Tackling Islamophobia

– in the House of Commons at 12:59 pm on 7 December 2023.

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Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Labour, Bradford West 12:59, 7 December 2023

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the matter of tackling Islamophobia.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to this general debate on tackling Islamophobia. I also thank the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, and particularly its co-chairs, my hon. Friend Sarah Owen and Paul Bristow, for their continued work to push this debate and for their ongoing efforts to tackle Islamophobia. It must be noted, however, that Members of this House have, over several years, repeatedly requested that Government time be granted to debate such a pertinent issue, but those calls have fallen on deaf ears. The Minister will no doubt tell us that the Government take this issue seriously. Oh, the gaslighting.

I assure all those listening to this debate, who might not really understand the issue, that when Muslim communities speak up on the issue of Islamophobia, we are not looking for preferential treatment. In fact, quite the opposite. We are asking for equal treatment, free of discrimination, injustice and hatred.

In the US, the Biden Administration have formed an inter-agency working group to counter rising levels of Islamophobia. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has appointed the first ever special representative on combating Islamophobia to advise the federal Government. The United Nations designated 15 March as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia, following the General Assembly’s acceptance of a resolution proposed by the 60 Muslim member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. And yet, despite all this—despite the US, Canada, the UN, 60 Muslim nations around the world and almost every mainstream Muslim organisation in the UK, and Muslims more generally, defining the experience as Islamophobic—our Government refuse even to call it Islamophobia. Internationally, Governments are standing up to this dangerous, insidious threat to our communities but, here in the UK, this Government are shamefully still playing with semantics.

According to the latest statistics, there has been a 600% rise in Islamophobic incidents here in the UK, including both verbal and physical abuse as well as vandalism, such as the dumping of a pig’s head at a proposed mosque in the market town of Barnoldswick. That is not all that is happening when it comes to Islamophobia. The recorded incidents are just a snapshot of a picture that is much uglier than any stats can paint. Make no mistake, Islamophobia is an entire industry.

The reality is that Islamophobia has become an acceptable prejudice. In fact, you can openly spout Islamophobia and nobody, neither politicians nor journalists, will even bat an eyelid. Sadly, almost no one will speak up or challenge it. In fact, you can be a former adviser to a Prime Minister and the current Conservative parliamentary candidate for West Suffolk and advocate for special laws just to deal with Muslims, including: creating a register of imams and mosques; closing down mosques, Muslim charities and Muslim TV stations; and banning the burqa and the hijab in schools. You can call for a whole legal structure to deal with those Muslims, as if they are a specific problem. And guess what? You can continue to be a Conservative party member and prospective parliamentary candidate without any consequences.

You can suggest that Muslim culture is inherently in

“the grip of a death cult that sacralises bloodshed” and a week later, without any apology, be invited on to platforms such as “Question Time” as a key guest. You can also say that Muslims “are not like us” and are a “nation within a nation”, sowing the seeds of division and hate without ever retracting those statements, never mind apologising for the hurt they have caused to communities. And guess what? You can get a regular slot as a presenter on a mainstream news channel.

You can even be an open Islamophobe like Douglas Murray, who calls for conditions for Muslims in Europe to be made harder across the board, and be platformed by The Daily Telegraph and The Jewish Chronicle, and—wait for this one—even be defended at the Dispatch Box by the then Home Secretary.

On the one hand, under the banner of free speech, you can say pretty much anything about Muslims and Islam and still occupy a mainstream space. On the other hand, when thousands of people use their democratic right to protest and raise their voice to call for a cease- fire in Gaza and to support the Palestinian cause, they are labelled as “hate marchers” and “terrorist sympathisers.” Even the Prime Minister joined the former Home Secretary in aiding that dog-whistle politics.

This is no surprise to British Muslims, because we all know that this Government have made Islamophobia the central piece in their manufactured culture war to deflect from their incompetence and their failure to govern this nation. As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Only in the last hour we have heard the shocking revelation from Rehman Chishti, who is a former Minister and a former vice-chair of the Conservative party, that the PM has “written off” engagement with Muslim communities and does not take Islamophobia as seriously as other forms of racism. He has gone further by saying that the Prime Minister is paying “lip service” to tackling hatred against Muslims.

Despite everything that British Muslims are facing, I cannot remember the last time a Prime Minister or a Home Secretary visited a mosque to show a gesture of support to British Muslim communities. The failure to support British Muslim communities at a time when they are worried about attacks, and at a time when the Government’s own hate crime reporting centre has seen a 600% rise in attacks, shows that the problem goes right to the heart of Government. Not only Labour MPs are saying that; Conservative MPs are concerned, too. The hypocrisy and the disparity in behaviour from the Government stinks.

British Muslim communities want a level playing field so that they are equally part of modern Britain, of building our economy, building our NHS, building our businesses and entrepreneurship, and building Britain to be the best nation in the world. British Muslims know and understand that if Britain succeeds, they and their families succeed. I want people across society to understand that when all communities, including British Muslims, succeed, Britain succeeds—we all succeed.

The success we should have is hindered by the racism faced by Muslim communities across Britain today. Nobody is asking for exceptional treatment. They are simply asking for parity. If the Government can allow other communities to define the prejudice and hatred that impact them, why can they not allow British Muslim communities to define Islamophobia? If the Government can engage with mainstream organisations from other communities, why do they pursue a policy of non-engagement with mainstream Muslim organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain?

If, at a time when antisemitism is on a sharp rise, the Chancellor can rightfully announce an extra £7 million of funding in the autumn statement to tackle it, why, at a time when Islamophobia is also rising, did he refuse to announce a single penny of extra support for British Muslim communities in the same statement? If the Government can have a working independent adviser on antisemitism, why, three and a half years after the announcement of an independent adviser on Islamophobia, have they been unable to appoint one or to take the role forward? I hope the Minister is making notes, because I expect a response to every single one of these disparities.

Where I come from, you cannot be a bit pregnant—you are either pregnant or you are not. You are either on the side of equality or you are not. In the same vein, you either stand up for human rights or you do not. The problem for this Government is that they choose when they want to be pregnant. They never actually see the pregnancy through to full term, which is why they have never given birth to a serious policy, let alone nurtured a policy to drive a change that helps Britain to reach its full potential as a country.

Madam Deputy Speaker, if you will allow me to indulge my curiosity, I am eager to know, four years after announcing an adviser, announcing a working definition of Islamophobia and announcing that they take anti-Muslim hatred so seriously, what progress the Government have actually made in responding to the urgency they insisted upon. Moreover, what does the Minister understand Islamophobia to be? I would be happy to give way to her if she would like to explain—that deafening silence allows Islamophobia, in all its pernicious forms, to thrive.

According to Home Office statistics, hate crimes targeting Muslims rose by 25% last year, making Muslims the most targeted religious group. Almost half of religiously motivated attacks were against Muslims, a trend that has stayed consistent for the last six years. Every year these statistics are released, and every year there is zero action taken by the Government. What is worse is refusing to call out Islamophobia. Sticking to the term “anti-Muslim hatred” recognises the consequences once an attack, assault or physical or verbal abuse has taken place, but it denies Islamophobia, so nothing is ever done to treat the cause. Instead, we respond only to the symptoms. This means that we recognise the murder of 81-year-old Mushin Ahmed from Rotherham, but we do nothing to challenge the radicalisation that influenced his killers, who called him a “groomer”, stamped on his head and beat that innocent grandfather to death as he returned from his early-morning prayers. It means that, on the one hand, we call out his murder and that, on the other hand, we allow mainstream voices, including those of many in this House and some who were previously in government, to perpetuate far-right conspiracies about Muslim grooming gangs, contradicting evidence from the Home Office’s own inquiry.

