I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the definition of Islamophobia.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to this debate and the Government for providing time for us to discuss this issue today.
Hatred against Muslims does not begin with the sound of gunfire breaking through the peaceful calm of a place of prayer. It begins with simple prejudice that can go unchecked and unchallenged in our schools, workplaces and communities. It is amplified on the pages of national newspapers. It is legitimised by political leaders who use Muslims as punchlines and bigotry as a vote winner. Just over 20 years ago, the Runnymede Trust published its seminal report, “Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All”. That it felt compelled to publish a follow-up 20 years later entitled “Islamophobia: Still a Challenge for Us All” reflects our collective failure to listen, learn and lead.
The all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, which I am proud to lead with Anna Soubry, is determined to rise to this challenge. That is why we produced a ground-breaking report proposing a working definition of “Islamophobia” entitled “Islamophobia Defined”. We entered into this with an open mind about whether “Islamophobia” was the correct term. It was clear from the evidence we gathered, including powerful testimony from victims, that the word “Islamophobia” is widely used by Muslim communities, that it is considered to be useful, and that what we are up against goes much wider than anti-Muslim hatred—it is structural, often unconscious bias. We argue:
“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
It is true that Islam is a religion—a set of beliefs and ideas—and that Muslims are a set of believers from many races. But racism is a social construct. As Dr Omar Khan of the Runnymede Trust has said:
“Defining Islamophobia as anti-Muslim racism properly locates the issue as one in which groups of people are ascribed negative cultural and racial attributes which can lead to a wide range of experiences, either as an unconscious bias, prejudice, direct or indirect discrimination, structural inequality or hate incidents.”
Of course, many Muslims do belong to an ethnic minority in the United Kingdom, and even those who do not—white converts, for example—experience a form of racism. As Tell MAMA, an organisation that does excellent work in recording hate crime against Muslims, told us:
“Any definition must consider how racialisation of Muslim identity means, for example, that white converts are verbally abused with racial epithets like ‘P*ki’.”
Alongside our definition, we produced a series of examples, inspired by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, to help people to understand how Islamophobia manifests itself. These are outlined clearly in our report. They include calling for, aiding, instigating or justifying the killing or harming of Muslims in the name of a racist or fascist ideology or an extremist view of religion; the tropes that Muslims suffer about entryism in politics, accusing Muslims of being more loyal to the alleged priorities of Muslims worldwide than to their own nations; and applying double standards not applied to any other group in society.
But perhaps the best examples are those we published of real acts of Islamophobia within our own country: the attempted murder of a Muslim woman and her 12-year-old daughter as “revenge” for the Parsons Green terror attack; the torture of a Muslim convert by two women in Guisborough while they shouted, “We don’t like Muslims over here”, and worse; the Muslim mother attacked for wearing a hijab on the way to collect her children from primary school in London; the so-called “punish a Muslim day” letters sent to Muslim institutions and prominent Muslim figures; the racists in Northern Ireland who left a pig’s head on the door of a mosque they had graffitied; charging motorists £1,000 more to insure their car if their name is Mohammed; conscious and unconscious bias against Muslims in the employment market, which was identified by the Social Mobility Commission; the Islamophobic abuse hurled at people who are not even Muslim because their abusers could not tell the difference between, for example, a Sikh wearing a turban and a Muslim man; and the men who tied bacon to the door handles of a mosque in Bristol.
I commend my hon. Friend for all his hard work and leadership on this issue and for securing this important debate. As we all know, hate crime against our Muslim community has been on the rise in Britain, and it needs to be tackled by the Government and authorities. I want to highlight the hate crime against those who are perceived to be Muslim. An infamous recent example was when a hate-filled individual felt the urge to try to remove the turban of one of my Sikh guests queuing up just outside our Parliament and to shout, “Muslim, go back home.” Does my hon. Friend agree that this needs to be further explored within the “Islamophobia” definition and that it shows how we are all intertwined and need to stand together?
I strongly agree. I thank my hon. Friend for the work he does in supporting the all-party parliamentary group. I assure him that that kind of attack and that kind of prejudice is very much covered by our definition. If we cannot recognise what is under our very noses on the doorsteps of our own Parliament, how can we give Muslims up and down the country, or those who are perceived to be Muslim the confidence that we are taking this seriously?
I, too, commend my hon. Friend for the leadership that he has shown on this issue. Hate crime against Muslims has risen by almost 100% since the Brexit referendum. In my constituency, which has the biggest Muslim population of any constituency in Britain, nearly 90% of my constituents have experienced Islamophobia or know someone who has. That includes bottles thrown at them, alcohol thrown at them, and people screamed at for having the temerity to wear a hijab. Surely we need a better definition of Islamophobia if we are to prosecute Islamophobia and to clamp down on its enablers in the British media.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. He is respected in this place for his deep knowledge of extremism issues, which is why we invited him to give evidence to our inquiry. The law already covers discrimination based on race and religion, but what we are dealing with is not just a challenge of changing laws; it is a challenge of changing hearts and minds, changing the everyday lived experiences of people in our community, and helping people to recognise and understand the challenge.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does he agree that, if we are to tackle Islamophobia and other hate crime, we must ensure that the social media companies take their responsibility seriously? Only this week, I reported to Facebook this comment by somebody following the report of a large Muslim gathering: “A pig’s head and a dozen packs of bacon should do it.” Facebook replied very quickly, saying that it did not contravene its community standards. If that does not contravene them, what does? I hope that Facebook is listening today and will reflect on this. Does my hon. Friend agree that the social media companies, and the written media, need to do much more?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work on this issue and indeed to Anna Soubry, who has championed it over a number of years. The Government are consulting on their online harms White Paper. In my opinion, it is not anywhere near robust enough on online hate or on the various levels of impact that social media has across society. He made a point about how we change hearts and minds. Does he agree that social media companies can play a part in that? Rather than allowing the jokes, the hatred and the assumptions about people’s race and religion to be posted, they could be far more robust not just in dealing with complaints but in their facility to take these images down. They often do not do that for days, as in the case of the Christchurch mosque killings; it took over a day to remove those images from YouTube because it was reviewing the content.
We also know that an excessive level of hatred and abuse is piled on to black and minority ethnic public figures on Facebook, including the Mayor of London, who receives a torrent of Islamophobic abuse on virtually all his pronouncements. I reinforce the point that the social media companies have to be a critical part of this. We have to change the law, but all the partners have to play a part in making it work.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that powerful point. The Mayor of London and my right hon. Friends the Members for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) are among the many people in public life who are targeted because of racism—racism, pure and simple. It has a gendered aspect and a religious aspect, and it has to be recognised and tackled. Social media companies tell us they have the tools in place, but they are clearly not using them, and that is partly because they do not understand the prejudice that is as plain as the nose on their face.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work he has done on this issue. Does he agree that we need clarity? The definition is essential. We cannot have different degrees of racism; something is either racist or not. If we start to question the fine detail of a clear, concise definition of Islamophobia, we open the door for companies like the social media platforms to question what is and is not Islamophobic, and the Government need to be much clearer and firmer on this.
Precisely. Let me make some progress on that point.
We toured the length and breadth of the country, engaging in extensive consultation with Muslim communities, academics, lawyers, police officers, public services, civil society leaders and politicians. That is why our definition already has widespread backing from more than 750 British Muslim organisations—including the Muslim Council of Britain, the Muslim Women’s Network and British Muslims for Secular Democracy—and from the First Minister of Scotland, the Mayor of London, local authorities across the country and the chair of the Government’s own working group on anti-Muslim hatred.
It is particularly disappointing to hear a noisy chorus of vocal opposition from many of the usual suspects, who are making arguments in bad faith that accuse us of trying to use the term “Islamophobia” to shut down criticism of Islam and introduce blasphemy laws by the back door. In fact, our report makes it crystal clear that our definition does not preclude criticism of Islam or Islamic theology. I am not Muslim. I do not believe that the Holy Koran is the received word of God or that the Prophet Mohammed was the seal of the prophets who I recognise from my Bible, who Jews would recognise from their Torah or who many people would fail to recognise at all because they think religious books belong in the fiction section of the local library. God, if we believe in such a thing, does not need protection from criticism. Ideas must always be subjected to debate and challenge.
The motivations of some of our critics are particularly exposed when they accuse us of pushing a definition written for us by others, including Muslim Engagement and Development and Cage—two organisations that have pointedly refused to support our definition. I would have thought it obvious by now that the right hon. Member for Broxtowe and I do not take kindly to being told what to do by anyone, let alone organisations with which we have serious disagreements.
Let me turn to some of the other concerns that have been expressed in good faith and reply in kind. Our definition does not cover sectarianism, which extends from the abuse levelled at our Home Secretary on social media by other Muslims calling him a “coconut”, through to the treatment of the Ahmadiyya community, which whom we are proud to engage through the work of our APPG. We recognise that sectarianism is a serious problem that extends beyond one religion and is worthy of separate consideration and action, just as the persecution of so-called non-believers or ex-believers is something we must consider further and separately.
Our definition does not prevent security and law enforcement agencies from recognising and fighting the threat posed to this country and other democracies by those with a warped view of Islam who carry out acts of violence and terrorism. Our definition does not prevent academics from pointing out the religious motivation behind, say, the sieges on Constantinople or the caliphate’s imposition of discriminatory taxes on Jews and Christians, just as we would discuss the role of Christianity in the crusades. Our definition does not prevent critical discussion about the conflict that can arise between conservative religious teaching and more liberal attitudes to issues such as human sexuality, the role of women, food laws, abortion and assisted dying.
While our definition cannot prevent false-flag accusations of Islamophobia to shut down reasonable debate and discussion, it does not enable such accusations. In fact, it makes it easier to deal with such behaviour. Context is everything. Our definition provides a framework for helping organisations to assess, understand and tackle real hatred, prejudice and discrimination.
My hon. Friend is making an outstanding contribution to this very important discussion in this country. He raises the difficulty of terrorism, and he could also raise the very difficult issue of sexual grooming. Does he deplore and condemn the way in which this most minority of sinners that exist in every single ethnic group on the planet is being extrapolated to condemn an entire community? That is precisely what we are trying to get to grips with, through this important definition, to challenge those who take a terrible act by a small group of people and extend it to an entire ethnic group.
