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 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.