People do not just wake up and decide to commit acts of terror against Muslims. They do not just attack a mosque one day to commit criminal damage. They do not just randomly pull someone’s hijab or whack a hijab-wearing Muslim woman over the head because they are violent people. They do these things because they are radicalised by Islamophobic conspiracies that go unchallenged.

In the same manner, this issue is not just about hate; it is about the prejudice and racism faced by British Muslims. A newspaper investigation has shown that if someone simply changes their name to Mohammed from John Smith, while keeping all the other details the same, their car insurance could cost them another £1,000. Other research has shown that CVs with Muslim-sounding names are three times less likely to result in an interview.

We see the same disparities across the board in healthcare, business and society. These acts of prejudice and clearcut racism are not necessarily acts of hate, but the unwillingness to accept Islamophobia and the willingness to accept only anti-Muslim hate mean that no one is able to understand those disparities or to challenge that injustice. How can we define something we do not even understand?

That is why members of the Muslim community are not surprised by the alarming rise of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crimes. They see the everyday micro-aggressions throughout society. They see how people can say things on the media about Muslims, and how they can fuel hatred against them in a way that no one would accept with any other community, but still maintain the cloak of respectability in mainstream spaces.

Many people now fear for their children’s future in Britain, and those who can afford to do so are leaving. Some of the brightest, most intelligent minds, including our best doctors, engineers, bankers and traders, who can help to rebuild Britain, transform our economy and support our NHS, and who love Britain and are British, are looking to resettle due to fears of what will happen as things get worse.

That is why I say to the Government that Muslim communities are not asking for special treatment. They simply see the Government’s own recorded statistics on attacks against Muslims rising each year. They see their Government’s inaction and unwillingness to take control. They see, on the one hand, how things are becoming worse and, on the other hand, how they are being patronised and gaslit by a Government who will not even call Islamophobia what it is.

The Government’s inaction has directly or indirectly allowed Islamophobia to become institutionalised, embedded and even normalised across society. In China, there are Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps being forced to eat pork and drink alcohol, while Muslim women are being forced to marry non-Muslim men. In Myanmar, we have seen the genocidal campaign to wipe out Rohingya Muslim communities, with more than 25,000 killed and almost 1 million refugees fleeing to Cox’s Bazar. In Modi’s India, with extremist groups such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, we see an environment ripe for pogroms against Muslims. At this moment, we are witnessing collective punishment being endured by the people of Gaza. With the horrors of Srebrenica in living memory, the road map of inaction and growing far-right narratives, it is all too clear to Muslim communities where we could be heading.

My warning to the Government is that, if we do not act now, Muslims in this country might also face a Christchurch-style terrorist attack. The recent election of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands should worry us. Fringe, extreme views enter the mainstream when they are left unchecked. We can tackle this rising tide of hate only when good people speak up, when we become upstanders and not bystanders, and when we agree and openly believe that Muslims also matter.

If Governments such as mine can call out the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in China and can implement sanctions, how can they be so silent or offer only empty words when international law is brazenly and openly ignored by an ally nation? True justice takes brave conversations, because it means speaking truth to power, whether it is to a friend or anybody else.

For that reason, I recently accompanied my local dean, Andy Bowerman from Bradford cathedral, on a visit to Jaranwala in Pakistan with Islamic Relief—a Muslim charity for which I am an ambassador. I met Christian communities and provided them with aid and support following the religious persecution they have faced. As a Muslim of Pakistan/Kashmiri heritage, I felt it was my duty to support these minority communities facing persecution. Among the many stories I heard, the one that struck me the most was about how their Muslim neighbours stood between them and their attackers as their lives were put in danger—an act of bravery, courage and solidarity. I mention that because people do not expect everyone to fix their problems, but one thing that does give them hope in the darkest of days is the real sense of solidarity they receive from others who stand with them. Let us stand together and challenge all injustice equally.

My ask to the Minister is simple: will she today announce any new solutions and policies that the Government will act on to help tackle Islamophobia? The debate on the APPG definition of Islamophobia is over. Islamophobia has been defined. That boat sailed five years ago. When will the Minister and the Government adopt the definition?

Three and a half years ago, at the same time as they announced an adviser on antisemitism, the Government announced an adviser on Islamophobia. Three and a half years later, there is rightly still an adviser on anti- semitism, so why are the Government not taking seriously, and recruiting somebody for, the role of Islamophobia adviser? Given the rising levels of Islamophobia across society—this is much like what we saw with the announcements in the autumn statement—what new funding will the Minister announce to enable us to tackle deep-rooted Islamophobia?

There are good colleagues here on both sides of the Chamber, and from all parties, calling out Islamophobia and the Government’s failures. If the Minister does not provide answers and solutions today but prefers to use her time at the Dispatch Box to further gaslight British Muslim communities, that will once again signal to them that the Government will do nothing to challenge the Islamophobia they face and will signal to wider society that there is a hierarchy in racism. Although inaction may mean nothing to the Government, the danger of not acting would, sadly, be felt by British Muslims. Taking no decision is also a decision.

Photo of Paul Bristow Paul Bristow Conservative, Peterborough 1:16, 7 December 2023

Before I start my remarks, I direct Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial interests. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Sara Britcliffe, who was supposed to co-sponsor the debate. We work closely together on this issue, and I pay tribute to her and her constituents. She has a large and vibrant Muslim community—a community she cares deeply about. As in many constituencies up and down the country, communities in Hyndburn are particularly concerned about the impact of the conflict in Gaza, which has seen a rise in Islamophobia, but which is, above all, taking an awful toll on innocent civilians. I know that my hon. Friend is making, and will continue to make, every effort to represent her constituents on that issue at this challenging time.

Last month was Islamophobia Awareness Month. I spoke to an audience at an event organised in my constituency by the Joint Mosques Council, and I pay tribute to Abdul Choudhuri, its chair, for putting on that event. I also pay tribute to the Muslim Council of Peterborough, which is chaired by Mohammad Ayub Choudry. At that event, I told a story, which I will tell again. In the summer of 2019, in the run-up to the by-election, where I came a stunning third, I was knocking on doors and I knocked on the door of a gentleman called Amir Suleman. He said to me, “Paul, I want to know your view on the all-party parliamentary group definition of Islamophobia.” I looked at him rather blankly; I did not know what to say—I did not have much to say at all. I vaguely knew that the issue was being discussed, but I had no in-depth knowledge about it, and I felt ashamed. I was seeking to represent thousands and thousands of Muslim constituents, and I knew nothing about the APPG definition that he had contributed to and that mattered so much to many members of the community and to the constituents I sought to represent.

What did I do about it? I promised Amir there and then that I would further my knowledge and become involved in the APPG, should I win the election. Following two or three rather embarrassing interviews on Salaam Radio, and having become the Member of Parliament for Peterborough, I am proud to stand with Sarah Owen as the co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims. Amir Suleman challenged me, and he was right to do so. He is my friend, and I am proud to represent him.

