Petition launched after Calder Valley MP says BAME community are not taking "the pandemic seriously"
Nabila Nosheen, 29, has created an online petition after Tory MP Craig Whittaker made comments about the BAME community not taking lockdown restrictions "seriously enough."
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."
Ms Nosheen commented: "He was just using anecdotal evidence, and as an MP representing the people of Calderdale, that's just now good enough.
"What he said is not right and it was racially biased. It's irresponsible of him to say these things. I'm not asking for him to be sacked, but Boris Johnson needs to hold him to account for what he's said and Craig needs to apologise.
"His comments were unacceptable and when he was given the opportunity to apologise he doubled down. It's just ridiculous."
So far over 350 people have signed the petition.
To sign the petition, visit: www.change.org/p/boris-johnson-pm-to-hold-mp-craig-whittaker-to-account-over-unsubstantiated-claims-that-show-racist-biasCommunity 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 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."