I wholeheartedly agree; that is exactly what we are trying to achieve. The story that is not written or told is about the faith leaders in my community who do not just know the challenge posed by hate preachers; they have physically wrestled them out of their mosques. Those are the same people who, when an act of terrorism is carried out in the name of one of the world’s great faiths, not only deplore the attack but know that they will be on the receiving end of the backlash, even though they believe their faith and the teaching of their religious text to be about peace and harmony.
I only intervene because he mentioned our Redbridge community and I want to pay tribute to the Redbridge Faith Forum and all the inter-faith work in Redbridge. The Muslims who are involved in that have done a fantastic job. Does he agree that inter-faith dialogue is the essence of dealing with these problems?
I wholeheartedly agree. As shown by the discussion on “Newsnight” last night between myself and a respected imam from Leicester, we can reconcile our way through some of these challenges, difficulties and tensions with mutual respect, proper public discourse and dialogue. Those of us who are on the receiving end of prejudice of one kind or another know exactly what it feels like, and we have a particular responsibility to stand alongside others who experience prejudice. That is why I am proud to lead the APPG on British Muslims as a non-Muslim and the APPG on British Jews as a non-Jew. It is not just the responsibility of Muslims to tackle Islamophobia; it is a challenge for us all.
Let me conclude with some personal observations. I have watched, with some amazement and even greater despair, the Conservative party making exactly the same mistakes over Islamophobia as my party has with antisemitism—the same miserable, inexcusable pattern of dismissal, denial and delegitimisation of serious concerns raised by prominent Muslims about racism within their ranks. My friend Baroness Warsi has stood as a brave lone voice, challenging discrimination in her party. As we recoil in horror at the deafening silence of decent people in the Conservative party about racism within their ranks, I respectfully say to some quarters of my own party: that is the same silence you demand of me on antisemitism, and it is one you will never receive.
Theresa May could have followed the lead of the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, in backing this definition and left a powerful legacy to detoxify her party and improve the lives of Muslims across the country. Instead, with a remarkable lack of self-awareness and humility, the party that has so spectacularly failed British Muslims now intends to produce its own description. The party’s abject failure to understand and tackle Islamophobia within its own ranks means that it has neither the wisdom nor the credibility to do so.
Given that, just over a year ago, Ministers denied that there was a need for any definition at all, I suppose we might consider this latest development some sign of progress. But it is too slow, it is insufficient, and it will not be tolerated. British Muslims deserve better than this. As the Runnymede Trust said last year, Islamophobia remains, shamefully, a challenge for us all. It is one that we must now meet.
Order. I will not impose a time limit, but if we work to 10-minute speeches, or thereabouts, everybody will get in.
I will be brief, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am delighted to follow Wes Streeting for whom, as he knows, I have the highest regard; we have worked on many things over some time. I disagree with him today, however, and the nature of a relationship —indeed, I would like to say friendship—is that we can do so with integrity. I hope he will agree that my disagreement is based on good faith—those were the words that he used—rather than anything else, and it is informed by conversations that I have had with others, whom I shall quote in a moment.
It is, of course, axiomatic that prejudice and bigotry levelled at a particular group on the basis of their race, religion or origin is wholly unacceptable, and those who apologise or are apologists for that have no place in this House. Mr Lammy —he is another friend of mine, in the personal rather than the parliamentary sense—knows of my support for him when he, quite rightly, boldly and bravely, raised the issue of Windrush. The Government were undoubtedly in the wrong, he was in the right, and his star rose as a result. But he did not do it for that reason; he did it in the cause of justice, and once again I congratulate him on so doing.
Let me start with a quotation which will not be to the taste of all Members:
“Most Muslims in this country see the preoccupation with Islamophobia, which is increasingly peddled by guilt-ridden white liberals and self-appointed Muslim campaigners, as far from being in their interests, an initiative that is likely to separate, segregate and stigmatise them and their families.”
That quote comes from a Muslim scholar, Professor Mohammed Abdel-Haq, with whom I had breakfast this morning. He is an example of how a first-generation immigrant, a practising and devout Muslim and, like many Muslims, a proud British patriot—the hon. Member for Ilford North made that point emphatically in his opening remarks when speaking about his constituents—sees the risks associated with something that is, to speak candidly, undoubtedly well intentioned and well motivated.
I just want to get into my flow, which I am not quite in yet, and then I will happily give way to the hon. Lady.
Professor Abdel-Haq and others see the risks in separating out Muslims and doing more harm than good by, in the words of Trevor Phillips, “making life harder” for them. Defining Islamophobia as anti-Muslim racism, as stated by the APPG, will distort the argument rather than clarify it.
My name is also Huq, so I felt I should take issue with the Haq quoted by the right hon. Gentleman—he is no relation of mine, and my name is spelt differently because when people came to this country the names were transliterated. May I give an example of not a scholar, but a Muslim in my constituency who does great community work? Aizad Hussain from Outreach Ealing will meet me this evening—I do not know whether other right hon. and hon. Members have been invited to an Iftar, since we are in the season of Ramadan—and he will present me with a petition signed by 400 people who are calling for greater protection for places of worship such as mosques. We have heard the stories about pigs’ heads—sadly they are true; they are not just stories. People feel vulnerable, and the Government should be providing protection. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the existing fund is insufficient, even if he does not agree with the definition of Islamophobia?
The hon. Lady is right to say that the prejudices and hatred that I described in my opening remarks, and which were highlighted by the hon. Member for Ilford North, are undoubtedly cause for alarm and require action. There being no doubt about that, the argument is about whether this definition of Islamophobia is helpful or not. This debate is not about the intent or our shared commitment to dealing with hatred and prejudice, or about our determination to stand by the people the hon. Lady describes; it is about whether this initiative, APPG report and definition move things on or not. There are differing opinions about that, and they are not all spiteful, unhelpful or deliberately obstructive. Indeed, as the hon. Gentleman acknowledged in his speech, such opinions are exercised in good faith. People may, of course, have tangential views and not act in good faith—he drew attention to that as well—but not all criticism of this is based on bias. Indeed, some criticisms, such as that offered by Mohammed Abdel-Haq, are based on a fear of separation, segregation and stigmatisation.
Let me develop the argument a little further. The report essentially identifies Islamophobia as an exercise in racism, which presumes that the Muslim peoples of this country, or any country, are a race. Given that Islam is a religion, that proposition is of itself contentious, and has been described as such by some critics of the report. People who ascribe to that religion come from all kinds of places, are all kinds of colours and creeds, and adopt all kinds of different practices. Rather like Christians, some take a more fundamentalist view of their faith than others. To describe them as a race is, of itself, a bold, and some would argue contentious, view, yet that is what the report does by identifying Islamophobia as a matter of anti-racism.
My third point—for those who are counting, Mr Deputy Speaker—is that many existing laws deal with these things. When I was the Security Minister, I worked with Mark Rowley in the Home Office on counter-terrorism matters, so I know him well. The argument that he made on the BBC this morning is that existing legislative arrangements on incitement to hatred, discrimination and a panoply of other measures allow the police, if they so choose, to pursue people who behave in a way that is unacceptable and, much more seriously, illegal—there is a perfectly proper argument that the police do not do that enough. I do not make that argument, but others might. It is certainly right that the police should pursue those people, who should be questioned, charged and, where appropriate, prosecuted. However, the argument that we are starting from a blank sheet of paper belies the fact that all kinds of anti-discrimination and anti-racism laws exist that allow us to protect those who might be victims of such prejudice.
Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that what the definition describes is a form of racism? It does not state racism per se, but rather forms of racism. Does he understand that the historical roots of racism began several hundred years ago, when at the time there was an understanding that the Christian, Ayran, European race was superior to others? For those with a different religious faith there was a pecking order, which would have put my ancestors, who were African, at the bottom. That is where it comes from. It is a form of prejudice that comes from our history.
That partly depends how far one wants to explore the right hon. Gentleman’s historical point—I imagine his point is largely about the European empires that predominated in relatively modern history. If we were speaking about the ancient world, none of what he said would be true. If we were talking about the Persian or Ottoman empires, none of what he said would be true. If we talked about the Moorish domination of north Africa and southern Europe, none of what he said would be true.
So, if we are going to use history as a means of legitimising or explaining our arguments, it is important that we do so in as holistic a way as possible, though I do not dispute the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is both honourable and a gentleman—perhaps that is the best way of putting it—because I know he has a long-standing commitment to fighting racism in his constituency and elsewhere.
I know that others want to speak and there are many of them, so I am going to deal with my other points fairly briefly.
Order. I did suggest about 10 minutes. We have now gone past the right hon. Gentleman’s 10 minutes, so I am sure he is coming to the end of his great speech.
That is your choice, but obviously it is the choice from the Chair that we stick to around 10 minutes.
In that case, let me draw my remarks to a conclusion with my final two points, which I will deal with very briefly.
We have to take it very seriously indeed when anti-terrorist police, notably Martin Hewitt, who has been mentioned already, describe the risks associated with this initiative in the way that he has. He describes them as
“undermining counterterrorist policing powers and tactics.”
That very damning criticism should not be dismissed lightly.
We should also take it very seriously when human rights lawyers say that these proposals would lead to judicial reviews and legal confusion which, as the House knows, they have. Finally, we should, I am afraid, question whether the effect of this debate will not be to fuel the extreme and far right, who I am profoundly concerned are gaining a foothold again in our country. I go back to the 1970s, when I was a member of the Anti-Nazi League and marched against the National Front in Lewisham, Ilford and elsewhere. The far right will see this as a justification for their intolerance and it may well be that what is well intentioned and propounded by decent and honourable people is turned against them. For all those reasons—I could talk about the Policy Exchange report, but I will not—I cannot support the hon. Member for Ilford North, much as I admire him.
I have been on the receiving end of hate mail and actions from both the far right and from the Islamist community. I have taken my job seriously since 2001 and I continue to do so. I am proud to be a British Pakistani Muslim Member of Parliament. I was elected in 2001 for Birmingham, Perry Barr, as the first Muslim to be elected to this Parliament from England. My great-grandfather and his brothers and cousins served in the British merchant navy in the first world war. My grandfather and his brothers and cousins served in the British merchant navy in the second world war. My maternal great-grandfather served in the British Indian Army in the second world war. I am proud of my roots and my heritage. I will take no lessons from anybody who tells me that I am Islamophobic or that I am too much of a Muslim. I am what I am, and I continue to be proud of that heritage. I am proud to be a member of the Labour party, because of its ideals in fighting against antisemitism, Muslim hatred, race hatred and LGBT hatred. I believe in equality and justice for all. That is why I am a Member of Parliament for the Labour party.
