Ever since the announcement yesterday of my candidacy as a London MEP for Change UK – The Independent Group, I have been subjected to an online campaign of false allegations of racism, including an accusation by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) that I am Islamophobic.

I have never – not once – expressed anti-Muslim hatred or bigotry. I have always been clear that any criticisms I may make are about Islamism, and conservative Islamic cultures or beliefs; never Muslims. I am horrified, appalled and deeply upset to have been targeted by what appears to be an active campaign of smears and lies from hard-left activists and the MCB.

It is important to remember that neither the last Labour government, the coalition government, nor the Conservative government would work with the MCB due to their perceived extreme associations. It is deeply sad to see this group quoted as a morally legitimate voice and I reject their characterisation of me, completely.

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For many years, I have written and spoken about the erosion of women’s rights in deeply conservative Islamic cultures. I have written about the need for liberal societies to explore and face up to the tensions between deeply conservative beliefs and secular liberalism.

I have argued that in order to have any chance of countering terrorism, it is essential that government acknowledges the ideological motivation, whether that be far-right ideology, or an Islamist ideology, of the attacks.

My argument is, if you cannot bring yourself to name it, you will struggle to defeat it. Over the years, I have worked with many outstanding liberal Muslims and ex-Muslims to raise these issues and I am proud to have had the courage to have given them the support they so often do not get from within the political class.

I recently made a film exploring “conservative Islam and liberal Britain” with women’s rights activist, Amina Lone. As a Muslim woman who had tried for years to get mainstream political support for liberal campaigns challenging conservative movements within her own community, she had a powerful insight into this whole area.

We spoke about the failure of the left, including the Labour Party, to stand with Muslim and ex-Muslim women who tried to raise issues of human rights and children’s rights, for example. We explored how people who do speak out are targeted, bullied, smeared and scared into silence. Right now, I feel that I am being subjected to exactly that, with exactly that aim – to knock my confidence, to paint me as something I am not, and to make me too scared to speak. It will not work.

I believe one of the great failings of politics over the last decade has been the lack of moderate, good-faith, humane voices in debates about difficult issues. Too many politicians have shied away from these because of the level of abuse and condemnation that comes to those who do speak. 

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That results in the conversations being dominated by the far-right on one extreme and the Islamists on the other – two sides of the same toxic and terrifying coin.

I refuse to shy away from these discussions, because I believe moderates have a moral duty to not allow important debates to be dominated by these destructive, regressive and hate-filled groups.

I am, as ever, willing to engage with those whose opinions differ from mine. I sincerely ask that, instead of tweeting, writing, or condemning based on whipped-up anger and deliberately misrepresented views, people read my blogs on these topics, or simply ask me, directly, what I think.

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