Islamophobia is a form of racism – like antisemitism it’s time it got its own definition

From the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims. The definition:“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” :

In recent years, British Muslim communities across the UK have experienced an increase in Islamophobia. To eradicate the deep-rooted nature of Islamophobia from our society, each of us has a responsibility to tackle prejudice wherever it occurs.

But the absence of a clear understanding of Islamophobia has allowed it to become normalised within our society and even socially acceptable, able to pass what Baroness Warsi described as the “dinner table test”. The consequences have been horrific.

The killing of grandfather Makram Ali outside Finsbury Park mosque in 2017, the murder of another elderly Muslim male, Muhsin Ahmed in Rotherham in 2015 and the brutal stabbing of Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham in 2013, serve as grave reminders of the perils of what can happen when Islamophobia goes unchecked.

The attacks on hijab wearing women in the street, the bombs threats made to places of worship, through to the coining of “Punish a Muslim Day”, has left vulnerable Britons feeling unsafe to go about their daily lives.

Islamophobic hate crime is a growing problem. Recent statistics highlight how attacks on Muslims have seen the highest increase. Nevertheless hate crime is the just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the underlying causes which remain hidden from sight. While we can tackle the overt manifestations of Islamophobia in the form of hate crimes, we are less conscious and less clued up about tackling that which lies beneath the waterline.

Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the Runnymede Commission’s first report, which brought Islamophobia into the English lexicon. And 2019 will mark the 20th anniversary of the MacPherson Report. Between these two landmark events and in the backdrop to the growing phenomenon of Islamophobia, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, which we chair, initiated the inquiry into a working definition on Islamophobia as a catalyst for building a common understanding of the causes and consequences of Islamophobia. If we can define the problem, we stand a better chance of properly addressing it.

Our six month long inquiry heard from academics, lawyers, activists, victim groups and British Muslim organisations, as well as first-hand accounts from communities in Manchester, Sheffield, Birmingham and London. Today we publish our report, Islamophobia Defined, which provides a working definition of Islamophobia:

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

The definition is further exemplified by case study examples and real life incidents, presented within a framework resembling the IHRA definition of antisemitism, providing guidelines on how the definition can be applied.

This isn’t about protecting a religion from criticism, but about protecting people from discrimination. The APPG on British Muslims received countless submissions detailing the racialised manner in which the Muslimness of an individual was used to attack Muslims or those perceived to be Muslims. The racialisation of Muslims proceeds on the basis of their racial and religious identity, or perceived identity, from white converts receiving racialised sobriquets such as “p*ki”, Muslim women attacked due to their perceived dress, bearded men attacked for the personification of a Muslim identity or even turban wearing Sikhs attacked due to the perception of Muslimness.

The adoption of this definition provides an opportunity to help the nation turn the tide against this pernicious form of racism, enabling a better understanding to tackle both hate crimes and the underlying institutional prejudices preventing ordinary British Muslims from achieving their level best across different aspects of our society.

By and large British Muslims feel able to practice their religion freely in Britain, and most believe that Islam is compatible with the British way of life. In recent years, we have seen British Muslims make huge strides from the first Muslim home secretary and Mayor of London, to the first female Muslim British Bake Off champion, through to the ordinary doctors, teachers, business leaders, police officers and the service men and women of our nation. These few examples demonstrate the huge potential for Muslims to flourish in Britain, but these few examples can’t take away the huge barriers ordinary Muslims face to reach such positions.

We strongly encourage the government, political parties, statutory bodies, public and private institutions to adopt this definition in helping to achieve a fairer society for all, as we believe the conclusion to the inquiry will become the benchmark for defining and tackling the scourge of Islamophobia.

The mistakes of this past summer and the denial of political parties to accept a definition of antisemitism must now not be repeated with another minority community. We need to get to the point where it is as socially unacceptable to be Islamophobic as it is to be homophobic or sexist. The adoption of this definition does just that.

Anna Soubry and Wes Streeting are Conservative and Labour MPs respectively, and co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims

Source: Islamophobia is a form of racism – like antisemitism it’s time it got its own definition

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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