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MP decried for baseless claims after Covid-19 comments aimed at Muslim community

Friday, 31 July 2020 4:01 PM  [ Last Update: Friday, 31 July 2020 4:08 PM ]
 

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)

Tory MP Whittaker at PMQs in January. Photograph: UK parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA

Tory MP for Calder Valley in West Yorkshire since 2010, Craig Whittaker, has been accused of making baseless allegations after he said the “vast majority” of people breaching coronavirus lockdown rules were from BAME communities, particularly those from Muslim backgrounds.

Speaking with LBC radio Whittaker said there were “sections of our community that are just not taking pandemic seriously”.

When asked if he meant the Muslim community, Whittaker said: “Of course. If you look at the areas where we have seen rises, and cases, the vast majority – not by any stretch of the imagination all areas – it is the BME communities that are not taking this seriously enough.”

Whittaker’s constituency is among areas affected by new lockdown rules announced overnight, ahead of the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Ahda, which bar people from meeting others in homes or gardens.

“It’s nothing to do with Eid as far as I am concerned, but what it is, and what I have seen in my constituency, is that we have areas of our community, sections of our community, that are just not taking pandemic seriously,” Whittaker said.

Asked if he accepted his comments could bring criticism, the MP replied: “Absolutely. But I’ve been challenging our local leaders now for two weeks – in fact three weeks – asking what are we doing to target these areas, to let people know that this is still a very serious problem. And until people take it seriously, then we’re not going to get rid of this pandemic.

“It’s not just the Asian community in our area. We also have areas of high multiple-occupancy that are in the same boat. When you have multiple families living in one household – that doesn’t specifically have to be the Asian community, but that is the largest proportion.”

He added: “You look at all the areas [affected by local lockdowns]: we’ve got Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees. Bradford in particular and Kirklees have two of the largest populations in West Yorkshire.”

A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain said: “This is shameless scapegoating of minorities. It is utterly unacceptable and Mr Whittaker should apologise. Mosques and Muslim institutions have gone above and beyond to ensure social distancing rules are observed and have initiated unprecedented education campaigns to ensure they are upheld by families.

“It’s one thing to discuss health inequalities and challenges with intergenerational households and occupational hazards, and these factors being prevalent in certain groups. It’s quite another to make baseless allegations claiming certain groups aren’t taking the pandemic seriously.”

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