As we heard from Naz Shah, the APPG definition is solid and sound, and the Government should adopt it. They did decide to produce their own working definition, but they are still without an adviser to replace the one who, sadly, was removed from that position, and they seem to have got themselves into a difficult situation. They do not seem to know what to do about this, and I hope the Minister will tell me what she is going to do about it, but let me suggest a solution: they should adopt the APPG definition, which they could have done many years ago. We do not have to go through this any more. The APPG definition has been adopted by many different people and organisations, and if the Government adopted it, their problems would be solved instantly.

However, I do not want to talk only about negative aspects of the Muslim community. I want to talk about some positive aspects, because Peterborough would not be Peterborough without that community. I am proud of some of the APPG’s reports since I have been involved in it, because they show not just the challenges faced by Muslims but the contribution that their communities make to this country. I am proud of the fact that Muslims contribute £31 billion to the UK economy, and anyone who visits Peterborough will find the signs of that are not hard to see. Some of the wealthiest people in Peterborough are Muslims. They are entrepreneurs, they set up businesses, and they have done fantastically well in contributing to Peterborough’s economy. When it comes to charitable giving and going the extra mile, the Muslim community do that in spades. I do not know for certain, but I would bet a dinner at one of the top restaurants in Peterborough that the time when the largest amount is raised for charity in my city is Ramadan. Millions of pounds are raised and go to good causes. That is just one example of the contribution that Muslims make, not just in Peterborough but throughout the country. One of the APPG’s reports, “Faith as the Fourth Emergency Service”, draws attention to that charitable contribution to good causes in the UK.

The contribution of this community has never been seen more clearly than during the covid pandemic. We have many different communities in Peterborough, and many different faiths. We believe different things, we speak different languages, and we come from different parts of the world. However, when it came to supporting one another and supporting the vulnerable, we in Peterborough came together as one city. That showed what a contribution Muslim communities, and others, can make when the country is facing an emergency.

Many Members, including the hon. Member for Bradford West today, have talked about the challenges that Muslims have faced—insidious and often silent forms of Islamophobia involving, for instance, car insurance and being asked to pay more for services. I see this all the time in Peterborough. A friend of mine, a Muslim Conservative councillor, often changes his name to an English-sounding one when trying to buy a house in order to get a foot in the door, but when he goes to view the house, he is told, “Actually, it has already been sold.” That has happened to him on a number of occasions, and it is an example of everyday Islamophobia. We cannot turn a blind eye to it; we must call it out when we see it, and we see it all too often.

In preparation for the debate, I asked my constituents—through my Facebook page, whose followers are 11,000-strong—to tell me about their experiences of Islamophobia. Let me read out a few of their responses. The first is from Kaoru Miyake, who wrote:

“Islamophobia comes from ignorance, stereo type and fear of unknown. Ordinary Muslims have no connection to Hamas, ISIS or other terrorist groups.”

All too often, she suggested, it was assumed that they did have such a connection, and I fear that she is right. Suzette Weston, who, obviously, is not a Muslim, wrote:

“It is easier for ignorant people to call all Muslims terrorists than to take the time to understand a vast majority are just loving family people.”

I entirely agree with her. Ahmed, another constituent, wrote:

“There must be a strong campaign to unite and educate the public on the issues of islamophobia and anti-Semitism, and how the conflicts we are seeing today” arise from ignorance. I could not have put it better myself. These are ordinary people, and I often find that if I ask ordinary people in my constituency for their views, they respond in their droves with common-sense observations.

Let me, for a moment, talk in my capacity as a Conservative MP. When I campaign in my constituency—when I knock on doors and speak to constituents— I find that the values of Muslims are values that I share, as a Conservative. They are entrepreneurs; they believe in low tax, in family values and in strong communities. If we were able to talk about international issues in an empathetic and understanding way, if we were able to understand what the death or persecution of a Muslim means, anywhere in the world—whether it happens next door, or in Kashmir, Gaza or Myanmar—we could lead the Muslim community in this country. If we could do that, my party would probably receive many more votes from a community that has sometimes been seen, shamelessly, as a vote bank for the Labour party. If we were able to get our language right, we would reap the rewards.

Having talked about international situations, I now want to talk briefly about the ongoing conflict in Gaza. We have seen an increase in antisemitism, obviously, but also an increase in Islamophobia as a result of that conflict. The revulsion that ordinary Muslims in places such as Peterborough feel about the deaths of innocent people in Gaza, and about the people who are suffering collective punishment for the crimes of Hamas— people who have done nothing wrong, but are seeing their homes being destroyed and bombs landing on their homes and in their communities—cannot be overstated. Thousands, undoubtedly, have died, and many buildings have been destroyed. I struggle to understand how any of this makes Israel any safer.

We need a permanent ceasefire in Gaza. I wrote to the Prime Minister about this some time ago, and my feelings are exactly the same now. We gave peace a chance when we had a temporary truce. More than 80 hostages were released, and the bombings stopped. We need to give peace a chance permanently.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Labour, Hammersmith 1:28, 7 December 2023

I am grateful to the all-party parliamentary group for British Muslims for reminding me before the debate that mine is the constituency with the 77th largest number of Muslims. They constitute about 13.5% of the population there—about 16,000 people. To put that in context, the Muslim population in my constituency is itself hugely diverse and has communities from Africa, Asia, the middle east and indeed from Europe. That is within a constituency where almost half the total population was born outside the UK. It is a very liberal and very tolerant constituency, and I have always been extremely proud to represent it and to live there in the heart of the community.

Unfortunately, however, even in normal times there are significant numbers of hate crimes. I am shocked that, nationally, 44% of all hate crimes are committed against Muslims. I am shocked that 42% of mosques have experienced some form of attack over the last three years. We have had incidents where women going about their ordinary business have had their headscarves pulled off and been abused. There is a great deal of what one might call casual—though by no means trivial—racism where, in the context of the neighbourly disputes that we all deal with as MPs, people’s religion is brought up, often from a position of entire ignorance. I am struck by the fact that quite a lot of non-Muslims are also subject to Islamophobic abuse, presumably on the grounds of their ethnicity.

Complacency is the enemy here; we need to educate people as much as we can, but we also need to punish people, and I am sure that all hon. Members present are working with their local police on tackling Islamophobia and hate crime. It is also the case that Muslim communities, who often are disproportionately in poor housing, suffering from poverty and other forms of injustice and living in overcrowded and damp conditions, are neglected and do not get their fair share of resources.

One particular type of discrimination is the lack of prayer space and community space. For many Muslim communities, the mosque is not just a place of prayer and worship, but an educational, social and cultural hub. Particularly in areas such as London, where land and property are hugely expensive, that is made very difficult. We live in straitened times but, through the lottery and other money, there is potential to provide that. However, increasingly I see Muslim communities not having the resources that they should have and being discriminated against in that way.

If that is the position in normal times, unfortunately the times we live in are worse than that because of the international situation. I will not go into detail, because the matter will be subject to the courts in due course, but an individual was arrested about 10 days ago for a series of attacks, over a period of a month or so, on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses in west London. I have visited the major local mosques in my constituency, in White City and Shepherd’s Bush, and I am pleased to say that they have not been victims, but Acton mosque and other mosques in the area have suffered repeated and regular attacks to their premises.