My objection to the report on Islamophobia by the all-party group on British Muslims is principled, and I will outline it later in my contribution. It is because of my long-held belief and the work I have done since 2011 that I oppose the report, and I will go deeper into that. That does not deflect from criticism of any political party that does not take Muslim hatred seriously. All political parties are accountable for hatred by any individual, particularly Muslim hatred. Therefore, all parties and all of their members—elected or not—should be held to account on that basis.
The foreword of the report is by Mr Grieve, who is highly esteemed and highly respected, I think, on both sides of the House. However, I do take slight issue when he says that
“Islamophobia was playing a major role in undermining integration and community cohesion.”
I have been looking at the issue of integration since 2001. The big problem with integration has predominantly been, from the 1980s and before, the way the Government fund communities. They fund communities to stay in isolation. They have funded the Sikh community, the Hindu community, the Afro-Caribbean community and the Churches community, and everybody is always divided, competing against each other for the bit of funding they get for community recognition. Whatever the issues are, I think they lie with all the communities, but not all communities are subject to Islamophobia in relation to integration.
If I may say so, I think the hon. Gentleman has entirely misunderstood the content of my foreword. My foreword was simply designed to make the point that my own experience—I will touch on that in a moment—is that Islamophobia in the widest sense and as understood by the public, which is an irrational hatred directed towards Muslims, is playing a major role in preventing integration, in my view. That is my point. I will amplify it later, but I just want to make that quite clear.
I thank the right hon. and learned Gentleman for that clarification. His foreword is very brief and that is all I had to go on. There are other issues that perhaps we might discuss outside this place.
The key issue not covered by the report is inter-community relations, predominantly within the Muslim community, whether from Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Kenya or elsewhere in Africa.
I wonder if the hon. Gentleman knows the answer to this point and is able to clarify the matter—or perhaps the Chair of the Select Committee could answer it instead. Initially, one of the four key points of the Home Office inquiry which deals with a similar matter was on intra-Muslim prejudice and conflict, but it was dropped. Does he know why it was dropped?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising that issue, but that is above my pay grade and I have no particular knowledge about that.
The point I want to make is about inter-community discrimination. My hon. Friend Naz Shah is aware of the constituent who murdered a person from the Ahmadi community. We should really reflect on that. [Interruption.] I ask the shadow Minister to listen. I am coming to that, so please carry on listening. When we discuss Islamophobia, we also have to consider inter-community Islamophobia. As my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy will understand, a huge amount of knife crime is predominantly between Muslim communities, whether Turkish, Pakistani or north African. The other key issue we have to look at is class discrimination. If we are to address the issue holistically and move forward, all of these factors are important.
I thank my hon. Friend Wes Streeting and Anna Soubry for giving their best endeavours and having the best intentions in working on the report. I take issue not with the great work they have done and their genuine interest—I commend them for the time they spent on the report—but the issues of Islamophobia are not defined in the report. We must look at that seriously, because it needs addressing properly. I will come to that in my conclusions.
The report says that the Prevent policy, followed for a long time by both Labour and Conservative Governments, is Islamophobic. I believe strongly that Prevent must be amended, but that does not mean that it should not be followed. There should be a better interaction through Prevent with mainstream communities, with its work not limited to small organisations. However, the work done in education has been quite good and positive.
People have made exaggerations. A so-called terrorist house was taken up by MEND, but that was a completely different issue. Social services, a school and the police worked together, understood the issue quickly and dealt with it. However, people wanted to expand on it and highlight it further in the media because that suited their cause.
Chapter 3 of the report looks at a particular case. One person said:
“I was stopped at Heathrow airport. The policeman said that they targeted me because of my attire. This has happened to me so many times. I cannot report it because the police do not see this as Islamophobic”.
That goes to the crux of the definition of Muslimness in the report, which is the key issue for us to address. Muslimness is not just about the attire someone wears. I have a very good friend who is a civil engineer and one of the most observant people of his religion I know. He does not walk around wearing a particular turban. He still works as an engineer, although a lot less than he used to because I think he wants to take it easier. He is a devout Muslim, but he cannot be identified through his attire. If the report is to go the way it seems to be, how can we protect those Muslims who dress normally in society but have in their heart those religious beliefs?
I know someone else in Birmingham who has her hair cropped and blonde. She wears western clothes—sometimes skirts and sometimes trousers. Recently she has come back from supporting a charity in Sindh to look after the poor, open their fasts and do those sorts of things. She does not qualify under the Muslimness description, yet she does more for the Muslim community—
No. I must make tracks as time is limited.
This person went out there, but some people would look at her and probably not think that she is a Muslim. People can hide these things.
I rise genuinely to try to assist my hon. Friend in putting forward his views. Surely he is not implying—I know he is not—that those who choose to dress or look a certain way are in any way abnormal.
I thank my hon. Friend for that clarification. Of course I am not. I am saying that the definition of Muslimness as described in the report categorises people into those who dress a particular way and those who do not. By definition, the people who do not dress one way are excluded.
My hon. Friend talks about the dress code. The issue about Islamophobia is that we know that women who work in headscarves are repeatedly getting attacked and abused. That is where the Muslimness perception comes into it.
That is fair enough.
Those are the issues. I am happy to an extent to see people getting frustrated, because our objective is to get a clear definition. That is what I was after, but that is not coming.
Chapter 4 of the report mentions Trojan horse, with which I am familiar. However, the way it is described in the report has no basis in the events on the ground. I was there. I confronted most of those people. I know how girls were made to sit at the back of the school because they were female, how they were all told to cover their heads and how they were supposed to move on. Two reports were done about that by Peter Clarke and Ian Kershaw. This report ignores all that work. It is therefore absurd to say that this report does something positive.
The report talks about
“Denying Muslim populations the right to self-determination” in Kashmir. The report also mentions Palestine, but I will concentrate on Kashmir because I am a Kashmiri. There is a considerable proportion of Pandits in Kashmir; it is not just a Muslim state. If such claims are to be made in a major report, please get the facts right. Kashmiris are not all Muslims; there are also Pandits, who have long-standing heritage. In fact, the region of Kashmir was created by a Pandit. People who produce these reports must be mindful of such things.
We need balance in this issue, with we as Muslims able to condemn both sides. When radical action, radicalisation and terrorism take place, we should condemn that, just as we should condemn attacks from the right. We should all do that. This is about the mainstream in the United Kingdom and supporting the mainstream of the community. We as Muslims, given our population and the roles we play in this place, the other place and across the country, should do that, and be proud of who we are. We are proud Muslims, and we should start to move away from a victim mentality and be positive about who we are.
Order. I know the Chairman of Ways and Means reminded colleagues that there are two debates this afternoon and asked if people could confine themselves to 12 minutes. If we cannot do that, I will have to impose a time limit.
It is a pleasure to participate in the debate—well, I think it is—and it is certainly a pleasure to follow Mr Mahmood. I found myself agreeing with a great deal of what he had to say, although I was struck by the fact that, I think, he had misunderstood something I had written as part of the foreword to the APPG report.
I was not involved in some of the initial stages of the APPG report, but its members came to me—I was a member in any event—and asked for my input, because they knew that I had participated in and indeed chaired the Citizens UK commission that produced “The Missing Muslims”, a document that looked at Muslim participation in the public life of our country. For that, we went around the country and took extensive evidence in a large number of locations. It was wide-ranging and dealt with problems in mosque management and discrimination against women. A great many difficult subjects were touched on in the course of that inquiry, but one thing that emerged with absolute, complete clarity was the fact that Islamophobia—and I shall return to that word in a moment—exists in this country in ways that are having a significant impact on the daily lives of British Muslims, and, indeed, as was pointed out by Mr Dhesi, those who may be mistaken for Muslims. Both his constituency and mine contain substantial Sikh communities.
Much of this behaviour falls well short of criminality. Indeed, I should make it clear that I do not believe that any useful purpose would be served by trying to criminalise it, because at that point one would embark on an endless cycle which I think would have no benefit at all. Some Members who were around more than 10 years ago will remember that I was rather active when the legislation on incitement to religious hatred was introduced, arguing strongly in the House that the way in which the then Government were seeking to word it risked placing a fetter on free speech because it was too broadly drafted and included such terms as “ridicule”. I considered that it was within the tenets of a free society to express ridicule for another person’s religious beliefs. As a Christian, I encounter people who express ridicule for my beliefs, and I just have to live with it.
That having been said, I live, and have the benefit of living, in what is, in a sense, part of what would be seen as a majority community in this country, and I do not think we should underestimate the adverse impact that what I call Islamophobia is having on our society. It is acting as a preventer of integration, and we in the House should be paying some attention to it, because as leaders in our communities—which is what we are seen to be—we ought to be showing a lead in trying to eradicate it as much as possible. That does not mean preventing people from expressing perfectly reasoned criticisms, or, indeed, sometimes unreasonable criticisms, of other people’s religious beliefs; but human society cannot thrive unless we treat other human beings with respect, and lack of respect can have a corrosive impact.
I agree with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying. He mentioned discrimination. It is right that religions can be criticised, but I am sure he will agree that when certain sections of the media tell blatant lies about Muslims, media discussion of Islam becomes worrisome.
I often read in newspapers things about Islam which I know from my own experience—I am a trustee of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies—to be inaccurate. Of course, we must also acknowledge, as, indeed, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr did, that Islam is not a homogenous practice. It is extremely diverse, just as is Christianity or, for that matter, Judaism. There will be areas of practice and criticism within the faith itself. As we know from the events in the middle east and the hostility between Shia and Sunni, a deep division, or indeed hostility towards groups who are considered to be heretical, such as Ahmadiyyans, is a real issue.
Both my right hon. and learned Friend and I have a strong relationship with our local Ahmadiyya communities. I think it is worth drawing attention to the role that they play in trying to combat Islamophobia, which, in my opinion, has absolutely no place in any political party or any element of our society in a modern Britain. I pay tribute to the many Members who support the work that is done day in, day out on the streets of our country.
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend.
