Definition of Islamophobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:44 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Treasury) 2:44 pm, 16th May 2019

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.