In addition—this is of particular concern to me—the Palestinian mission was attacked on a number of occasions. Death threats were issued and there were attacks on property owned by the mission staff. I am very proud to have the Palestinian mission in Hammersmith, but there is an irony here that, because of the failure to recognise Palestine as a state, the mission lacks diplomatic status. Everybody refers to Dr Husam Zomlot, whom many of us know as the fantastic representative of Palestine in the UK, as “the ambassador”, and to the mission as “the embassy”, but it has been brought home to me very significantly that that is not the case.

I have written several times to the commander responsible for diplomatic protection, asking that diplomatic protection be granted to the mission, particularly at this difficult time and particularly when it has suffered a series—not one, but a series—of criminal damage attacks. I have not had a response to those letters. I know that my right hon. Friends the shadow Home Secretary and the shadow Foreign Secretary have also written to their counterparts raising those concerns, so they have been raised at the most senior level. It is frankly outrageous, when tensions are running so high and when any embassy of any other country would receive full diplomatic protection, that that is not being granted. The Palestinian mission represents all Palestinians irrespective of religion, but there is undoubtedly an Islamophobic element in the flavour of the attacks that have taken place.

I have said that the enemy here is complacency. We must take Islamophobia seriously. We must at all times be aware that its impact on our community is significant in people’s everyday lives. That is equally true of anti- semitism and other forms of hatred based on race, religion and other protected characteristics; it is an insidious and a growing part of our society, but it is disproportionately affecting Muslim communities. Even in the most liberal and tolerant parts of our community, that is a feature that we must resist. I hope that the Minister responds to this debate not just with warm words but with action, funding and a real determination to take Islamophobia seriously, because it is a constant and ever-present threat within many of our communities.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am not going to put a time limit on speeches, but, looking at the clock and given that 10 colleagues wish to speak in addition to the Front Benchers, I think it would be helpful and a courtesy to others if speeches were confined to around eight minutes, bearing in mind that there is another debate to follow this one.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham 1:36, 7 December 2023

It is a real pleasure to speak in this debate. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I speak in this debate from a number of different perspectives, but before I commence I want to pay tribute to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing this debate to take place.

From 2019 to 2020, I was the United Kingdom Prime Minister’s special envoy for international freedom of religion or belief for all. I advocated and engaged with people from all across Parliament in an inclusive manner to ensure that the UK stood by and stood up for international freedom of religion or belief for all. That meant taking forward the Bishop of Truro’s report as a top priority for the Foreign Office and the Prime Minister at that time.

That report meant the UK ensuring that we stood up for international freedom of religion and belief for all faiths. During my time in office, working with the United States, we set up a 27-member international alliance of states working together to advance international freedom of religion or belief for all. We then signed off on the UK hosting an international summit on international freedom of religion or belief. During covid-19, we saw the real challenge of people around the world being targeted for their faith or belief. There was a real increase in antisemitism, in Islamophobia and in anti-Christian hatred, and we saw that across the board. I referred to that in the Westminster Hall debate when I stepped down from that role in 2020.

Having advocated, as a former UK special envoy, for international freedom of religion or belief all around the world being a top priority of the United Kingdom Government, for other countries around the world doing the right thing and for ensuring that people are treated fairly and equally, I then have to ask myself what the situation is in the UK regarding intolerance and hatred towards faith communities across the board. This debate is about Islamophobia, which some term anti-Muslim hatred.

Tell MAMA, an organisation funded by the Government, says that its latest figures demonstrate a sevenfold increase in incidents of anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia. According to independent Home Office figures on the faith communities that receive the largest amount of hate, in 2022-23, 44% of incidents were against the Muslim community, and 19% were against the Jewish community. In 2020-21, 45% of incidents were against the Muslim community, and 22% were against the Jewish community. In 2019-20, 50% of incidents of faith-based hate and intolerance were against the Muslim community, and 19% were against the Jewish community. Year after year, those two faith communities have experienced the largest amount of hate and intolerance. That is unacceptable. According to the Community Security Trust, intolerance, hatred and antisemitism against the Jewish community is exceptionally high. That is unacceptable.

Policymakers and Governments must act to challenge intolerance and hate against all faith communities in a fair and inclusive manner. That is why, at Prime Minister’s questions last week, I asked the Prime Minister about the unacceptable rise in intolerance and hate against two faith communities. In the autumn statement, the Government announced £7 million in funding to tackle antisemitism, and they were absolutely right to do that. They also provided £3 million in October after the horrific, barbaric terrorist act in Israel, carried out by the terrorist organisation Hamas. The impact of that on antisemitism in the UK was shocking, and the Government’s response was right and proper. I hope the Minister can answer my question, because the Prime Minister has not, nor has he spoken to me since I raised it with him: why was there no funding to tackle anti-Muslim hatred in the autumn statement?

I spoke to the Prime Minister in his office during the leadership contest about engaging with the Muslim community in an inclusive manner across the board, knowing the different challenges. He said that he was committed to that, and that we would work together on it. I am waiting to see the Prime Minister to this day. I have been a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Minister, an envoy and an MP; when I give my word, I honour it. If someone cannot honour their word, they should not give it, in any area of life.

Naz Shah raised an interesting point about the question I asked the Prime Minister: why do the Government not have an independent adviser on Islamophobia? Why has that role been left vacant for more than a year? A 2019 Guardian article that I have here reports that, in one of her last acts as Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mrs May appointed John Mann to the Government post of independent adviser on antisemitism. As a former British envoy for religious freedom, I worked with him in the other place. He does a terrific job. My right hon. Friend also appointed Qari Asim as the independent adviser on Islamophobia. He was in office for one year. He told me that he was never given any terms of reference by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. He was removed from office in 2022, and there has been no action to appoint another independent adviser.

I pay tribute to our former adviser on Islamophobia. I have here a document that reads:

“Faith leaders write a prayer for Holocaust Memorial Day 2020”.

The faith leaders were His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi and Imam Qari Asim. He was good enough to write that prayer and to work with faith leaders, and we must acknowledge his work. There may have been a difference in policy with the Government, but an independent adviser should advise independently.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Labour, Bradford West

The hon. Member is making an interesting point. Does he accept that the yardstick applied to things that Muslims say is different? Islamophobia has become an acceptable, respectable form of racism across society, and it has been emboldened by people who do not challenge it. Is it not true that Qari Asim was measured with a different yardstick?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

Qari Asim worked with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief Rabbi and all faith leaders, and he did a terrific job in that regard. When we are dealing with independent advisers, we must respect their advice. They look at things from a faith perspective and they may sometimes express disagreement, but that is the role of an independent adviser.

When the Government want to remove someone from office, there is something called courtesy and decency. I have here the letter sacking Qari Asim, and it is not even signed by a Minister. It just says, “You’re no longer required, because your views are not compliant with freedom of expression.” I thought the whole thing about freedom of expression and respect was difference of opinion; freedom of expression means that people can engage in peaceful protest when they do not agree with a certain course of action. The Government need to look at that carefully.