My view has always been that Islamophobia—which I find quite easy to identify in my own mind—is a process whereby utterly law-abiding individuals who wish to live in peace with their neighbours and get on with their daily lives find themselves subjected to abuse with no rational basis whatsoever, and it is very prevalent. Part of that may be a result of the disturbed conditions in the middle east and the growth of terrorism. I do not think it possible to disconnect the one from the other: the connection is very clear. However, that does not reduce our duty to try to do something about it.
That brings me to the work of the all-party parliamentary group and the foreword that I wrote. Those who were present at the APPG meeting which I attended will remember that I issued a gentle critique of the definition that it had drafted, and we had a very interesting discussion, in particular about the word “racism”, which is common parlance in the House and indeed the country, but whose usage has changed significantly over recent decades. It started as an attempt to define a prejudice or discrimination on the basis of someone’s immutable colour characteristics, but it has evolved over time into meaning something rather broader—I think the penny has gradually dropped that our colour characteristics are not necessarily all that immutable—and has taken on a far more cultural and wider context. It can be defined as hostility to the “other” outside one’s own group.
It was for that reason that the APPG looked at the definition in trying to establish a working definition of Islamophobia that might be useful. As I have said, during the meeting I gently pointed out that I could see where the pitfalls were likely to be, but I wrote the foreword because it seemed to me that it was possible to go round and round in circles, and that seeking a redefinition could well be useful to public authorities and groups that were trying to tackle Islamophobia. I should emphasise that neither I nor—I think—any member of the APPG thought that a new legal definition was being enacted, and that condign punishment would be visited on any individual who transgressed what someone else’s definition might be.
I have to say that I am rather depressed to see some of the reaction to this work. I am sorry to have to say it, because I have great respect for Policy Exchange, but a great deal of this report is total and unadulterated rubbish. It strays off into areas that are about a million miles removed from Islamophobia. I really do not know about Mr Hewitt and the police officer and his issues concerning counter-terrorism, but how it could possibly be argued that this definition could prevent the police from enforcing the law against terrorists in this country is beyond my comprehension. It is breathtaking.
The lesson that I derive from this is that, unfortunately, we are treading on eggshells. When attempts to crystallise a definition to enable better debate and understanding—which, in my view, were clearly well-meaning—are immediately transformed into a culture war in which it starts to be alleged that what is being attempted is the suppression of free speech, I become profoundly depressed. The exaggerations in the report seem to demonstrate a reverse fear that, somehow, the word “Islamophobia” is being used as a weapon on the law-abiding when people reasonably highlight anxiety over terrorism, or practices within some communities which are regarded as being bad, a view that I believe to be shared throughout the House. That is far removing us from what I think the issue is.
Let me issue a plea to the Secretary of State. He has a rather unenviable task in this respect, but I hope that he will not dismiss the APPG’s report out of hand, because it does not deserve to be dismissed. It is clearly based on good intentions and a wish to identify a way forward. If we stop flying off the handle and disappearing into the most extraordinary and bizarre places—I am sorry to have to say that I felt that that was happening a little bit when I listened to my right hon. Friend Sir John Hayes—we may make some progress, and I hope that this debate will facilitate it. That, I think, was the purpose of the APPG’s report, which is why I wrote the foreword.
I cannot get away from the fact that there is a real problem here, and we need to tackle it. This is an area in which we need to show leadership.
As vice-chair of the all-party group on British Muslims, I thank my colleagues, my hon. Friend Wes Streeting and Anna Soubry, for applying for this hugely important debate and the Backbench Business Committee for granting it.
Truth be told, when I look across the House today, I realise this debate is not just about the definition of Islamophobia; it is also about the ever-prevalent Islamophobia across our society and in the online world peddled by the far right, leading to attacks every day on British Muslims, and the acceptable norms of prejudice passed across the dinner table and, frankly, in enclaves of the Tory party that fuel Islamophobia or allow it to be ignored.
Those watching this debate will notice that, although every other Westminster political party has accepted the APPG definition of Islamophobia, one party has not: the Conservative party, which refuses to accept the definition. Indeed, every party in Scotland, including the Conservative party, has accepted and endorsed the definition. I pay tribute to Ruth Davidson for showing great leadership on that.
I originally prepared my speech for the debate that was postponed. Sadly, I can no longer deliver that speech because, just in the last 24 hours, I have witnessed the orchestrated nature of a machine that has come out in spectacular fashion in a continued attempt to shut down the voices and experiences of ordinary British Muslims. What I say today is neither a conspiracy nor some delusional hyperbole. I am referring to the fact that the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Martin Hewitt, wrote to the Prime Minister suggesting that the APPG definition of Islamophobia creates some sort of security risk. Let me put this to bed once and for all: this is a non-legally binding working definition, which is why that assertion is simply plain stupid. It is as stupid as saying that, because we have a non-legally binding definition of antisemitism, we can no longer do foreign policy in the middle east.
I am a member of the National Police Chiefs’ Council national roundtable for race, religion and belief, which until this week was chaired by Chief Constable Jon Boutcher. He was not aware of Martin Hewitt’s letter or concerns. Furthermore, Chief Constable Ian Hopkins, the national lead on matters of policing and diversity from Greater Manchester police, did not know either, and nor did John Robins, my chief constable in West Yorkshire.
What is deeply worrying is not only that Martin Hewitt attributes concerns to his colleagues without actually speaking to them, but that the intervention suggests that the police have a disgraceful lack of understanding of hate crimes. They recognise the importance of having racism and antisemitism defined, but the intervention suggests that the police are blind to the same need for Muslims, despite the fact that year on year the police have consistently produced figures that show an increase in hate crime against Muslims.
This is not just about a Government who are failing to listen to the British Muslim communities; this is about a Government who on the eve of this debate coincidently and conveniently had a security leak from within their highest office, the office of the Prime Minister, with the serious concerns of the protection of British Muslims played out as a game on the front pages of a national newspaper. This is no longer about a political party that is institutionally Islamophobic; this is about a Government telling a section of those they govern they will not only silence their voices and ignore their legitimate fears, but define their experiences and actively shut down those trying to represent their views.
If it is down to the experiences of women to define feminism, the experiences of people of colour to define racism, the experiences of Jews to define antisemitism, and the experiences of LGBTQ+ communities to define homophobia, I say to the Secretary of State: how dare he tell British Muslims that our experiences cannot define Islamophobia. If that is not a pernicious form of racism, what is it?
For me this is much more than just rejecting the definition. It is disgraceful when the most senior Muslim woman in the Tory party, the former chair of the party, Baroness Warsi, continuously calls for an inquiry into Islamophobia, yet time and again that is completely ignored. It is despicable that the Conservative party ran a dog-whistle Islamophobic campaign against the London Mayor Sadiq Khan and still refuses to apologise. It is unacceptable that, when I called for a debate on Islamophobia in this Chamber, the Leader of the House responded with blatant othering by suggesting that this was an issue for the Foreign Office, thus saying that British Muslims are not citizens of this nation. Maybe she was taking lessons from her colleague, the Home Secretary; I do not know. It is scandalous and frankly an act of misconduct in every field of work for a male to demean women for the way they choose to dress, yet it is unapologetically acceptable for the former Foreign Secretary to describe women in burkas as “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”. It is hypocrisy of the highest order when the Conservative party’s internal complaints procedure when dealing with Islamophobes is to publicly suspend them and privately sneak them back in when it thinks nobody is watching.
While all the above could be explained as a party in denial, the leak suggests this is a party in government that is willing to orchestrate a campaign to reject the recognition of the very real and prevalent nature of Islamophobia. A line has been crossed, beyond the failure to act, to send a clear message to British Muslim communities that this Government are not serious about the safety and security of British Muslims. As a British Muslim woman, that message is clear to me today, as it will be to those up and down this country.
In March 2018, when the right hon. Member for Broxtowe said to the Government that it was high time for there to be a proper legal definition of Islamophobia, the response from the Minister was:
“We do not accept the need for a definitive definition”.—[Official Report,
So a year ago, the Government said they did not need a definition and today they are saying they need a definition but just not the one accepted by British Muslims. They choose to reject the definition that is rooted in the experiences of British Muslims and thus is widely accepted by over 750 Muslims institutions and organisations.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. I can say hand on heart that she is speaking with the passion and clarity that I hear in mosques and Muslim community centres in my constituency. I heard from the Conservative Benches the comment that clearly not all Muslims agree with this definition and that is true, but I would just, through her, ask the Secretary of State to reflect on the same claims that are made by members of my own party about Jewish Voice for Labour and by other fringe groups who consistently seek to undermine the real fight against antisemitism. I am not talking about Members of this House who disagree; I am talking about fringe siren voices. Do not mistake the views of a minority with the views of the majority.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and he is absolutely right. The truth is that the Conservative party refuses to accept the definition accepted by over 750 Muslim institutions and organisations from across the spectrum, spanning from the Muslim Council of Britain, the largest umbrella body for British Muslims, to prominent Muslim women groups such as the Muslim Women’s Network, to British Muslims for Secular Democracy, and that is in addition to 80 academics, some of whose life’s work has been on racism.
In the spirit of speaking about freedoms, let me turn the Secretary of State’s attention to article 3 of the universal declaration of human rights:
“everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of a person”.
So I ask him: when Mohammed Saleem was murdered in 2013 in an Islamophobic terrorist attack, where was his freedom? Where was his right to life? Where was the national response from the Government? Where were the advisers forming a definition of Islamophobia?
When Mushin Ahmed, an 81-year-old grandfather from Rotherham, was murdered in 2015 in an Islamophobic terrorist attack, where was the Government response to his murder? In fact, never mind the Government not forming any sort of strategy to tackle Islamophobia: after his right to life was denied—after the duty to protect a Muslim grandfather was failed—where was the Government statement? Where was the Cobra meeting? Why wasn’t there a taskforce? Why have this Government failed to act while Islamophobia has continued to rise and rise and rise? It then took the third far-right Islamophobic attack, the mowing down of Makram Ali outside Finsbury park in Ramadan 2017, for the Government to finally acknowledge that this was terrorism.
I make no apologies for my emotions today. It has only been two months since we saw the deadly attacks in Christchurch, where over 50 Muslims were murdered at their place of worship. I do not want to personalise this debate, but I think it is important to give examples to illustrate the problem. These are just a handful of comments directed towards me—the ones I could read without crying. Beyond that, Muslims receive such abuse every single day as they go about their lives: “String her up”; “I will do time for you”; “I hope you see your children dead in your arms”; and “You don’t deserve life...You are pure evil and your clock is ticking.”
