Government urged to stop stalling & to adopt a legal definition of Islamophobia

A worrying situation considering the latest hate crime figures released by the Home Office, 16th October 2018, depicts a staggering rise in religiously-motivate hate crimes.

A worrying situation considering the latest hate crime figures released by the Home Office, 16th October 2018, depicts a staggering rise in religiously-motivate hate crimes.

A worrying situation considering the latest hate crime figures released by the Home Office, 16th October 2018, depicts a staggering rise in religiously-motivate hate crimes.

In response to a vacuum within political lexicon, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims has produced one of the most important reports on Islamophobia in recent decades, providing a suggested definition for the term “Islamophobia”, urging the Government to finally adopt a legal definition for the term and to take a concrete step towards tackling Islamophobia within our society.

A prominent hurdle the APPG faced was whether to adopt the term “Islamophobia” at all or whether to consider the phrase “anti-Muslim hatred” as being more appropriate. However, the group stated that they received an “overwhelming amount” of support from a number of groups across “governmental, community, academic, and public and private sector organisations” for the term “Islamophobia”. Advantages of using the former term over the latter phrase include the fact: it is established within academic and political lexicon; the terminology is conceptually broader and more holistic; and, was the “term of choice” among the British Muslim communities.

The term “Islamophobia” derives from the word “l’Islamophobie” which surfaced in the early twentieth century in works such as “The Muslim policy in French West Africa” by Alain Quellien in 1910. This was updated into its contemporary usage with the seminal Runnymede Trust report “Islamophobia – A Challenge for Us All”, which set out frameworks for understanding Islamophobia and its consequences throughout society, as well as recommendations for government, teachers, lawyers, journalists and community leaders to respond. However, more than a century since its first usage, the word still remains unrecognised by the United Kingdom. In response to this gaping hole, the APPG on British Muslims issued a call for a “working definition of Islamophobia” in April 2018 to overcome this problem and attempt to work towards a concrete legal definition of the term. The consultation took evidence from a number of academics, advocacy organisations, third-party reporting centres, and politicians, with tens of definitions being proposed for the term. After the significant number of contributions, the APPG proposed the following definition:

Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.

It is an attempted culmination of numerous definitions that were proposed to the APPG, therefore, it is neither a perfect definition nor is it required to be. Its importance lies in the fact that it is the first attempt by an office in Parliament, albeit informal, to move towards a definition strengthened by consensus from advocacy and its success will lie within how operationally sound it proves to be. The APPG also purposely made the definition fluid to accommodate for the various manifestations of Islamophobia that are many and are highly diverse. The definition is, therefore, strengthened primarily by the inclusion of examples, including but not limited to the following:

  • Calling for, aiding, instigating or justifying the killing or harming of Muslims in the name of a racist/ fascist ideology, or an extremist view of religion;
  • Making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Muslims as such, or of Muslims as a collective group, such as, especially but not exclusively, conspiracies about Muslim entryism in politics, government or other societal institutions; the myth of Muslim identity having a unique propensity for terrorism, and claims of a demographic ‘threat’ posed by Muslims or of a ‘Muslim takeover’.

As such, the definition and the accompanying examples provide clarity that Islamophobia can manifest in a myriad of ways within the socioeconomic and political world.

Whilst it is encouraging to see that the term is becoming cemented within political lexicon and calls for it to be defined arising from many corners, it is disturbing to note that the Government has shown resistance to the calls for a legal definition. Only this year has the Home Office introduced the term, without a definition, within its strategy documents for tackling hate crime, namely: “action against hate: the UK Government’s plan for talking hate crime – ‘two years on’”, with hate crime action plans from 2012 and 2016, which is currently in effect, not utilising the term at all.

A worrying situation considering the latest hate crime figures released by the Home Office, 16th October 2018, depicts a staggering rise in religiously-motivate hate crimes. The total number of religiously-aggravated hate crimes that occurred in 2017/18 is 8,336 which translates to around 160 offences every week and 23 offences every single day. It is also important to note that the number of reported hate crimes are a fraction of incidents that actually occur, with a significant number of cases not being reported due to various factors such as: intimidation by the suspect; anxiety from the incident; ignorance as to how to report the incident. The Home Office estimates that there may have been around 39,000 religiously-aggravated hate crimes, nearly five times the number of recorded offences.

MEND’s Islamophobia Response Unit (IRU), established in April 2017, is a third-party reporting centre that provides free legal support to any victims of Islamophobia and has through its function supported hundreds of individuals. However, many more have been turned away, with MEND being unable to help due to the lack of a definition for Islamophobia and, therefore, no legal provisions to help prove discriminatory practices prevalent in the socioeconomic world.

Therefore, whilst it is questionable as to the reason why the Conservative Party are resistant to introduce a definition, whether that be because of accusations of internal Islamophobia being prevalent within the Party or perhaps due to pressure from external neo-conservative think-tanks, it is imperative that Muslim communities, and the wider community, urge the Government to recognise the definition of Islamophobia as soon as possible and to stop stalling, so that effective legislation can be produced, and effective policies from developed from it.

A number of self-proclaimed intellectuals, journalists and commentators such as Douglas Murray, Andrew Gilligan and Maajid Nawaz have already come out in condemnation of the definition and have urged the Home Secretary to “resist [the APPG’s] proposal to adopt a definition” claiming that the term has become a “cover” for “prejudice, and bigotry”.

There have also been worrying attempts to muddy the definition by detractors who instead of supporting the definition, discredit it by stating that Muslims are “too often” the cause of Islamophobia themselves and claims that the definition fails to consider this. However, this is, in fact, a misreading of the definition because there is nothing in the definition that would not cover Muslim perpetrators of Islamophobia as well.

Therefore, whilst anti-Islamophobic, anti-racist and anti-prejudicial organisations should be pleased with this seminal report as a product of decades of research and work, with the goal within sight, self-interested groups and individuals are more resistant than ever to adopt legal provisions to protect Muslim communities. Therefore, it is imperative that we do not consider the production of the APPG definition of Islamophobia to be a victory in itself. Rather, groups must now work together to apply more pressure than ever on the Government to adopt a definition and give it the legal standing it deserves.

MEND welcomes the APPG on British Muslims’ recent publication of their definition of Islamophobia in their report entitled “Report on the inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia/ anti-Muslim hatred”. MEND considers the report to be valuable and insightful. We are pleased to note that the APPG has decided to endorse the term “Islamophobia” over others such as “anti-Muslim hatred” and feel that this terminology is significant in its framing of Islamophobia within the sphere of racism. MEND is currently liaising directly with the APPG regarding further discussions on aspects of the report and the definition itself.

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