I ask the Minister to answer the question that the Prime Minister did not: why have the Government not appointed an independent adviser on Islamophobia? Will they appoint one so that we have parity with the independent adviser on antisemitism? When will that decision be made?

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Labour, Manchester, Gorton

The hon. Member is making an excellent speech on this important subject. He spoke about Qari Asim, an excellent imam, whom I know. Should our conclusion not be that the Government never had any intention of doing anything with him?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

I have been a Member of Parliament for 13 years, and I resigned from Government when Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, was not given sanctuary in the UK as she should have been. Our Government did not offer it. I was the British trade envoy to Pakistan and I advocated for justice for her there, which she got, but she needed a country to step up and take her in. Canada did; we did not, and I resigned from the Government because we did not do the right thing. I come from a Muslim background; my father and grandfather were imams. It was the right thing to do to stand up for someone being persecuted.

Afzal Khan asked whether the Government really intended for Qari Asim to do some work. For 13 years I have tried to engage with the Government, and with the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, who make the decisions. The Prime Minister says that it is about action, not words. He needs to explain why action has not been taken; otherwise, people may infer, as the hon. Member said, that the Prime Minister is not genuinely engaged on this matter, nor does he want to engage, because what he says is not followed by substance. If the Government were committed to engaging with the independent adviser Qari Asim, why did they not give him terms of reference for two years? I pay tribute to his work and to that of John Mann in the other place, who does a terrific job on antisemitism.

Ours is a great country because we have people from all faiths and backgrounds coming together to make it so, and contributing at every level. My hon. Friend Paul Bristow does a fantastic job championing his constituents and engaging with the Muslim community. He highlighted their economic contribution of more than £31 billion to our way of life—is that right?

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying that point. We have people like Mo Ali in cricket; across the board, in enterprise and sport, Muslims contribute at every level. Our population in the UK is around 4 million, or 6% of the total population. Having a strong, cohesive society is not just morally right; it is in our national security interests. When we have a Government favouring one faith community and not another, it leads to divisions and divisiveness, which we do not want.

The Minister may want to look at the Prime Minister’s Twitter page, which lists an Eid event on 3 May and an engagement on Eid Mubarak with the Muslim community. There is nothing else on the Prime Minister’s page about tackling anti-Muslim hatred, but there are 21 mentions of tackling antisemitism, even though antisemitism and Islamophobia are both unacceptable. If someone looks at the Government’s action from the outside, they will see that there is no independent adviser for anti-Muslim hatred and no comparable funding to tackle it, which creates negative perceptions of the Prime Minister and his Ministers.

In the autumn statement, the Treasury gave £7 million to deal with antisemitism. Did the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities ask for money from the Treasury to deal with anti-Muslim hatred? If the Department did not ask for money, I do not think we cannot blame the Chancellor, so the Department has to answer the question.

I have another question for the Minister, and I hope the Prime Minister will read it in Hansard. The Prime Minister says that the Government have given Tell MAMA £6 million since its inception in 2012 to deal with anti-Muslim hatred. We have seen the stats that show that such incidents are increasing and increasing. The Minister may say that the Government’s funding is for protected places of worship—I think that was the answer given by the Treasury. In the Home Office statistics, there is a category for protected places of worship, which covers mosques, temples, gurdwaras and others across the board, but there is no data on how much money has been given. The Government say, “Up to x amount is available.” Okay, but how much of it has actually been given?

I will end with this. As a former Foreign Office Minister, I can tell the House that people across the world look around and say, “The UK advocates for international freedom of religion or belief for all”—we got a lot done during my time in office, working with the US on getting members of the Baha’i community released from the Houthis in Yemen, and helping people in Uzbekistan who had been persecuted for their faith—“but how do you address anti-Muslim hatred in the UK, with the resources and structures that you use to deal with other forms of hatred?” I think the Government will find it a real challenge to answer that. We see the foreign policy issues in places such as the middle east. People say, “Your perspective on how international law is applied in the middle east may explain how you are dealing with the situation back home with regard to faith communities and anti-Muslim hatred.” When we ask people to apply international law in Ukraine, they will probably ask us to apply international law when it comes to the middle east.

That is why we have the whole dilemma in UK foreign policy about getting more people from the non-aligned states to join us. They want a consistent approach across the board internationally. Back home in the UK, we need to make sure that we treat all faith communities fairly and equally, with the same resources and structures. At the moment, I am not seeing that in engagement with the Muslim community.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. Let me try again. If every colleague takes 15 minutes, the following debate will have to be cancelled. I urge a self- denying ordinance.

Photo of Apsana Begum Apsana Begum Labour, Poplar and Limehouse 1:54, 7 December 2023

As I have raised in this House multiple times, I have received Islamophobic abuse since being elected. For example, just this week I posted on social media a video of my comments about migrant survivors of domestic abuse during the debate on the Victims and Prisoners Bill. I will not read the worst responses I received, which contain swearing, but here are some of the others:

“You was given a job in England UK to help England, all you care about is your own, feel free to leave at any point. What about all the immigrants raping our children you deluded fool.”

“Ban all Muslim MPs. They represent Muslims not the native. Their Loyalty is to their own.”

“This is not Islamabad!”

“Deport.”

“You are a traitor and will be prosecuted in 2028.”

“If England doesn’t kick you and every other ungrateful foreign beggar out very soon there will be no England anymore.”

“You’ll be much happier in a Muslim country Begum.”

“People like you should be expelled from parliament. The only people you represent are foreign nationals.”

“That’s the problem with Islam. Women are treated as second class by the men. You need to recognise the truth about this primitive religion.”

“Muslims don’t have beautiful clothes, only ugly headscarves! There is no invention, only destruction!”

I want to make it clear to the House that those are just examples of the regular, almost daily abuse that I have had to learn to cope with, and they are from just my most recent social media post. I also receive threats online, via voicemail and email, and by letter. The situation is escalating, exacerbated by those trying to capitalise on current events by spreading their hate and division, and I now face a heightened and very serious risk to my safety.

It is important to recognise that what I am experiencing as the first hijab-wearing MP reflects a growing current within society. The data shows that Muslims are the largest target of religiously motivated hate crimes. Following the 7 October Hamas attacks, which resulted in around 1,200 Israeli deaths, including those of civilians and children, and the subsequent Israeli military assault, which has killed more than 20,000 Palestinians, including civilians and children, hate crime against both Jews and Muslims has risen dramatically in Europe. In the UK, Tell MAMA has reported a 600% increase in attacks on Muslims, including attacks and hostility against individuals and mosques, with children targeted at school, death threats and physical attacks.

Islamophobic hate crimes not only affect the victim but send reverberations through communities, as they reinforce established patterns of bias, prejudice and discrimination. Islam and Muslims have increasingly been seen as culturally dangerous and threatening to the British way of life. We are constantly scapegoated and misrepresented, and labelled both deviant and evil. Being called a supporter of terrorism or a terrorist, or being held responsible as a group for terrorism, is a common theme. The reality is that Islamophobia is widespread and relates to whole structures of discrimination. The socioeconomic discrimination and inequality that Muslims face makes us the most economically disadvantaged faith group in the UK.

