Definition of Islamophobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:08 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North 1:08 pm, 16th May 2019

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.

On 15 March, a gunman walked into the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand and opened fire. During his killing spree there and at the Linwood Islamic Centre, 51 people were slaughtered in their place of worship for no reason other than that their killer had decided that their faith meant that they deserved to die.

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.