Lives have been lost, globally and in the UK, and only now has the Islamophobia debate got to this stage —and even then through a Backbench Business debate. If we do not act today, I ask which Muslim’s life must go next before we simply recognise and understand Islamophobia. Never before have I shared this openly, but I do question, as many Muslims across this country do, which Muslim’s life will be next and whether it will be mine.
So I ask the Secretary of State and the Government to rethink their decision. It is high time we accepted this definition and moved forward to actually tackle Islamophobia. For those of privilege, a definition—or no definition—is just semantics, but for British Muslims, it is about their safety, the security of their lives and the fear of their sisters’ hijabs being pulled off on the streets. It is about their places of worship being attacked while they pray; it is about being denied a job because of their Muslim-sounding name and struggling to make ends meet; and it is about their right to be equal citizens because of the faith they belong to.
I have also discussed this matter at length with the Foreign Office Minister, Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon. As well as being the Prime Minister’s special representative on freedom of religion and belief, he is one of the most senior members of the British Ahmadiyya community. He agrees with the term “Islamophobia” and believes that this definition protects the Ahmadiyya community. What better assurance could the Government want than that? I share this because, when speaking to various Ministers from the Home Office, one of the concerns raised has been the issue of the definition not dealing with sectarianism. I put it to the Minister that, if sectarianism is something that this Government want to address, we can convene a roundtable with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, representatives of ultra-orthodox and liberal Jewry, the plethora of sects and castes within the British Hindu community and representatives of various Muslim sects and other religions to ensure that we consider the issue of sectarianism in its totality. Surely the Secretary of State is not suggesting that the Government are only interested in sectarianism within the Muslim community, because such an exceptionalist approach would be dangerous and divisive.
To conclude, the choice of which side of history the Government choose to stand on is a choice for them, but the fight for equal protection for British Muslims will go on. Those of us, Muslim or not, who believe in equality for all will stand shoulder to shoulder with them. The Conservative party has sadly always found itself on the wrong side of history. It did so with women’s rights and with the rights of black people and of the LGBTQ+ community. Every time, it finds itself on the wrong side of history and, every time, it is my party that has to teach it what equality means. Once again today, as we see Islamophobia on the rise, we see the Conservative party failing even to acknowledge the term “Islamophobia” or give this latest form of racism a definition.
Over the past month, I have seen this Government—and those connected to them through a tangled web of think-tanks, newspapers and other ideological bedfellows —ramp up their opposition to British Muslims who are seeking a protection framework equal to those given to our fellow citizens. This has not gone unnoticed in Parliament, in our constituencies, on the streets or in the homes where a young British Muslim community feels that, under this Government, it has been forced to frame and fight its own civil rights movement. The effect of this will eventually be felt in Parliament when the Conservatives, now no longer fit to govern, feel the consequences, through the ballot box, of failing to give everyone in this country equal value and worth. If I, as a Muslim woman MP representing the largest Muslim constituency in the country, do not feel safe, how do I tell those people that they will be safe?
It is an absolute pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Naz Shah. I congratulate my hon. Friend Wes Streeting and Anna Soubry on securing this debate, and I commend them and their colleagues in the all-party group on British Muslims for making history by putting together the first definition of Islamophobia. This definition is the culmination of almost two years of consultation and evidence gathering. It is a concrete definition that takes into account the views of organisations, politicians, faith leaders, eminent academics, victims of hate crime and communities up and down the country. I hope that the Secretary of State will have listened to the comments made by Mr Grieve, who has also urged the Government to adopt the definition.
To tackle Islamophobia, we need to address a number of different issues, one of which is the role of the media. In Australia, where the Christchurch killer was born, raised and possibly radicalised, there has been a lot of debate on the extent to which the media—particularly that owned by Rupert Murdoch—contributed to sowing the seeds of hate that were unleashed in Christchurch. A study published in Sydney tallied up the number of negative stories that five Australian newspapers owned by Rupert Murdoch produced in 2017. It found that almost 3,000 such stories referred to Islam or Muslims, alongside the words “violence”, “terrorism” or “radical”. Authors of the study reported that
“once every second day in 2017 there was a front page that demonised and spoke negatively about Muslims”.
Yes, it was on social media where the killer spread his ideology, but we need to recognise that white supremacy and other ideologies of hate predate the internet. So while we are right to pay attention to the sheer speed and global reach of the internet, we need to talk about how hateful ideologies come into being and what allows them to flourish.
The print and broadcast media are not without their share of responsibility. Recently, in an open letter to a newspaper, Neil Basu said:
“The reality is that every terrorist we have dealt with has sought inspiration from the propaganda of others, and when they can’t find it on Facebook, YouTube, or Twitter they only have to turn on the TV, read the paper or go to one of a myriad of mainstream media websites struggling to compete with those platforms.”
He cited the 2017 terror attack in Finsbury Park as an example of where a man was
“driven to an act of terror by far-right messaging he found mostly on mainstream media”.
It is time we accepted that a large proportion of the British press incites hatred against Muslims to millions of people every day. This is not about freedom of speech; it is plain, downright lying published in our media, day in, day out. For example, a Daily Express front page has proclaimed: “Muslims tell British: Go to hell”. The Daily Star printed the headline: “UK mosques fundraising for terror” then later apologised. Or let us consider the front page of The Sun, which declared that “1 in 5 Brit Muslims” had sympathy for jihadists, accompanied by a picture of “Jihadi John” wielding a knife. Months later, it acknowledged that its claims were misleading, but such retractions are always just two sentences occupying a tiny space at the back of the newspaper.
Such inaccuracies are not restricted to the tabloid press. The Times, for example, claimed Muslims were “silent on terror”. On another occasion, it issued a correction for a story headlined “Christian child forced into Muslim foster care”, which turned out to be a complete bag of lies. The Daily Mail then picked up on that story and showed a picture of a woman wearing a veil, suggesting that this was the lady who had adopted the child. That was a lie as well, because although the woman in question was a Muslim, she did not wear a veil. The Spectator published a piece claiming that
“there is not nearly enough Islamophobia within the Conservative party”.
It is not just misleading stories that are the problem. We consistently see articles that conflate Islam with criminality: “Muslim sex grooming” or “Imam beaten to death in sex grooming town”, for example. The latter resulted in the chief constable of Greater Manchester police writing an open letter criticising the newspaper.
A study from Lancaster University highlighted that for every mention of “moderate” Muslims in the media, there are 21 references to “extremist” Muslims, and that Muslims are collectively homogenised and portrayed as a threat to the “British way of life”. A study conducted by the University of Alabama found that Muslim extremists received 357% more coverage than non-Muslim extremists; in contrast, far-right terrorists are rationalised, understood to be lone wolves, or excused because they are suffering from poor mental health, instead of recognising the hatred that actually drove their atrocious actions. We saw that in the Daily Mirror’s coverage of Christchurch, describing the killer as an “angelic boy” in an attempt to humanise him, and focusing on Muslims as victims. I do not think we have seen such a description given to any terrorist who happens to be Muslim.
In opinion pieces, the problem is even more apparent. The Sun’s Trevor Kavanagh ended one column with the question:
“What will we do about the Muslim problem then?”
We all know what that means. In July 2016, Fatima Manji reported on the Nice terror attack for Channel 4. Kelvin MacKenzie attacked her in The Sun, asking why a woman in a headscarf was reporting on a terrorist incident. Musing on why Channel 4 chose Manji for the slot, MacKenzie asked,
“Was it done to stick one in the eye of the ordinary viewer who looks at the hijab as a sign of the slavery of Muslim women by a male-dominated and clearly violent religion?”
Those are just the tip of the iceberg of lies in the media about Islam.
That should lead us to ask why this is happening. The answer is simple: stories that play on public fears and feed prejudices are popular, especially in times when, according to polls, more than half of British people see Islam as a threat to western liberal democracy, and others may not see Muslims as threats but feel softer dislike and that Muslims and Islam are not compatible. The fact is that most people in this country have probably never met a Muslim person and know nothing about Islam, but their reading and understanding of Islam are derived from the media. That is why so many of them, when surveyed, express views that clearly show that they have been affected by what they read.
Research by Cambridge University showed that mainstream media reporting on the Muslim community was contributing to an atmosphere of rising hostility toward Muslims in Britain, corroborating the findings of an Islamophobia roundtable in Stockholm. Do the Minister and the Government accept that the media have played a role in the growth of Islamophobia and that that is no longer tenable?
This is not a matter of freedom of speech; it is about the choice of editors to tolerate, if not encourage, bigotry in our papers. We live in a country that rightly cherishes freedom of the press, and that must be respected, but freedom comes with responsibility, which must be upheld. To publish inaccurate stories helps the rise of the far right; the “othering” of Muslims has real-world consequences. The National Union of Journalists understands that and has demanded an inquiry into Islamophobia in the media. Done properly, that could have the impact that the Macpherson report had on the police and encourage a sea change in attitudes. Will the Minister commit today to set up a Government inquiry into Islamophobia in the media?
These are not just my concerns. Respectable academics and think-tanks are concerned about what is happening. Last year, in the Home Affairs Committee, the new owner of the Daily Express said:
“Each and every editor has a responsibility for every single word that’s published in a newspaper. Cumulatively, some of the headlines that have appeared in the past have created an Islamophobic sentiment which I find uncomfortable”—
First, I thank all those who have taken part in this important debate. In particular, I thank Mike Gapes and Anna Soubry for securing it. We in this House have an absolute duty to eliminate all forms of hate crime and discrimination.
My hon. Friend Naz Shah, and perhaps others, have referred to personal experiences. I believe it takes guts and great courage to refer to personal situations in this place. Tragically, in the current political climate, many politicians and public servants in the frontline are being subjected to some atrocious behaviour, and I salute the courage of those who speak out. I, like many others, constantly receive Islamophobic hate mail and other expressions of Islamophobia, but I refuse to recount those instances here today. I refuse to give air time to those who want people like me to air their views—their views of hatred and division—in this place. I refuse to do that here today.
