A group of 107 cross-party politicians have signed a letter to the editor of the Sun, Tony Gallagher, demanding action over a column it published on Sunday in which it used “Nazi-like terminology” to “demonise” the Muslim community in the UK.
The letter, seen exclusively by the Independent, forms part of a joint effort from MPs representing Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the Green party to demand the paper addresses “the bigotry that has long been present” in the columns of the Sun, particularly in reference to the latest column it published by the paper's former political editor Trevor Kavanagh.
In the comment piece, Kavanagh argues Islam constitutes the “one unspoken fear” which links Britain and the rest of Europe but claims the phenomenon has been suppressed by political correctness.
“The common denominator, almost unsayable until last week’s furore over Pakistani sex gangs, is Islam,” he wrote, in reference to the 18 people who were convicted in a Newcastle grooming gang last week.
“Thanks to former equalities chief Trevor Phillips, and Labour MPs such as Rotherham’s Sarah Champion, it is acceptable to say Muslims are a specific rather than a cultural problem."
He concludes his piece by asking: “What will we do about The Muslim Problem?”
So far 230 people have complained to press regulator the Independent Press Standards Organisation (Ipso), the company confirmed to The Drum. The vast majority of complaints are under discrimination grounds.
Jewish and Muslim organisations in Britain have issued a joint complaint to the press regulator arguing the article’s reference to the “Muslim Problem” resembles the Nazi references to the “The Jewish Problem” and sets a dangerous precedent.
Now MPs are uniting, organised by the Labour MP Naz Shah, to demand the Sun retract the article and “strongly consider whether Mr Kavanagh’s brand of bigotry fits with your vision for the paper”.
The letter cites the Times' (the Sun's sister paper) recent decision to fire columnist Kevin Myers "following his disgraceful anti-Semitic article" as further reason to consider the paper's relationship with Kavanagh.
The letter, which includes signatures from prominent politicians including former Cabinet ministers Baroness Warsi and Anna Soubry, and Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, argues the publication of the article “can only be seen as an attempt to further stoke up hatred and hostility against Muslims”, at a time when hate crime against those practising the religion is on the rise.
The politicians were particularly concerned with the use of “The Muslim Problem”, adding: “There is little doubt (especially with the capitalisation of the three words) that Kavanagh was intentionally comparing Muslims to the 'The Jewish Problem': a phrase used in the last century, to which the Nazis responded with the 'Final Solution' – as outlined by the Board of Deputies of British Jews in their compliant letter to Ipso."
The letter continued: “It is shocking that in the 21st century a columnist is using such Nazi-like terminology about a minority community.”
Although not appearing in the list of signatories, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the contents of the letter, claiming the newspaper had “published statements that incite Islamophobia and stigmatise entire communities”.
“That is wrong, dangerous and must be condemned, as Naz Shah's public letter does in the clearest possible terms,” he added.
Richard Wilson, the director of Stop Funding Hate, a campaign asking brands to pull advertising from newspapers that peddle ‘hate, prejudice and lies’, said the solution to the Sun's 'hostile' editorial lies with its advertisers.
"The state of our press has been so bad – for so long – that all of this can start to seem normal, even inevitable. But it can only continue while the advertisers that fund our media turn a blind eye. While the Sun may be impervious to public pressure, the brands we shop with do care what their customers think," he wrote in a column published by the Guardian.
But a spokesperson for The Sun said: “We strongly reject the allegation that Trevor Kavanagh is inciting Islamophobia. He is reflecting the links between immigration, religion and crime in the context of a trial of largely Pakistani sex gangs.
"Indeed he quotes Trevor Phillips, former head of the EHRC: 'What the perpetrators have in common is their proclaimed faith. They are Muslims and many of them would claim to be practising'. It is not Islamaphobic to point this out.
"Any suggestion that this article is promoting Islamophobia is a deliberate misreading of a very serious subject. Furthermore, it was never the intention that other elements of the column would be equated to Nazi-like terminology."