UKIP is preparing to fight the general election with a series of policies explicitly targeted at Islam, including a ban on wearing face coverings in public and a ban on opening new Islamic faith schools in the state sector until Muslims can demonstrate they have made "substantial progress" on integrating into British society.
The party's proposed policies, unveiled on Monday morning, would also explicitly outlaw Sharia courts and require annual medical check-ups for girls considered to be high risk of female genital mutilation, or FGM. Parents whose children were found to have been victims of FGM would be automatically targeted for prosecution.
A policy document entitled "The Integration Agenda" also said the party would explicitly include race as an aggravating factor in the law surrounding sexual offences, with the party promising longer sentences in sexual grooming cases if the victim is of a different race or religion to the perpetrator.
UKIP would also make it much harder to register for a postal vote, with the party claiming the ability to access absentee ballots on demand has led to a boom in electoral fraud, "especially among minority communities".
Party leader Paul Nuttall said he wanted immigrants and Muslims to be "people who sign up to a British way of life" and suggested the party is planning to use cultural issues to distinguish itself from rivals, especially now Theresa May is campaigning on an explicitly pro-Brexit platform.
Nimco Ali, the co-founder of Daughters of Eve a non-profit organisation raising awareness around FGM, told BuzzFeed News that introducing checks on girls from at-risk communities would be an invasion of privacy which would create "second-class citizens".
"People lose all concept of common sense," she said when asked about the issue. "The only reason they [UKIP] are talking about FGM is because they want to get coverage, because they're not going to do much about it I doubt they care anyway. It's a way of getting into the media."
However, she noted Labour's Diane Abbott had already proposed the policy: "It was the Labour party who mooted it and that just makes no sense at all. You're not checking anyone else and it's another violation of a girl's rights."
UKIP's poll ratings have struggled since the EU referendum vote, with polls suggesting a substantial minority of the party's voters have drifted to the Conservatives. The party currently has no MPs following the resignation of Douglas Carswell and has suggested it may not stand in many constituencies where there is currently a pro-Brexit MP.
Margot Parker, the party's equalities spokesperson, insisted UKIP had consulted "an enormous number" of liberal Muslims before proposing the policies but would not clarify further. She said multiculturalism is the "enemy of women's rights".
Asked whether the ban on wearing face coverings in public would affect Catholic nuns, a spokesperson said it would not. The party was also questioned on whether beekeepers would be affected by the proposal.
Muslim groups immediately condemned the policies. Iman Atta, the director of anti-Muslim hate crime monitoring group Tell MAMA, told BuzzFeed News: "We are saddened to see that the leader of UKIP, Paul Nuttall, has said that UKIP will attempt to ban the niqab or the full face veil as part of its general election manifesto. Citing integration and security risks, his focus on the niqab is a cheap ploy to play on the fears of some within communities, as an easy way to win votes.
"The reality is that the number of women who wear the niqab in the United Kingdom is unknown and may well be very small. Yet, at a time when the nation needs to heal divides, such policy-making is unwelcome and highly divisive. Furthermore, in the end, is it the place of the state or government or political parties to judge what a woman can and can’t wear? The answer to that is simply, no.”
The Muslim Women’s Council in Bradford said: “If anything is a risk to integration, it is not the folds of cloth Muslim women choose to wear, but rather the incendiary views espoused by UKIP which have been given alarming legitimacy, and whitewash more pressing issues such as austerity, employment, education, health and UKIP’s own questionable gender policies.”
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation a non-profit Muslim organisation said: “The irony of Paul Nuttall and his cronies who mostly happen to be men telling Muslim women what they can wear and then claim they are fighting for equality. UKIP’s anti Muslim agenda is embedded in its structures and we have seen the disgusting language used against our community in the past. Paul Nuttall claims he wants to be taken seriously yet he is pandering to the far right and promoting racist policies.
"The rise of Islamaphobia and anti-Muslim hatred has led to an increase in physical, verbal, online attacks over the past few years. I would hold the likes of Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall, Gerald Batten, the EDL, Britain First responsible for the toxic atmosphere around British Muslims.
Deputy leader Peter Whittle insisted the ban on face covering is not racist: "We are talking a face covering which is, more often than not, not the choice of person wearing it. ... Even if there were not a security angle it should be banned."
Nuttall repeatedly refused to clarify whether he will run as a candidate in the general election, which comes shortly after his defeat in the Stoke Central by-election. He exited the event by being chased into a locked room by journalists, before suggesting it wasn't necessary for the party leader to stand for election.
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Jim Waterson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aisha Gani is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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