Definition of Islamophobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:04 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Fair Work and Employment) 3:04 pm, 16th May 2019

The debate has been excellent, and it is a pleasure to follow Anna Soubry, who explained the work of the all-party group. My good friend Wes Streeting led the debate quite superbly.

I am proud to represent a diverse parliamentary constituency. As Imran Hussain said, the Muslim faith is one of peace, love and charity, and that is my experience of the Muslim community in Glasgow South West. We have the Scottish Police Muslim Association, alongside the Glasgow South West food bank, which provides a community kitchen once a month to help the most vulnerable in our society by providing them with a hot meal. We have many charitable organisations, including the Crookston Community Group, and many of them are led by those of the Muslim faith, who are doing great work throughout the community.

The all-party group’s report “Islamophobia Defined” proposes the following working definition:

“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

I did not quite understand some of the criticisms of the report or the definition, which has come about as a result of a six-month inquiry. As we have heard, that inquiry took evidence from academics, lawyers, victims groups and British Muslim organisations, and included input from Member of the Scottish Parliament Anas Sarwar, who is chair of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on tackling Islamophobia, along with the Scottish Ahlul Bayt Society, one of the officer-bearers of which is my good friend Shabir Beg.

All that input has gone into looking at a definition, and as we have heard that definition has been endorsed by the Muslim Council of Britain, British Muslims for Secular Democracy, the Muslim Women’s Network and the Edinburgh central mosque in Scotland. The Labour party, the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru have adopted the definition, as has the Scottish National party Westminster group. We are now going to feed that into our internal party structures so that the definition can be adopted at our next conference. It seems to me that a lot of serious work, thought, input and discussion has gone into the definition.

Several comments were made about hate crimes. The Scottish Government’s publication “Religiously aggravated offending in Scotland” has figures on the proportion of charges for offences that relate to Islamophobia. In 2010-11, there were 15 charges that were defined as Islamophobia, and that number rose to 115 in 2017-18. The number of charges in relation to other offences peaked in 2015-16, when there were 134 charges, of which 57 were recorded during one incident involving a march in Glasgow. It should be noted that the police in Scotland do not record the religion of the victims of religiously aggravated offences, so the data has been derived by analysing police reports and is based on the details of the incident and what the accused said and did. As such, the figures presented on the targeted religion should not necessarily be regarded as definitive.

We are deeply concerned about the growing levels of Islamophobia and other forms of intolerance seen recently not just in the UK, but around the world. Islamophobia is a real, lived experience, as confirmed by a 2018 ComRes poll that found that 58% of people thought that Islamophobia was a real problem in today’s society. A poll of 1,000 Muslims conducted by ComRes for BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme in 2015 found that 46% of Muslims felt that prejudice against Islam makes it very difficult to be a Muslim in this country. Others have mentioned the despicable terrorist attack in Christchurch in New Zealand, which is a grave reminder of what Islamophobia can become if it is left unchallenged.

We need to provide a vision of a nation free from fear, prejudice and discrimination, and we should all continue to work for that. As I outlined, I am proud to represent a constituency that, like many others throughout Scotland and the UK, has a vibrant and dynamic Muslim community who play a valuable role in our society and strengthen our interfaith relationships.

The SNP Westminster Group considered the definition very carefully and decided to adopt it. The all-party definition was arrived at following a careful and robust process and wide consultation with the Muslim community. That is important and it is why we should give this definition our support today.

On Islamophobic comments by politicians, I listened very carefully to the hon. Member for Bradford West and agreed with what she said. She reminded us that we all have a duty and a responsibility to be careful about what we say and to make sure that what we are saying is not intolerant or incendiary. Of course, the former Foreign Secretary’s remarks about Muslim women were cited in the APPG report. Those remarks were utterly inexcusable and should be called out for what they were. We should not stand by and expect dog-whistle Islamophobia. I have to say that the Conservative party really must stand firm against such grotesquely offensive and intentional comments, or risk normalising toxic and bigoted rhetoric. At a time when political discourse is alienating many, we all must consider the language that we use and reject intolerance.

It has been a pleasure to speak in the debate and to support the all-party group’s definition of Islamophobia.