’t find evidence of a party which “systematically discriminated against any particular group.”

Johnson has a long history of making provocative and offensive comments in a career that has combined politics and journalism. He has called Papua New Guineans cannibals, claimed that “part-Kenyan” Barack Obama had an ancestral dislike of Britain and, in a 2018 newspaper column, compared Muslim women who wear face-covering veils to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.”

The committee cleared Johnson of breaking the party’s code of conduct, but said Conservative leaders “ought to set a good example for appropriate behaviors and language.”

Johnson has previously apologized for any offense given by his language, but not for writing the words. He has dismissed such comments as jokes or plain-speaking, or accused journalists of distorting his words.

He told the commission that he wouldn’t use “some of the offending language from my past writings” now that he is prime minister.

The Associated Press