Of course we need a definition of Islamophobia—on that much, I think everyone can agree. There are a number of definitions, starting with the Runnymede definition; then there is the all-party group’s definition, and I know that in my home town Bradford’s Council for Mosques is working on a definition. All those are important, but it is the aim of all of them that I want to focus on. The aim of the definition is to eradicate Islamophobia, and that is where I want to concentrate my remarks. We cannot eradicate Islamophobia if we do not understand Islamophobia. That is the point.
This debate takes place against a disgusting backdrop of rising Islamophobic hate crime. Over half of all religiously motivated hate crimes recorded in 2017-18—almost 3,000—were committed against Muslims. Although abusive behaviour forms the core of recorded Islamophobia, we cannot downplay the number and severity of the physical attacks, many of the offences being of an extremely serious nature. Even at mosques and other places of worship, where Muslims should feel safe, they face both physical and verbal abuse and violence, with the number of attacks on mosques doubling and Muslims being left scared and vulnerable.
We simply cannot ignore the stark evidence facing us that Islamophobia is dramatically on the rise. We certainly cannot do so at a time when we are witnessing the rapid resurgence of far-right, fascist, white supremacist groups now fixated on persecuting Muslims and promoting Islamophobia. Those groups are pushing bigoted, xenophobic views of Muslims and others, and they are not only feeding on, but driving, an environment where it is now seen as acceptable to abuse and attack Muslims. With growing traffic to far-right websites and social media personalities, a growing number of foiled far-right terror plots and a membership that is younger and more extreme than before, the far right is now a key threat. Let us make no mistake about that.
None of this is surprising given the rhetoric espoused by the media and public figures, as was alluded to earlier by my hon. Friend Yasmin Qureshi, but it is an absolute disgrace when Members of this House and the other place join in this divisive rhetoric, reinforcing the false narrative that Muslims are dangerous, second-class citizens and creating an atmosphere in which Islamophobia not only flourishes unchallenged but is actively promoted. By doing so, they have normalised Islamophobia. There is now so little accountability, self-awareness, guilt or shame that Islamophobic comments are not just accepted but casually tossed around as though absolutely fine.
The normalisation of Islamophobia created by the media, public figures and even policies such as Prevent and others, under which Muslims are treated as policing and social policy problems, is extremely damaging. Islamophobia is not just a far-right extremism issue, and the extreme abuse and violent attacks on Muslims are not the only issues they face. The commonplace and trivialised views of Islamophobia send out the message to Muslims that they are outsiders in this country and that they are excluded as society divides into two groups—us and them.
This belief of exclusion resonates further when it is applied on top of existing barriers that all ethnic minorities face: poorer educational and employment prospects, poorer life chances and poorer healthcare compared with their white counterparts of similar backgrounds. Ultimately, Islamophobia leaves all Muslims feeling isolated and insecure in their own homes, despite the lengths to which they go to include themselves, their deep sense of belonging in this country and their keen desire to belong and join in.
As a proud British Muslim myself, I want to be clear that Islam is a religion of peace, love and charity, and for many it is not just our religion but our identity, and one that we are deeply proud of. Nowhere is this more evident than when Muslims open up their customs and practices to wider society. Much in this debate has been negative, but I want to celebrate the achievements and work of Muslims, celebrate the fact that Muslims open the doors of mosques, invite all communities to join in their religious celebrations, throw themselves into community life and initiatives that benefit all and spread awareness and understanding of what their culture is all about.
It is fitting during this holy month of Ramadan to point out that Muslims in Britain this year alone will donate tens of millions of pounds to charity, which I celebrate and the Charity Commission praises. Yet, sadly, because of the normalisation of Islamophobia, instead of feeling like they are productive and included members of society, Muslims are made to feel marginalised and isolated. They are excluded from what should be the shared life experiences between those of all backgrounds that make our society and culture so much richer.
I will conclude, Madam Deputy Speaker, as time does not permit me to speak for long—although I am grateful for the 10 minutes I was promised. We must commit ourselves to ending the marginalisation of Muslims in society and to enforcing a zero-tolerance approach. If the Government are to prove they are serious about tackling the shameful rise in Islamophobia and the isolation of Muslims, they must do more to tackle the dangerous rise of the far right and end the practice of giving a high-profile platform to extremists. They must reaffirm and ensure an absolute responsibility and obligation on those in public office and in the media not to promote, fuel and normalise Islamophobia and Islamophobic tropes. They must take every available action, including legislation and adopting a firm definition of religiously and racially motivated hate, to ensure the perpetrators of Islamophobic hate crimes are brought to justice.
I say to the Minister that a definition cannot be forced downwards by political leaders or organisations, but must come up from the grassroots Muslim community. The House has a duty to speak up for Muslims and all those who face abuse, prejudice and discrimination. It is time we demanded more.
At a primary school a few years back, I met a little girl who told me how scared she had been when she heard about a plane that had flown into the side of a mountain. She was not scared to fly—oh no; she was terrified that the pilot would turn out to be Muslim. I do not want to live in a country where our children are worried about the faith of a person who does wicked things. By the age of eight, she had been so affected by Islamophobia and the racism in and around us all that she had taken on a collective guilt. She felt it keenly. She almost accepted that she personally would be responsible if that pilot shared her religion. What a world.
Despite her age, this little girl knew all about Islamophobia—whichever definition we choose—about racism and about the blaming of people for the real or imaginary sins of another who shares their ethnicity, nationality or religion. She knew that many people were ready to hate her, her family and friends, and could even harm them. She almost felt it would be justified. I do not want to live in a world where our children feel like that.
I remember the fear among my Muslim friends, neighbours and constituents after the 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2017 attacks. That fear is clearly justified. There was a shocking 40% increase in reported religiously motivated hate crimes. One in four Muslims worries about being physically attacked. Several of the most recent Islamophobic attacks have been on children and—appallingly—have been perpetrated by children. In 2017, a group of six boys surrounded a 13-year-old Muslim boy, pushed him to the ground and kicked him again and again in the head. He could have been killed. Later that year, two boys, 10 and 13, were attacked in Manchester by a group led by a boy of 12 evidently filled with hate.
As we know, last year 15-year-old Jamal, a refugee from Syria, was subjected to violence and simulated torture within his own school. We have since learned that his sister has also been viciously attacked, her headscarf being pulled off. The family’s lawyer has now revealed that, because of the trauma she has received in this country—not in Syria—at the hands of Islamophobes, she has attempted suicide. As we know, Jamal’s alleged attacker was 16 and had, according to reports, consumed far-right propaganda on social media. We have allowed Islamophobia to take hold. We have to act to stop it.
The Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge attacks were followed by the clearly Islamophobic terror attack in Finsbury Park. As we know, the perpetrator of that attack was inspired by exactly the same kind of far-right propaganda and rhetoric that was associated with the terrorist murder in Christchurch in March and the terrorist murder of our Labour sisters and brothers in Norway in 2011.
Evil rhetoric has power not just because it causes violence, but because it creates fear and causes children to be afraid because of the faith they hold. We cannot tolerate it for a second. That fear has been on the rise again in my constituency after the heart-wrenching act of terror in Christchurch and the systematic vandalism of mosques in Birmingham. I am proud to say that our mosques in Newham are responding with unity. More than 40 mosque and community leaders attended a meeting last month to recommit to work together to keep our neighbourhoods safe from hate. It was a powerful first step, and I thank Councillors Mas Patel, Hanif Abdulmuhit and Salim Patel for organising it and I thank all the attendees.
I am also really grateful to the Community Security Trust, to Dave Rich and to others who have offered their time, experience and solidarity to the Muslim community in Newham to help with their community safety efforts. My mosque groups have readily accepted that help because, sadly, the CST gained its expertise because Jewish communities have also been so consistently under threat for so long. Its knowledge has been won from pain.
The same poisonous rhetoric that has long targeted our Jewish communities is being used to incite hatred and violence by Islamophobes, racists and fascists, and the rhetoric is sometimes directed at both Jewish and Muslim communities simultaneously by the same people. These hatemongers talk about replacement. They spread lies to present white people in Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand as being under threat. While the Nazi lie was that Jewish people were conspiring to control and replace white people directly, many fascists today weave antisemitism and Islamophobia together. Today’s alt-right say that so-called liberal elites, with Jewish people such as philanthropist George Soros always front and centre, support migrants and multiculturalism because we are trying to replace white people and Christian traditions with people, beliefs and practices that are both foreign and threatening.
The rhetoric about the so-called “great replacement” is as horrific as it is false. Chillingly, it echoes some of the propaganda that the Nazis used to prepare for the utter horror of the holocaust. Here and now, it is inciting acts of Islamophobic and antisemitic terror. Such racist lies were referred to by the terrorists who attacked synagogues in Pittsburgh last year and in California just last month. If the terrorists’ manifesto is anything to go by, they were equally as influential in inspiring the murder of those 51 innocent worshippers in Christchurch this March. The perpetrator was totally focused on spreading those lies and, to our shame, social media platforms let him do so effectively with the livestream of the atrocity. I struggle to imagine just how terrifying it would have been to be at the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch—the shock, the confusion, the fear, the terror. I know that children in my constituency imagine it for themselves when they are at their mosque. It is beyond words.
That is what the idea of a “great replacement” has led to over and over again in recent years. The conspiracy theories are obviously false, but we need to take them seriously because they are spreading. The rhetoric is aiding the fascists, whom we have fought and defeated over again, with their mission of terror, division and murder. We have to see the exponents of those ideas for what they are—the polite, young, well-dressed, articulate, nicely spoken ones as well as the skinheads—and we must do everything we can from this House to stop this poison from spreading.
It has never been more important to put solidarity against racist and religious hatred first and foremost. To do that, we must understand what forms it takes and how they are connected and interconnected. I welcome the progress that has been made with establishing a definition for Islamophobia, because we need one. I would probably prefer the simpler one by the Runnymede Trust, but that is frankly irrelevant. We need a working definition, and we should be clear that Islamophobia is anti-Muslim racism. However, what I want most of all is action. We need to propose concrete steps today to protect Muslim communities, build solidarity and halt the spread of racist hate, and I hope that we will hear that when the Minister responds.
