Definition of Islamophobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:11 pm on 16th May 2019.

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Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 3:11 pm, 16th May 2019

I wholeheartedly congratulate the all-party group on British Muslims, my hon. Friend Wes Streeting and Anna Soubry on securing the debate. I also thank the 19 hon. Members who have spoken for their meaningful contributions.

The all-party group has worked tirelessly on creating this definition and done a brilliant job. The definition has widespread support across the community and the confidence of more than 750 organisations. It has been adopted by the Labour party, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the SNP, the Scottish Conservatives, and the Mayors of London and Greater Manchester, as well as by the National Union of Students and councils across the country. I want to applaud the aforementioned for taking this positive step. Defining and naming a problem is the first step to rooting it out.

As we enter the second week of Ramadan, I am humbled by the charitable deeds of the Muslim community across the country. This is a time for charity, reflection and community—values from which we can all greatly benefit. British Muslim charities raise, on average, £100 million during the month of Ramadan alone. It is therefore with great sadness that I must talk today about the growing problem of Islamophobia, which is apparent not only in the UK, but across Europe.

This Government have shown through their refusal to accept the definition proposed by the all-party group that they are in pure denial over Islamophobia. To add insult to injury, they cannot even bring themselves to use the term “Islamophobia”. How can the Government possibly deal with a problem that they cannot even name?

Cross-party calls for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative party, as well as calls from the Muslim community and key organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and even the Conservative Muslim Forum, continue to fall on politically deaf ears. What concerns me is that the Conservative party has an institutional problem. Recently it suspended close to 50 members over alleged Islamophobia. Why is it that the Conservative party attracts such individuals? If the problem is not institutional, what is the explanation?

I have written to the Conservative chairman three times about this issue, and I have also asked the Prime Minister on three occasions to adopt the definition and to undertake an independent inquiry into the Conservative party. Each time her answer has fallen disappointingly short. Those members who engage in Islamophobia are not reprimanded. Even worse, they are simply let back into the party. Jeff Potts, a councillor in Solihull, had shared a post on Twitter saying:

“Deport and repatriate all Muslims from the UK or watch terrorists kill innocent people for generations to come.”

But just two days ago, his suspension was quietly lifted. That sends a very loud and clear message that Islamophobia is acceptable. Sadly, responses from the Facebook supporters’ group of Mr Rees-Mogg to my statement about the Conservatives having a problem with Islamophobia include:

“There’s not enough Islamophobia”,

“I’m a proud Islamophobian”,

and

“Islam deserves all the hate it gets. Its earned it”.

There is a lack of transparency surrounding the way in which the Conservative party deals with Islamophobia. With its constant foot-dragging on the issue, we demand to know more about this process and how it works. How many complaints has the party received and how many members have been suspended?

The Roger Scruton story goes to the heart of the Conservatives’ problem with Islamophobia. The Labour party and key figures from the Conservative party expressed serious concerns over Roger Scruton. Despite his record of hateful and Islamophobic remarks, the Secretary of State defended him as a champion of free speech. Last month, the Government were finally forced to sack him, after he again made Islamophobic, antisemitic and homophobic comments. But why did the Secretary of State defend him? Why has Roger Scruton not been stripped of his knighthood? If the Secretary of State claims he carried out due diligence, why did these vile comments not ring alarm bells? Will the Secretary of State now apologise for having defended this Islamophobe and for keeping him in post for so long? The whole episode lays bare the profound lack of concern of the Conservative party and the Prime Minister about Islamophobia. The Muslim community in our country deserve an explanation and an apology.

Critics of the APPG’s definition have argued that it should not say that Islamophobia is rooted in racism. However, all the evidence proves otherwise. Home Office data reveals that referrals to Prevent for extreme right-wing ideology increased by 36% last year over the previous year. The ugly face of right-wing racism reared its head in the horrific Christchurch attacks—a sobering reminder of the dangers of Islamophobia.

Here in the UK, we have seen the chilling results of Islamophobia too: Mohammed Saleem was stabbed by an extreme right-wing racist who wanted to spark a race war in Britain; and Makram Ali died after Darren Osborne ran a van into a crowd of Muslims leaving late night prayers during Ramadan. Such examples frighteningly illustrate that Islamophobia can kill. If those acts of violence are not racism targeted at expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness, what are they? How can anyone claim that those attacks were not racist and that they did not target Muslims? However, they are not isolated occurrences. The recent Home Office hate crime statistics were also very telling. The data showed that 52% of religious hate crimes recorded by the police were against Muslims. With the European elections fast approaching, the rise of the extreme right wing has been deeply concerning, and the number of Islamophobic incidents indicates that action must be taken. The Government have failed to address and recognise this issue. Remaining silent only emboldens the nation’s Islamophobes.

Critics have argued that the APPG’s report undermines the Government’s counter-terrorism efforts. I find that claim utterly disappointing. Indeed, the claim itself serves to fuel suspicion and hostility towards Muslims. Through a leaked letter to the Prime Minister, it has been revealed that the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council has expressed concerns over the APPG’s definition. The APPG’s definition aims to tackle Islamophobia, which ranges from hate crimes to discriminatory outcomes in employment, and access to goods and services. The allegation that that definition will prevent police forces and authorities from doing their daily work is extremely dangerous and has real consequences. It looks at the Muslim community only through the lens of security. I strongly urge the Prime Minister to publish the letter. The Muslim population have genuine concerns over their safety and security following recent events. During this holy month of Ramadan, funding for security at places of worship will be vital and I welcome the steps taken by the Home Secretary.

Let us remind ourselves that the reason the APPG created this definition was the Government’s sheer reluctance to adopt a formal definition of Islamophobia in the first place. Whether we look at the evidence from the Ruby McGregor-Smith review or the review by my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, we are confronted with the fact that Islamophobia has damaging consequences for the life chances and equalities enjoyed by our British Muslim communities. The APPG’s inquiry was set up to do something about the nature and scale of Islamophobia and its impact on British Muslim communities—and doing something is what we, as the Labour party, are committed to.

I sincerely hope that this debate does not warrant a predictable and rehearsed response from the Government. The Government do not need to reinvent the wheel. This definition already has cross-party support and the confidence of hundreds of organisations. The Prime Minister claimed with such conviction that she condemns any form of discrimination and Islamophobia. I urge the Government to translate that conviction into action by adopting the definition.