Recently the APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group) for British Muslims in the UK released an inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia. Following their submission of a working definition, MEND (Muslim Engagement And Development) released a report titled ‘Approaching a definition of Islamophobia’, which seeks to explain the layers of reasoning behind their definition of the term. It argues that Islamophobia is found in and upheld by various mediums such as speech (e.g. political statements), writing (e.g. social media hate speech), behaviour (e.g. hostile or abusive behaviour toward a Muslim colleague), structures (e.g. Muslim underrepresentation in elite circles of business), policies (e.g. scrutinising wearing of hijab in schools) and legislation (e.g. PREVENT).
The report explains how and why Islamophobia exists and is manifested, the consequences of Islamophobia, and concludes with a model to tackle Islamophobia.
Here is a brief overview of their report:
How Islamophobia exists and is manifested
Islamophobia and its relationship to xenophobia, racism and antisemitism
- The report attests that the issue of xenophobia cannot be separated from Islamophobia when examining the latter.
- Much of Islamophobia is underpinned by the fear of the foreign other
- British Muslims, even those who have lived their whole lives here, are easily seen as foreign, especially when displaying forms of “other” identity, e.g. wearing the hijab.
- They can be perceived as a threat to Western identity and way of life
- Islamophobia is contextualised within Britain’s colonial past
- Orientalism is the attempt to impose Western culture over Muslim cultures, and this colonialist stream of thought still emerges today; Islamophobes often label Muslims who have adhered to Western identity constructs as “good” or “moderate”, whilst those who resist the Western cultural hegemony by maintaining their distinct non-Western cultural practises as “bad”/” extremist”.
- Though often viewed as different, Islamophobia cannot be separated from anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred; all are methods of social control and regulation of minority groups.
The Islamophobia Industry
- The term refers to a large network of think tanks, politicians, public figures, media outlets and policy-makers that perpetrate Islamophobic discourse, usually for some economic/political gain.
- Spreads false news and misguiding information to feed the myth of an “Islamic invasion of the West”
- Influences public opinion, which in turn can influence politics such as voting patterns during elections.
Moral panic, media and broadcasting
- The report argues that media representation of Muslims is overwhelmingly and exaggeratingly negative, both overtly and subtly
- This has hugely detrimental impacts on public opinion and understanding and has the potential to lead to hate crimes and other types of discrimination
- In broadcasting the visible lack of diversity and representation result in alienation, marginalisation and stereotyping of Muslims because of a lack of normal representation.
The consequences of Islamophobia on British Muslims
- Racial and religious hate crime: British Muslims are facing increasing levels of hate crime, both offline and online.
- Youth and education: whether its teacher-student bullying in the classroom or systems like PREVENT, Muslim students are finding it increasingly harder to express their opinion and fully engage within the education system, for fear of being stigmatised, stereotyped or penalised.
- Economic exclusion: Muslim employees are likely to be paid less than their non-Muslim counterparts. They are also less likely to be in top level executive positions.
- Securitising Muslim identities: Muslims are repeatedly portrayed as a security threat across many mediums. Policies like PREVENT that arise out of this are damaging, marginalising and silencing Muslim voices in a democratic system, based on unclear fuzzy definitions of words like extremism and fundamental British values.
- Crime, policing and the criminal justice system: institutional Islamophobia ingrained in the judiciary system disrupts lives of many Muslims and has negative future consequences in terms of their social lives and engagement as equal members of society.
- Political representation and exclusion: Muslim representation in house of commons is 2%. Schemes like PREVENT on campuses mean more young Muslims are discouraged from entering politics, for fear of being wrongly accused or stigmatised for their opinion.
- Public exclusion, integration and minority rights: despite Britain’s claimed multicultural values, recent years have seen rising resentment from certain social groups on ideas about national identity. These fears have led to the UK govt to reassess its policies toward multicultural principles like integration. The Government’s current approach to integration is based on the much criticised 2016 Casey review.
MEND proposes a model to tackle Islamophobia
- Press regulation
- Counter-Terror legislation
- Incitement to religious hatred legislation
- Primary legislation to deal with social media offences and online hate speech
Government and industry initiatives
- Racial and religious equality
- Media and broadcasting
- Public exclusion
- Crime and policing
Muslim community empowerment
- Supporting educative and industry initiatives designed to attract Muslims and BAME individuals into politics, civil service, media and broadcasting.
- Emphasis on educational programs that aim to encourage minorities to be more involved in politics and media.
- Encourage movements that seek to overcome barriers that prevent reporting of hate crimes and Islamophobia to the police
Wider community engagements
- Promoting greater knowledge of Islam
- Promoting inter-community participation
- Utilising the education system to prepare young people for a diverse, multicultural society
- Develop training programs to help teachers tackle bullying based on factors like religion
- Educate youth on dangers of Islamophobia and other similar types of discrimination by developing teaching materials
- Educating cultural exchange programs in schools
- Supporting efforts to decolonize education
- Tackling the Euro-centricity of the national curriculum
Why is the report important?
A well-rounded clear definition of Islamophobia is important in providing clarity in legislation and policies aimed at minorities. Moreover, it is an act of recognition and validation that the government recognises this problem and the hardship it causes Muslims. Muslims can be better reassured that the problem will be tackled, that the government recognises the importance of it, and is doing something practical about it.