I hope that the Secretary of State has listened to all the speeches made in support of the definition and that he will take away from them the following. The fact is that if the Conservative party is to understand why proportionately more people from black and ethnic minority communities voted for Trump in America than voted Conservative in 2017, it has to examine the reaction to this report and read in Hansard the speech of Sir John Hayes, who I am sorry is no longer in his place. On his basis, the report has been dismissed for no other reason than that the chairs of the APPG are white liberals. Well, I am proud to be called a white, small “l” liberal, and I am even more proud to have helped form this report. I played a very small part in it. Wes Streeting played a considerable part in bringing it all together, and I am sure he will agree that the report was driven by Baroness Warsi, a member and former chair of the Conservative party. Those are interesting and valid points.
I speak as a former barrister. As a barrister, I was taught to look at the evidence. I am not a Muslim and, as it happens, there are very few Muslims in my constituency. The hon. Member for Ilford North is not a Muslim either. He has told us about his own faith, and I have no faith. The fact is that we have absolutely no stake in any of this. We are not from that community, but we are open-hearted and open-minded, and I hope that others will think that that has contributed to what we have done.
We listened. This report, which I am so proud of—it is one of the things I am most proud of in my nine years in this place—is based on the evidence of British Muslims. Unfortunately, too many of them live every day with prejudice, intolerance and Islamophobia. That is their lives. It is what defines them and that cannot be right—it is wrong. We have to stop talking about it and start acting and we begin that action to eradicate Islamophobia, which is rising in our society, by defining it. That is the right thing to do, even though on a previous occasion, as Naz Shah reminded us, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, said that the Government’s view was that we did not need a definition. I am pleased that the Government now accept that we need a definition. I say to the Secretary of State that it is here, in this report.
We went into this with absolutely no fixed views whatsoever—none at all. Month after month, we took evidence from individual Muslims and community groups that represent real British Muslims with real-life experiences. We also broadened the process out to politicians. For example, Liam Byrne was one of our best witnesses. He is not a Muslim but he talked about his experiences as a Member of Parliament. The issue has been close to his heart for many years. We also spoke to academics.
We gathered the evidence and then we sat down and tried to work out a definition. I was in the Conservative party at the time and wrote in an email, “Islamophobia is racism”. It is racist—that is its root. That is what it is about. I think there was a universal sense of shock among the group that I had come to that conclusion. Obviously, the hon. Member for Ilford North came to the same conclusion. When we look at the evidence and understand where academic thought has got to, we see that of course Islamophobia is rooted in racism and it is racism.
We then had a discussion, which the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield began to discuss. It was one of the best debates in a group that I have ever attended. I am so sorry he is not in his place, but he would agree that he was cynical about saying that this was rooted in racism—and rightly so because many people would be. But he sat and listened and we had this rigorous, brilliant debate with young Muslim academics, older Muslim academics, other academics and many others who have studied this, and he was convinced. I gently say to the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings that it is extraordinary for him to criticise this report, which I doubt he has read, based on a breakfast and then another report, which Naz Shah and others have so rightly utterly demolished. Read this report and understand why we have come to these conclusions.
If I wanted to know about racism, I would be more likely to listen to Mr Lammy; given that he is a black British man, I think he might know a little more about racism than the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings. If I want to know about race and what racism is, I am again going to turn to the right hon. Member for Tottenham because he clearly knows a darn sight more about it, not because of the colour of his skin, but because he has actually done some research and has listened to the academics and many others. He understands, among other things, the root of the word “racism”, as the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield does. It is a fascinating lesson in history to understand how “racism” emerged as a word. what it meant and how it has developed, not just over decades, but over centuries.
I will give way in a moment. The hon. Member for Ilford North rightly explained that the definition of racism—or the definition of race—is no longer about biology; it is about a social concept. It can be defined by that antagonism, but it is also now, in the modern world, about groups that share the same culture, the same history, the same language—it can even include social classes. It has moved on in its definition and it clearly embraces Muslims. I will quickly give way now, if I am allowed, Madam Deputy Speaker. [Interruption.] It seems the hon. Lady has changed her mind on intervening; no problem with that. So it is right, when we define Islamophobia in the way that we do, to say that it is a form of racism and it is rooted in racism.
The other point I wish to make is about phobia and why we describe Islamophobia in that way. Phobia is an irrational dislike and has many forms. It can be a dislike. It can also encompass fear and hatred. I mention one of the things our definition absolutely does and understands. Many others make the mistake of thinking that this growing problem in our society—this bigotry and prejudice that ranges from the everyday insults and offensive language aimed at individual Muslims right through to terrorist murders—is anti-Muslim hatred. The computer that churns out a higher insurance premium for somebody simply because they have Mohammed in their name does not hate Muslims. Indeed, the person who put the information in to churn out that nonsense probably does not hate Muslims either. So we must not fall into the trap of saying that it is anti-Muslim hatred.
This is a cracking report. It is based on evidence from the people who know and understand this. It has been accepted by dozens of their communities and by every political party, apart from the Conservative party. If it is good enough for Ruth Davidson, it is good enough for our Prime Minister.
I am proud to represent a diverse parliamentary constituency. As Imran Hussain said, the Muslim faith is one of peace, love and charity, and that is my experience of the Muslim community in Glasgow South West. We have the Scottish Police Muslim Association, alongside the Glasgow South West food bank, which provides a community kitchen once a month to help the most vulnerable in our society by providing them with a hot meal. We have many charitable organisations, including the Crookston Community Group, and many of them are led by those of the Muslim faith, who are doing great work throughout the community.
The all-party group’s report “Islamophobia Defined” proposes the following working definition:
“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
I did not quite understand some of the criticisms of the report or the definition, which has come about as a result of a six-month inquiry. As we have heard, that inquiry took evidence from academics, lawyers, victims groups and British Muslim organisations, and included input from Member of the Scottish Parliament Anas Sarwar, who is chair of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on tackling Islamophobia, along with the Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society, one of the officer-bearers of which is my good friend Shabir Beg.
All that input has gone into looking at a definition, and as we have heard that definition has been endorsed by the Muslim Council of Britain, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Muslim Women’s Network and the Edinburgh central mosque in Scotland. The Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru have adopted the definition, as has the Scottish National party Westminster group. We are now going to feed that into our internal party structures so that the definition can be adopted at our next conference. It seems to me that a lot of serious work, thought, input and discussion has gone into the definition.
Several comments were made about hate crimes. The Scottish Government’s publication “Religiously aggravated offending in Scotland” has figures on the proportion of charges for offences that relate to Islamophobia. In 2010-11, there were 15 charges that were defined as Islamophobia, and that number rose to 115 in 2017-18. The number of charges in relation to other offences peaked in 2015-16, when there were 134 charges, of which 57 were recorded during one incident involving a march in Glasgow. It should be noted that the police in Scotland do not record the religion of the victims of religiously aggravated offences, so the data has been derived by analysing police reports and is based on the details of the incident and what the accused said and did. As such, the figures presented on the targeted religion should not necessarily be regarded as definitive.
We are deeply concerned about the growing levels of Islamophobia and other forms of intolerance seen recently not just in the UK, but around the world. Islamophobia is a real, lived experience, as confirmed by a 2018 ComRes poll that found that 58% of people thought that Islamophobia was a real problem in today’s society. A poll of 1,000 Muslims conducted by ComRes for BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme in 2015 found that 46% of Muslims felt that prejudice against Islam makes it very difficult to be a Muslim in this country. Others have mentioned the despicable terrorist attack in Christchurch in New Zealand, which is a grave reminder of what Islamophobia can become if it is left unchallenged.
We need to provide a vision of a nation free from fear, prejudice and discrimination, and we should all continue to work for that. As I outlined, I am proud to represent a constituency that, like many others throughout Scotland and the UK, has a vibrant and dynamic Muslim community who play a valuable role in our society and strengthen our interfaith relationships.
The SNP Westminster Group considered the definition very carefully and decided to adopt it. The all-party definition was arrived at following a careful and robust process and wide consultation with the Muslim community. That is important and it is why we should give this definition our support today.
On Islamophobic comments by politicians, I listened very carefully to the hon. Member for Bradford West and agreed with what she said. She reminded us that we all have a duty and a responsibility to be careful about what we say and to make sure that what we are saying is not intolerant or incendiary. Of course, the former Foreign Secretary’s remarks about Muslim women were cited in the APPG report. Those remarks were utterly inexcusable and should be called out for what they were. We should not stand by and expect dog-whistle Islamophobia. I have to say that the Conservative party really must stand firm against such grotesquely offensive and intentional comments, or risk normalising toxic and bigoted rhetoric. At a time when political discourse is alienating many, we all must consider the language that we use and reject intolerance.
It has been a pleasure to speak in the debate and to support the all-party group’s definition of Islamophobia.
I wholeheartedly congratulate the all-party group on British Muslims, my hon. Friend Wes Streeting and Anna Soubry on securing the debate. I also thank the 19 hon. Members who have spoken for their meaningful contributions.
The all-party group has worked tirelessly on creating this definition and done a brilliant job. The definition has widespread support across the community and the confidence of more than 750 organisations. It has been adopted by the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, the Scottish Conservatives, and the Mayors of London and Greater Manchester, as well as by the National Union of Students and councils across the country. I want to applaud the aforementioned for taking this positive step. Defining and naming a problem is the first step to rooting it out.
As we enter the second week of Ramadan, I am humbled by the charitable deeds of the Muslim community across the country. This is a time for charity, reflection and community—values from which we can all greatly benefit. British Muslim charities raise, on average, £100 million during the month of Ramadan alone. It is therefore with great sadness that I must talk today about the growing problem of Islamophobia, which is apparent not only in the UK, but across Europe.
This Government have shown through their refusal to accept the definition proposed by the all-party group that they are in pure denial over Islamophobia. To add insult to injury, they cannot even bring themselves to use the term “Islamophobia”. How can the Government possibly deal with a problem that they cannot even name?
Cross-party calls for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative party, as well as calls from the Muslim community and key organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and even the Conservative Muslim Forum, continue to fall on politically deaf ears. What concerns me is that the Conservative party has an institutional problem. Recently it suspended close to 50 members over alleged Islamophobia. Why is it that the Conservative party attracts such individuals? If the problem is not institutional, what is the explanation?
I have written to the Conservative chairman three times about this issue, and I have also asked the Prime Minister on three occasions to adopt the definition and to undertake an independent inquiry into the Conservative party. Each time her answer has fallen disappointingly short. Those members who engage in Islamophobia are not reprimanded. Even worse, they are simply let back into the party. Jeff Potts, a councillor in Solihull, had shared a post on Twitter saying:
“Deport and repatriate all Muslims from the UK or watch terrorists kill innocent people for generations to come.”
