Definition of Islamophobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:29 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings 1:29 pm, 16th May 2019

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.