Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker makes "no apology" for his comments about BAME community
Last week, the Government announced that people in Calderdale will no longer be allowed to meet with people from other households. This includes meeting in each other's homes and gardens or in public spaces like pubs.
The local lockdown announcement came at the start of Eid al-Adha "feast of sacrifice." Eid al-Adha is a major Islamic holiday, celebrated worldwide and by the 2.6million Muslims living in Britain.
During an interview with LBC host Ian Payne, Mr Whittaker, who has represented the Calder Valley since 2010, said: “What I have seen in my constituency is that there are sections of the community that are not taking the pandemic seriously.”
Mr Payne then asked if he was talking about the Muslim community.
Mr Whittaker replied: “Of course. If you look at the areas where we’ve seen rises and cases, the vast majority - but not by any stretch of the imagination all areas - it is the BAME communities that are not taking this seriously enough.
"I’ve been challenging our local leaders for three weeks, asking what we are doing to target these areas to let people know that this is a very serious problem. Until people take it seriously, we’re not going to get rid of this pandemic.
"We have areas of high multiple occupancy - when you have multiple families living in one household. It doesn’t specifically have to be in the Asian community, but that is the largest proportion. Look at the areas. You’ve got Bradford, Calderdale, Kirklees. Bradford and Kirklees have two of the largest populations in West Yorkshire.”
The MP then confirmed that he was referring to the size of the “Immigrant and Asian population” of those areas.
Following local and national criticism, Mr Whittaker later released a statement regarding the interview saying:”It is self-evident that Calderdale Council has not only identified a causal correlation between the locations of a high concentration of our ethnic Asian residents and that of COVID 19 infections but has also formed the opinion that behaviour in these areas needs to be addressed through engagement in order to reduce the infection rate in these communities.
"They have advocated restrictions targeting specifically the businesses and communities within these areas, when it is not deemed necessary elsewhere. It would appear that those seeking to publicise selected excerpts of my interview in the absence of the data that supports them, do so not to foster informed, open and transparent engagement, but rather to restrict it.
"In an age where authenticity is a behaviour scarcely exhibited by public figures, I am glad that I have chosen open, honest and frank discussion over political expediency and in light of all that I have said above, I make no apology for my comments."
Holly Lynch, MP for Halifax cited that Mr Whittaker’s comments are “simply not true.”
She said: “I speak to my local BAME community every day. We are all looking at packed beaches, mass football celebrations and excessive drinking on nights out with despair. That isn’t taking this seriously.”
Community group Calderdale Against Racism have also criticised Mr Whittaker's comments. They have released an open letter, condemning Mr Whittaker’s comments, which they believe are “blatantly racist.”
In their open letter, the group said: ”We believe your comments demonstrate a lack of understanding of the complex range of issues that have led to BAME communities being disproportionately affected by Covid-19. These include communities living in more deprived parts of towns and cities, and with many working in at-risk occupations such as warehouse workers, taxi drivers, and health and care staff. As MP for a diverse community population, we would expect you to be more informed on the issues impacting your constituents.
"To single out Muslim and BAME communities for ‘not obeying lockdown rules’ whilst disregarding others flouting the rules such as in our pubs and towns is blatantly racist and we expect to see a public apology for your comments. We also call for direct action in support of your local BAME communities.”
One local group member, who comes from the Muslim community said: “My family and I have adhered to all guidelines. To generalise, blame and group people is not fair!”
Local Mosques and community groups have also spoken out against Mr Whittaker's comments.
A spokesperson from Madni Youth Movement said: "In response to the foolish remarks by Craig Whittaker, we'd like to thank the Muslim community of Park Ward for their response to the pandemic.
"We thank you for delivering over 400 food parcels to the people of Calderdale since the start of the pandemic. We thank you for the weekly deliveries to those living in care in Calderdale (theoretically, the responsibility of the Council). We thank you for spending the last Eid within the confines of your homes.
"We thank you for sanitising your hands, bringing your own prayer mat, not using the ablution facilities, bringing a bag for your shoes and leaving your contact details for every prayer you attend at the mosques.
"We thank you for remaining at least a metre apart when in the mosques, for wearing face coverings, and for not shaking hands with one another.
"We thank you for donating your Zakah (an obligatory charity) locally this year to help tackle poverty in Calderdale.
"We thank you for your plans to open a community fridge this Sunday on the Mosque's grounds - which will be accessible to all, regardless of faith or ethnicity.
"We thank you for trying your best. For demonstrating the most discipline we have ever witnessed in our community, for looking out for others and demonstrating your charitable nature. You're not perfect, but neither is any other borough, ward, community, or race. But do keep working on making things better and helping others.
"As for you, Mr Whittaker, please advise when you'd like to visit the largest mosque in Calderdale (on any occasion) to see how seriously the Muslim community is actually taking the pandemic. We'd be more than happy to show you around. Eid Mubarak, everyone!"