But just two days ago, his suspension was quietly lifted. That sends a very loud and clear message that Islamophobia is acceptable. Sadly, responses from the Facebook supporters’ group of Mr Rees-Mogg to my statement about the Conservatives having a problem with Islamophobia include:
“There’s not enough Islamophobia”,
“I’m a proud Islamophobian”, and
“Islam deserves all the hate it gets. Its earned it”.
There is a lack of transparency surrounding the way in which the Conservative party deals with Islamophobia. With its constant foot-dragging on the issue, we demand to know more about this process and how it works. How many complaints has the party received and how many members have been suspended?
The Roger Scruton story goes to the heart of the Conservatives’ problem with Islamophobia. The Labour party and key figures from the Conservative party expressed serious concerns over Roger Scruton. Despite his record of hateful and Islamophobic remarks, the Secretary of State defended him as a champion of free speech. Last month, the Government were finally forced to sack him, after he again made Islamophobic, antisemitic and homophobic comments. But why did the Secretary of State defend him? Why has Roger Scruton not been stripped of his knighthood? If the Secretary of State claims he carried out due diligence, why did these vile comments not ring alarm bells? Will the Secretary of State now apologise for having defended this Islamophobe and for keeping him in post for so long? The whole episode lays bare the profound lack of concern of the Conservative party and the Prime Minister about Islamophobia. The Muslim community in our country deserve an explanation and an apology.
Critics of the APPG’s definition have argued that it should not say that Islamophobia is rooted in racism. However, all the evidence proves otherwise. Home Office data reveals that referrals to Prevent for extreme right-wing ideology increased by 36% last year over the previous year. The ugly face of right-wing racism reared its head in the horrific Christchurch attacks—a sobering reminder of the dangers of Islamophobia.
Here in the UK, we have seen the chilling results of Islamophobia too: Mohammed Saleem was stabbed by an extreme right-wing racist who wanted to spark a race war in Britain; and Makram Ali died after Darren Osborne ran a van into a crowd of Muslims leaving late night prayers during Ramadan. Such examples frighteningly illustrate that Islamophobia can kill. If those acts of violence are not racism targeted at expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness, what are they? How can anyone claim that those attacks were not racist and that they did not target Muslims? However, they are not isolated occurrences. The recent Home Office hate crime statistics were also very telling. The data showed that 52% of religious hate crimes recorded by the police were against Muslims. With the European elections fast approaching, the rise of the extreme right wing has been deeply concerning, and the number of Islamophobic incidents indicates that action must be taken. The Government have failed to address and recognise this issue. Remaining silent only emboldens the nation’s Islamophobes.
Critics have argued that the APPG’s report undermines the Government’s counter-terrorism efforts. I find that claim utterly disappointing. Indeed, the claim itself serves to fuel suspicion and hostility towards Muslims. Through a leaked letter to the Prime Minister, it has been revealed that the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council has expressed concerns over the APPG’s definition. The APPG’s definition aims to tackle Islamophobia, which ranges from hate crimes to discriminatory outcomes in employment, and access to goods and services. The allegation that that definition will prevent police forces and authorities from doing their daily work is extremely dangerous and has real consequences. It looks at the Muslim community only through the lens of security. I strongly urge the Prime Minister to publish the letter. The Muslim population have genuine concerns over their safety and security following recent events. During this holy month of Ramadan, funding for security at places of worship will be vital and I welcome the steps taken by the Home Secretary.
Let us remind ourselves that the reason the APPG created this definition was the Government’s sheer reluctance to adopt a formal definition of Islamophobia in the first place. Whether we look at the evidence from the Ruby McGregor-Smith review or the review by my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, we are confronted with the fact that Islamophobia has damaging consequences for the life chances and equalities enjoyed by our British Muslim communities. The APPG’s inquiry was set up to do something about the nature and scale of Islamophobia and its impact on British Muslim communities—and doing something is what we, as the Labour party, are committed to.
I sincerely hope that this debate does not warrant a predictable and rehearsed response from the Government. The Government do not need to reinvent the wheel. This definition already has cross-party support and the confidence of hundreds of organisations. The Prime Minister claimed with such conviction that she condemns any form of discrimination and Islamophobia. I urge the Government to translate that conviction into action by adopting the definition.
The holy month of Ramadan marks one of the most sacred times for Muslims across the country and across the world. So let me start by wishing Members of this House, and others observing this period, Ramadan Kareem. I know that in the coming days many Members across the House will be attending iftars—events that bring people and communities together, and celebrate the values that we share and the diverse country that we are. As a country, we are stronger because of the contribution that British Muslims make at every level and in so many different ways. That is why it is right that we should celebrate and be proud of this rich diversity, and of how British Muslims make this country—our country—so special and a place that we all rightly call home.
So it is with regret, but also resolve, that I must turn to this debate focused on a subject that is the polar opposite of that shared drive for inclusion and understanding—confronting Islamophobia. Some of the examples that have been provided here today have been utterly shocking. At the heart of this debate is the intent to stand against those who would cause hatred or intimidation towards, or make threats against, our Muslim brothers and sisters, and the false narratives that underpin or give succour to this.
Hon. Members have commented on social media, the press, and other issues. It is right that we reflect on some of the powerful contributions that have been made.
I hope my hon. Friend will understand if I say that he has not been part of the debate and I am slightly tight on time.
I welcome the chance to respond to this debate. There have been a number of powerful and important contributions. As several Members acknowledged, the shadow of what happened in New Zealand just two months ago is inescapable—people murdered while at prayer, and so many lives devastated and tragically cut short. It was a senseless and shocking assault on New Zealand’s values of freedom, openness, democracy and decency—values that we all share. It was an act that I would describe as the epitome of evil. That is why it was right that as we grieved for those affected in mosques, synagogues, churches and other places of worship up and down the country, we reaffirmed our unity against all forms of hatred. We stood together with that sense of purpose against extremism and the false narratives that so often underpin it. We came together in love and solidarity, underlining not only our condemnation, in the strongest possible terms, of this attack, but the fact that all communities stand shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim brothers and sisters, because we know that an attack on one group is an attack on all of us. To persecute anybody because of their race and religion goes against everything I believe we stand for as a country and underlines the need to tackle this hatred head on and the need to do more.
That is why the Government have taken steps to ensure that, for the first time, police forces are required to disaggregate religious hate crime data, to allow us to better identify anti-Muslim hatred. As a number of Members have underlined, that data has sadly revealed that Muslims are a commonly targeted religious group, accounting for over half of religiously motivated hate crime, and that the number of all religiously motivated hate crimes has gone up by 40% from 2016-17 to 2017-18. It is utterly unacceptable and deeply troubling for our Muslim neighbours, colleagues and friends to be living in fear, as so many Members have described.
No one should feel unsafe while practising their religion. No one should feel unsafe living in their community. That is why we doubled the places of worship fund to £1.6 million, to physically protect mosques and other places of worship and reassure communities, and are making it easier for people to apply for the funding from July 2019. In addition, we have announced a new £5 million fund to provide security training for places of worship and a consultation on what more can be done to protect faith communities. There is nothing more important than keeping people safe and ensuring that they feel safe.
As well as doing more to protect vulnerable communities, we must get a firmer grip on the nature of the bigotry they face, which I believe means creating a formal definition of Islamophobia to strengthen that. I am grateful for the input of Members across the House and their work on this important issue and hope that today’s debate acts as a further step of progress. I note in particular the incredibly valuable work undertaken by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims to develop a definition of Islamophobia. I pay tribute to Wes Streeting and Anna Soubry for leading that work. I hope, as my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Grieve said in his foreword, that the APPG’s report
“can give all of us food both for thought and positive action.”
The APPG’s work makes an important and—I underline—serious contribution to how best to tackle bigotry, division and the pernicious narratives within our communities.
The issue of the definition was discussed at a roundtable on Islamophobia that I chaired on
The APPG definition, with the best of intent, does not yet meet those criteria, and further work and consideration are needed; I frame it in those terms. The proposal defines Islamophobia as “a type of racism”. I am in no doubt that racism forms a part of the bigotry that we need to confront, but combining race and religion within the definition causes legal and practical issues. As a starting point, it is not in line with the Equality Act 2010, which defines race as comprising colour, nationality and national or ethnic origins, none of which would necessarily encompass a Muslim or Islamic practice. There are potential consequences for freedom of speech. I recognise, as stated in the report, that that was not the intention behind the recommendation. There is also the issue of how we address sectarian hatred. I will reflect on how we can best respond to that, so that we are moving this issue forward.
It is clear that we must interrogate this complex issue further as matter of urgency. The Home Affairs Committee is undertaking a review into the issue, but the Government need to do more. That is why we will appoint two advisers. We will ensure that that reflects the need for community representation and drives the process forward, building on the important work already undertaken by the anti-Muslim hatred working group, and other bodies, which will remain central to our efforts to engage with Muslim communities. Our priority is to arrive swiftly at a collective position that strengthens our resolve when tackling anti-Muslim hatred and challenging the false narratives that underpin it, and we must reflect on and respond to the strength of feeling that we have heard in the House this afternoon.
I know there is more work to do, and we must do everything in our power to stand up for our diverse, tolerant and vibrant society. In so doing, we must stand up for our Muslim friends, and for all communities that face hatred and bigotry. In the immortal and incredibly powerful words of Jo Cox, there is so much more that unites us than divides us, and I hope that Members across the House will go forward in that spirit to make Islamophobia, and all forms of hate, a thing of the past.
This has been a wide-ranging and largely thoughtful debate, but the critical thing that people will now look to us for is action. We will engage seriously with the Secretary of State, as he has engaged seriously with our arguments. Clearly there are points of disagreement that we need to work through, not just as legislators but with communities up and down the country. I say gently, however, that as he goes about that work, he must do so with a degree of self-awareness about the Government’s position and the way that they are perceived among Muslim communities. I say with some reflection and humility from the Labour Benches, that I genuinely believe that the Government have no more credibility to define Islamophobia than the Labour party had to redefine antisemitism—that is how bad the politics of this place have sunk in the eyes of so many people up and down the country. I believe that we can and must make progress, and today’s debate has helped us start to do that with, as the Secretary of State said, some urgency.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the definition of Islamophobia.