At the same time, Muslims face institutional discrimination. For some time it has been widely understood, including by the United Nations, that approaches to counter-terrorism are modelled on Islamophobic stereotypes, policies and political structures, but Government documents leaked in November 2023 revealed that officials had drawn up controversial proposals to broaden the definition of extremism even further, to include organisations such as the Muslim Council of Britain—yet this Government will not even recognise Islamophobia. When Muslims are the target of hate, the Government are silent. They allow social media to perpetuate narratives of terrorism about Muslims, while failing to call out those who misrepresent and generalise about Muslims. More than that, they recklessly stoke the hate by peddling their so-called culture wars against the British people, pandering to a culture that tells people it is acceptable to discriminate against, to persecute and to abuse Muslims.

Across Europe, the situation is alarming, with the threat of the far right on the rise, including the re-emergence of far-right parties and politicians such as Geert Wilders. Whether in India, France, China or Iran, I believe it should be up to women to choose what they wear. No state and no man should have the right to overrule that. This September marked a year since the murder of Mahsa Amini in Iran. When she was murdered, the Prime Minister was right to describe the Iranian regime’s attacks on women protesting for their right to not wear the hijab as abhorrent, but the Government are silent about the outlawing of Muslim women’s right to wear the abaya in France. And where is the Government’s outrage at the fact that government offices across Europe can now ban employees from wearing religious symbols such as headscarves in the interests of so-called neutrality, after a court was asked to rule on the case of a Muslim employee in Belgium who was told that she could not wear a headscarf at work? I am concerned and alarmed by that, because it could exacerbate the marginalisation of Muslims at a time when Islamophobia is already on the rise.

The constituency that I represent has a long and proud history of migration and anti-racism, whether that was our Jewish communities and allies opposing fascists at the battle of Cable Street in 1936 or our Bangladeshi communities leading the anti-fascist mobilisation in 1978 after the murder of Altab Ali. We are one of the most culturally diverse areas in the UK, and we are damned proud of it. We will always stand together, multiracial, of all faiths and none, against division and intolerance.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon 2:00, 7 December 2023

I welcome the debate on behalf of the 3 million Muslims in the United Kingdom and the significant number who are my constituents in Hendon. Since 7 October, there have been many incidents of racism following the terrorist attacks in Israel. Subsequently, the number of antisemitic incidents has risen to more than 1,009; the same would probably be true of attacks within the Muslim community.

I receive regular reports from the Metropolitan police about hate crimes taking place in the borough of Barnet, and I am extremely concerned to read that many are linked to the current conflict in Israel and Gaza. On Brent Street in Hendon, there is a fast food restaurant called Lahore, which a constituent told me had been vandalised; he attributed the attack to Islamophobia. I do not know whether that is true, but I do know that a Jewish restaurant in Golders Green was also attacked, and the police refused to categorise that incident as antisemitic. Regardless of who attacked either of them or why, the business owners were left with a financial bill as a result of those extremist actions.

I believe that Islamophobia exists in this country, as indeed does antisemitism, but I do not accept that it is accepted and embedded in the United Kingdom’s society. The debate has been posited as a conflict between one group of people in the United Kingdom and those who hold a different religion. That appears to frame the discussion as an otherness of those who are Islamic, but I do not see that, particularly not in my constituency. In fact, there are significant shared concerns between my different communities. For example, Muslims and Jews both share beliefs around halal and shechita, and issues with the coroner service—I have campaigned long and hard on seeking a death certificate within 24 hours. The promotion of faith schools is important to both communities, as are single-sex spaces in places such as hospitals.

People in the United Kingdom sometimes do denigrate Muslims because they perceive them as a homogenous entity, but that is far from the truth. It is interesting that no one has so far raised the great schism in Islam: that of the Sunni and Shi’a divide. Put simply, the contention centres on the succession of the Prophet Muhammad and whether his grandson or one of his followers should be considered to be next in the line of succession. That has been the cause of conflict for hundreds of years and is the basis of proxy conflicts happening right now in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and other parts of Africa. As a non-Muslim, it is not for me to say how the line of succession should occur or to dictate whether one strand of Islam is more legitimate than another, but it is incumbent on me to acknowledge the differences and, as a democratically elected representative, to give voice to the minority and defend their right to exist.

In recent years, the divide has been attributed as a justification for sectarian violence. In Iraq, Daesh committed atrocities against Yazidi men and women and used extremist ideology to justify their crimes by calling their victims devil worshippers. In Syria, the Druze community has faced persistent attacks, which has led to opposing clans coming together in a common cause against their Syrian attackers. The conflict in Syria has also fed into existential fears among Lebanon’s Druze community, in part due to attacks on the Syrian Jews and Alawites, who are denounced as non-Muslims and targeted for extreme violence.

We have heard today about Muslims suffering discrimination and violence in Bosnia, Myanmar and China. Those are all examples of Islamic atrocities overseas. However, the murder in 2016 of Asad Shah in Scotland exposed not just Islamophobia but a downright hatred of Ahmadi Muslims here in the United Kingdom. The murderer, a Sunni Muslim, had driven from Bradford with the intent of confronting Mr Shah because he was an open adherent of the Ahmadiyya branch of Islam, which believes that the Prophet Mohammed was not the final Muslim prophet. The judge said that Mr Shah was regarded by those who knew him as

“a peaceful and peace-loving…family man who went out of his way to show respect for those of any faith.”

She said that his murder was

“an appalling display of merciless violence”,

and told the murderer that he was responsible for the

“barbaric, premeditated and wholly unjustified killing of a much-loved man who was a pillar of the local community.”

As has been mentioned about other murders, Mr Shah, too, was repeatedly stabbed and had his face stamped on.

The Muslim Council of Britain put out a statement after the murder of Mr Shah, which stated that it affirmed

“the right of Ahmadis to their freedom of belief” and rejected attacks upon them. But the MCB stated that its theological position is “fundamentally opposed” to the Ahmadi community, and that no Muslim

“should be forced to class Ahmadis as Muslims if they do not wish to do so”.

I thought that would be anathema to many hon. Members in the Chamber, and particularly those who advocate self-identification in other spheres of life. Is it not right for the individual to decide what religion they identify with, and for that person to be allowed a view, even if it is not shared by others? As is attributed to Voltaire,

“I may not agree with what you say, but I defend…your right to say it.”

Article 18 of the universal declaration of human rights states:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

That is where I see a difference between British Muslims and those from around the world. The clue is in the name—British. Unlike in some cultures, the issue of British values supersedes other prejudices. Our shared belief in common values surrounding decency, fair play, respect for the law and free speech are also shared by British Muslims. When I visit faith schools in my constituency, such as Barnet Hill Academy in west Hendon, I see those values being instilled in the children alongside their Muslim faith. All of us must ensure that that continues.

The United Kingdom can lead by example. In July 2021, the UN expressed its deep concern about the lack of attention to the serious human rights violations perpetrated against the Ahmadiyya Muslim community around the world and called on the international community to step up efforts to bring an end to the ongoing persecution of Ahmadi Muslims. That has included discriminatory legislative and policy frameworks; the targeting of Ahmadi Muslims through exclusion, hate campaigns and violence, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, verbal and physical attacks in the public sphere, and attacks against their cultural sites and places of worship. Ahmadi women are particularly affected as they face harassment and discrimination due to their distinctive traditional attire, which makes them immediately recognisable, while Ahmadi children and youth are often denied admission to schools and higher educational institutions because of their faith. They also constantly suffer intimidation and bullying, forcing them to interrupt or drop out of their studies. Reports also indicate that Ahmadis are still portrayed in a negative light in school textbooks, while Ahmadiyya educational institutions are often seized and administratively closed by state authorities.

