Definition of Islamophobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:54 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Independent, Broxtowe 2:54 pm, 16th May 2019

It is a great honour to follow Lyn Brown. I agree with everything that she, every other Opposition speaker and Mr Grieve have said.

I hope that the Secretary of State has listened to all the speeches made in support of the definition and that he will take away from them the following. The fact is that if the Conservative party is to understand why proportionately more people from black and ethnic minority communities voted for Trump in America than voted Conservative in 2017, it has to examine the reaction to this report and read in Hansard the speech of Sir John Hayes, who I am sorry is no longer in his place. On his basis, the report has been dismissed for no other reason than that the chairs of the APPG are white liberals. Well, I am proud to be called a white, small “l” liberal, and I am even more proud to have helped form this report. I played a very small part in it. Wes Streeting played a considerable part in bringing it all together, and I am sure he will agree that the report was driven by Baroness Warsi, a member and former chair of the Conservative party. Those are interesting and valid points.

I speak as a former barrister. As a barrister, I was taught to look at the evidence. I am not a Muslim and, as it happens, there are very few Muslims in my constituency. The hon. Member for Ilford North is not a Muslim either. He has told us about his own faith, and I have no faith. The fact is that we have absolutely no stake in any of this. We are not from that community, but we are open-hearted and open-minded, and I hope that others will think that that has contributed to what we have done.

We listened. This report, which I am so proud of—it is one of the things I am most proud of in my nine years in this place—is based on the evidence of British Muslims. Unfortunately, too many of them live every day with prejudice, intolerance and Islamophobia. That is their lives. It is what defines them and that cannot be right—it is wrong. We have to stop talking about it and start acting and we begin that action to eradicate Islamophobia, which is rising in our society, by defining it. That is the right thing to do, even though on a previous occasion, as Naz Shah reminded us, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Victoria Atkins, said that the Government’s view was that we did not need a definition. I am pleased that the Government now accept that we need a definition. I say to the Secretary of State that it is here, in this report.

We went into this with absolutely no fixed views whatsoever—none at all. Month after month, we took evidence from individual Muslims and community groups that represent real British Muslims with real-life experiences. We also broadened the process out to politicians. For example, Liam Byrne was one of our best witnesses. He is not a Muslim but he talked about his experiences as a Member of Parliament. The issue has been close to his heart for many years. We also spoke to academics.

We gathered the evidence and then we sat down and tried to work out a definition. I was in the Conservative party at the time and wrote in an email, “Islamophobia is racism”. It is racist—that is its root. That is what it is about. I think there was a universal sense of shock among the group that I had come to that conclusion. Obviously, the hon. Member for Ilford North came to the same conclusion. When we look at the evidence and understand where academic thought has got to, we see that of course Islamophobia is rooted in racism and it is racism.

We then had a discussion, which the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield began to discuss. It was one of the best debates in a group that I have ever attended. I am so sorry he is not in his place, but he would agree that he was cynical about saying that this was rooted in racism—and rightly so because many people would be. But he sat and listened and we had this rigorous, brilliant debate with young Muslim academics, older Muslim academics, other academics and many others who have studied this, and he was convinced. I gently say to the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings that it is extraordinary for him to criticise this report, which I doubt he has read, based on a breakfast and then another report, which Naz Shah and others have so rightly utterly demolished. Read this report and understand why we have come to these conclusions.

If I wanted to know about racism, I would be more likely to listen to Mr Lammy; given that he is a black British man, I think he might know a little more about racism than the right hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings. If I want to know about race and what racism is, I am again going to turn to the right hon. Member for Tottenham because he clearly knows a darn sight more about it, not because of the colour of his skin, but because he has actually done some research and has listened to the academics and many others. He understands, among other things, the root of the word “racism”, as the right hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield does. It is a fascinating lesson in history to understand how “racism” emerged as a word. what it meant and how it has developed, not just over decades, but over centuries.