This is about protecting British Muslims - why a new definition of Islamophobia is needed, say MPs
By Barfi Culture Team
27th November 2018

A ground-breaking report by UK MPs today called for a new definition of Islamophobia to "tackle this pernicious prejudice" in British society.

Islamophobia is a form of racism – like antisemitism it needs its own proper definition, said two authors of the report (found here), Labour MP Wes Streeting and Tory MP Ann Soubry.

"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'," they wrote in the Independent.

"The consequences have been horrific."

Why is this important?

Police statistics show racist attacks on British Muslims are on the increase. The aim of the report is to standardise the definition of Islamophobia, to protect free speech while ensuring prejudiced behaviour is easily identified and tackled.

The new definition will make it easier for lawmakers, companies, organisations and civil society groups to identify Islamophobia like other forms of racism.

Here is Baroness Sayeeda Warsi pointing out its importance

So what is the new definition?

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

Do Muslim group support it?

Yes. We couldn't find a Muslim group rejecting the definition.

Isn't there a definition of Islamophobia already?

Yes there is. 20 years ago the Runnymede Commission first offered a definition of Islamophobia and brought it into widespread use.

But Muslim groups as well as MPs believe the definition is outdated and doesn't take into account modern society. So the All Party Parliamentry Group of MPs (APPG) started working on a new definition. The MPs supporting this report were of Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh backgrounds.

Is this about censoring criticism of Islam?

The MPs say it isn't.

"This isn’t about protecting a religion from criticism, but about protecting people from discrimination," they wrote. Muslim voices such as Baroness Sayeeda Warsi say the same.

What was the process for this report?

Over a period of six-months, the inquiry took evidence from Muslim organisations, legal experts, academics, MPs and other groups.

The submissions could be from anyone in Britain.

Is anyone opposed?

Apart from the usual racists, there has been some dissenting opinion from significant voices.

Tell MAMA, the group that monitors Muslim hate-crime, was mostly supportive but added a note of caution.

"We therefore believe that religion can be disliked, mocked or ridiculed and whilst such beliefs and actions will naturally be disliked by many people of faith, they mainly fall into the bracket of free speech. Where they move into the bracket of anti-Muslim bigotry is when these views and beliefs attempt to target and curtail the right of British Muslims or when they attempt to bestialize and caricature Muslims as a whole."

The Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) had similar concerns. An excerpt from its submission:

"We prefer to refer to prejudice faced by Muslims as anti-Muslim hate. Any sensible working definition of ‘Islamophobia’ must be able to differentiate any legitimate criticism of a system of beliefs, culture, polity and tradition with incidents of anti-Muslim hate. Importantly, it should also be flexible enough to be inclusive of sectarian hatred within Muslim communities themselves. The persecution of the Ahmadi minority, illustrated by the murder of a Glaswegian shopkeeper Asad Shah[8] being a prime example. Should this not be defined as Muslim Islamophobia?"

Will it change anything?

Only if widely adopted. MPs wrote:

"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."

Obviously things won't change overnight but legal definitions also make it easier for individuals to sue for discrimination and push for institutional change.

The government said today it would discuss the report and take its recommendations on board.

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