It is my belief that tackling Islamophobia is not restricted to non-Muslims and Muslims.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Labour, Bradford West

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way and associate myself with his comments about ensuring that we end all persecution of all Muslim communities, whether that be the Ahmadiyya community or the Shi’a community. For declaration purposes, my family and I come from the lineage of the Prophet, sallallahu alaihi wasallam—peace be upon him. Many in my family are of Shi’a heritage and belief, and many are Sunni. I am struggling to understand the idea here. We were talking about Islamophobia, but the debate has been taken elsewhere. I do not think that that was the intention of the hon. Member, who is making valid points about persecution, but does he not agree that the intersection of Muslim-upon-Muslim hatred is not Islamophobia in the context of what this afternoon’s debate is about? I encourage him to speak to people—perhaps we could have a chat; I would not mind a coffee —just to unpick some of that, because it does worry me.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

Perhaps we should have a kahwa instead of a coffee. The hon. Member hits on a really good point, but I see Islamophobia and antisemitism—I hope that I made this clear—as simply racism. There can still be inter-faith racism, where one sect says that another is not legitimate. That is still the denigration of a particular community. For me, that is still Islamophobia and racism, and it is unacceptable, but I am grateful to her for her comments, and for accepting the premise of my argument.

To conclude, if Islamophobia, racism or whatever we want to call it is to be addressed, all Muslims must be prepared to demonstrate a tolerance not only of other faiths but of their own. It is only then, through leading by example, that we can attack and address other causes of Islamophobia, which I have acknowledged exists, in this country as well as abroad, and take action against people who are denigrating others.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Labour, Luton North 2:11, 7 December 2023

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for proposing today’s important debate, and all my fellow members of the APPG on British Muslims for their work. I also thank somebody from the other place: Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the treasurer of the APPG, for her constant work, and for holding up a mirror to us all, but particularly to her own party, and for the courage and strength that she shows in doing that.

It is a privilege to listen to and take part in this emotive, powerful and timely debate. Islamophobia is a scourge on society. It is on all of us to tackle it, call it out, and educate. It is something close to my heart, and I declare my interest as the co-chair of the APPG on British Muslims. I firmly believe that it should not be left to British Muslims to tackle Islamophobia in this country. It is on all of us to build a fair, inclusive society, which we can all benefit from, and to highlight the huge contributions that Muslims make to our country.

I see those contributions in my constituency every single day, through inspirational charity work, public services and business. If anyone wants to see a great representation of how diversity is strength, I encourage people to look at the videos of Luton Town football club fans leaving Kenilworth Road in the constituency of my hon. Friend Rachel Hopkins, on news of our promotion to the premier league after the team’s historic win, taking them to Wembley. They entered Bury Park to the sound of dhol drums, Irish bands and people of all faiths and none, and of all backgrounds and ages, celebrating together as one. Multiculturalism is alive and kicking in towns such as Luton. It is a strength to be the town of many voices that we are.

I have been fortunate to meet fantastic people from across the country living their faith through action, and I learn something new with every meeting. When I visited the British Muslim Heritage Centre in the constituency of my hon. Friend Afzal Khan, I learned that an invention by Muslims is the thing that gets me going and powered throughout the day: coffee, which is possibly the greatest invention, especially for any parent or shift worker. I would like to spend more time talking about the great work being done in Luton North by our Muslim community, whether it is through organisations such as Inspire Eid, Discover Islam, Curry Kitchen and Faiths United, or internationally through Islamic Relief and the Muslim Council of Britain. Unfortunately, hate crime is so rife that less time is now afforded to the wonderful contributions of Muslim communities in our country. Instead, we have to spend so much time talking about the horrific impacts of Islamophobia, as well as other forms of discrimination.

It comes as no surprise to anyone that racists do not stay in their lanes. Hatred rears its ugly head in the form of misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism, anti-black hatred as well as anti-disabled discrimination. In many instances, a perpetrator will not just limit their hatred to one protected characteristic. Often the victim will be picked out for more than one issue, facing a barrage of hatred for multiple parts of who they are. That is especially true for Muslim women, black Muslims and disabled Muslims. We have heard horrific examples of that from my hon. Friend Apsana Begum, who is a dear friend, just for doing her job.

According to statistics from the Home Office, hate crimes targeting Muslims rose by 25% last year, making Muslims the most targeted religious group. Almost half of religious hate crimes are directed towards Muslims, and with the atrocities taking place in the middle east we are seeing an even more horrific rise in Islamophobia. Tell MAMA reports an increase in recent incidents of Islamophobia in the UK of over 300%. That is concerning enough on its own, but it is only the tip of the iceberg, as the level of under-reporting and misreporting is likely to be considerable. That is why we desperately need the Government to adopt the cross-party definition of Islamophobia. That would be just a start in tackling the problem head on. How can the Government begin to tackle Islamophobia if they refuse to define what it is?

For years, we have heard that the Government would be looking into that. My hon. Friend Afzal Khan has pushed hard on it, as have others, yet we have heard nothing but silence—just more holding answers and delays as the incidence of Islamophobia continues to rise. That simply is not good enough, so will the Minister give assurances that an agreed definition of Islamophobia will be coming from the Government, and explain the real reason for the delays? I would also be grateful if she confirmed that the additional funding announced by the Chancellor in the autumn statement rightly to tackle the rise in antisemitism, as Rehman Chishti raised, will be matched, or at least that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities will fight for that, to tackle Islamophobia at the same rate?

While we wait, more people will be subjected to abuse, intimidation and violence without a standard that institutions and individuals are held to, and are accountable for. More than 15,746 attacks have been committed against Muslims since 2017. How many more must happen? How much more misery must be inflicted before the Government act? As my hon. Friend Naz Shah, an ardent campaigner against Islamophobia, has called for many times, when will the long-promised adviser on Islamophobia be announced and, importantly, worked with?

Let me turn to the intersectional aspects of Islamophobia, which is incredibly important, particularly for younger generations. We know the horrific impact and the rise in Islamophobic attacks following the description that the former Prime Minister and former Member for Uxbridge gave of veiled women as “letterboxes”. Research from Tell MAMA showed that Islamophobic incidents rose a shocking 375% the week after those comments from someone who clearly should have known better but sadly did not. Constituents in Luton North contacted me to share their anger and concern, which I shared, about the impact of the slurs against Pakistani men made by the former Home Secretary—or should I refer to her as another contender for the Tory leadership? Those slurs were founded not in evidence, but in fear- mongering and Islamophobia.

It is beholden on all of us in this place and in positions of power to lead by example, and to continue to learn, educate ourselves and challenge our own prejudices. Being anti-racist is something to consistently strive for. Many have a lot to learn still, especially when it comes to intersectionality and Islamophobia. Shockat Patel, a board member of Muslim Engagement and Development, reported:

“Lots of women say they are fearful of going out, just because of the fact they are wearing a headscarf. For those that wear a niqab they find it even more difficult because they know, almost certainly, that they are going to get verbal abuse.”

