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

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.