The visibility of Muslim women increases the chances of their being targeted for hatred. They experience the double whammy of misogyny and racism, often compounded when class is also factored in.

That discrimination creates barriers to talented, compassionate and experienced Muslim women in many walks of life, including in the workplace, accessing services —particularly important for Muslims with disabilities—representation in the media and, sadly, in politics, and in other forms of public life. We are all the worse off because we are missing out on the best and widest pool of talent. Representation matters, not just in politics but in every walk of life. The constant use of culture wars to stoke division and hatred by those in power, who should know better, is a dead end. It is detrimental to us all, especially those of us who want a fairer, safer and more inclusive society.

On the flipside, we can also see positive steps being taken internationally, leading to progress. This year, the United Nations held the first-ever International Day to Combat Islamophobia on 15 March 2023. That was after a resolution backed by 60 Muslim member states was passed by the UN General Assembly. The UN called on all UN member states to mark the day by recognising Islamophobia and working to combat it. Can the Minister tell us whether that was marked and recognised by the UK Government? If not, do they plan to do so next year?

The point I want to end on is that we can do better than this. If we are to build a safe, fair and inclusive country for all, we must do better, and that starts with the leadership of this country, and in particular the leadership of the Conservative Government, who have all too often been found wanting on the challenges of Islamophobia. Despite what some politicians and media outlets describe as “woke issues”, Islamophobia affects entire communities—our villages, towns and cities across the country and internationally. It is a poison that knows no boundaries.

We know that the world is an incredibly unstable and volatile place, especially for people of faith. The example of state-sanctioned Islamophobia that we see in Xinjiang against the Uyghurs is an affront to humanity. The reports of torture, imprisonment, killings and denial of people’s religion breaches multiple human rights laws, and it is genuinely welcome that the House is united in the condemnation of those atrocities. However, many residents in my constituency have contacted me, and I share their condemnation of senior members of the Netanyahu Government speaking about “flattening Gaza” or enacting “Gaza’s Nakba”. That is compounded by other dehumanising language, with Israel’s President claiming that there are no innocent civilians in Gaza.

When it comes to genocide, we look back at history. We even stand in this Chamber, and we utter the words, “Never again”, yet here we are, staring at it from afar, knowing that this tragedy is now the present for the Uyghurs and a real threat for the Palestinian people. If we are to avoid the further ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, I urge the Minister to speak directly to their colleagues in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to ensure that the UK backs the United Nations’ unprecedented calls to invoke article 99 of the UN charter for a ceasefire to protect civilian populations. We must ensure that we work as an international community and strain every sinew in the pursuit of peace, an urgent lasting ceasefire between Hamas and Israel, an end to the loss of innocent life and the freeing of hostages to ensure that the current atrocities being endured are no one else’s future.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 2:22, 7 December 2023

I am delighted to follow Sarah Owen. I put on record my thanks to the hon. Members for Bradford West (Naz Shah) and for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for securing this important debate. We have perhaps become accustomed in this place to debating Islamophobia abroad. We have become accustomed to talking about the Uyghur Muslims and Srebrenica, which was mentioned earlier. My concern, however, is that we have become negligent and too often overlook what is happening at home. Perhaps the time has come to look inward.

As my party’s equality spokesperson, I am increasingly concerned by the Islamophobia we are seeing across the country and by the effects on my own community in Edinburgh West as their constituency MP. In Edinburgh West, we have a significant and vibrant Muslim community. We have a mosque in the Blackhall area, with which I am in regular contact. We have open days and surgeries. However, like many communities across the country, there is an underlying tension that is not acceptable.

A 2021 report from the Scottish Parliament cross-party group on tackling Islamophobia with Newcastle University showed that more than 80% of Muslims in Scotland who responded to the survey said that a family member had experienced Islamophobia. Some 78% of those same people thought it was getting worse. Some 75% of Muslims say that Islamophobia is a regular or everyday issue in Scottish society. As we have heard, Islamophobia is often gendered, with women being targeted for wearing a hijab or niqab.

For too long, we have seen Islamophobia as a problem that affects other places and other countries. As I say, it is time we looked closer to home. Yes, we must question the Government, but we all must also question ourselves. This debate comes at a crucial point in our cultural and social history in this country, as the horror of the war in Israel and Gaza is further heightening those tensions that I have mentioned. It is creating fear in Muslim and Jewish communities across the country.

In a recent meeting with Tell MAMA and a representative of the Community Security Trust, both groups expressed their concern about the damage being done to the relationships between their communities. They also outlined their fears about the abuse being suffered—significantly online but also in person. At that point, almost 300 Islamophobic incidents had been reported in the first 12 days after 7 October, which was a sixfold increase on the same period last year. Muslims are facing abuse and dehumanising slurs across society. That is not just unacceptable for Muslims to face; it is unacceptable for anyone in our society. I believe that we are all responsible for what happens, each and every one of us.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Labour, Manchester, Gorton

I thank the hon. Member for sharing with us all the statistics from Scotland. May I say how delighted I was to learn that every single political party in Scotland has accepted the definition, including the Scottish Conservative party? Does she not agree that now it is time that this Parliament took through the motion with the support of all parties?

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

The hon. Member is absolutely right. It is time that not just all the Scottish parties but that all of us accepted the definition, took it through Parliament and made sure that it is recognised. I would not want to patronise the Muslim community, the Jewish community or any other community in this country by telling them that I understand what it is like to suffer the hatred that they suffer on a daily basis, but I like to think that I am aware of it, and I will do everything I can to support them in fighting it, because every community should feel safe. That is important to me as an individual.

I think it was the hon. Member for Bradford West who said the issue was not about giving priority to any community; it was about equality for all communities, and ensuring that every community feels safe and secure. I ask the House to consider that. If any Member feels insecure, they should think about how it can be addressed. If we feel secure—if we feel that we have never been the subject of hatred, or hatred towards our community—we should think, “What can we do to ensure that other communities and other individuals feel the same way?”

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 2:28, 7 December 2023

I want briefly to raise a few points about my constituency. I have a multicultural constituency. It has been a migrant community for more than a hundred years, and there is a sizeable Muslim community. In fact, I helped establish the first mosque—the Islamic centre in the centre of Hayes—30 years ago. We rub together pretty well. At the weekend, we had an open day at the Islamic centre to talk about how the different religions work together. There was a particular discussion about the role of Jesus Christ, and I thought it was interesting and fascinating to hear people’s views. Nevertheless, we do have problems.

Before 7 October, we had an arson attack on the Muslim women’s centre in Yeading Lane in Hayes. For the women, the tragedy of it was that the arsonist burned through the room where the holy Koran was stored. The House can imagine the distress caused. I previously raised this issue with a Minister on the Floor of the House, and was given an assurance that there would be support. At the moment, we are seeking a meeting with civil servants to go through the details; any help the Minister could provide in arranging that meeting would be really helpful, because it is quite pressing. As the insurance money hopefully comes through to repair the building, we need the security put in place fairly rapidly.

Political parties have to be straight with one another on this issue. With regard to the Conservative party, Baroness Warsi has played an exceptional role—a heroic role. I cannot understand why the Human Rights Council did not carry out an investigation into the Conservative party when Baroness Warsi and others produced their report about the Islamophobia within that party, and I think it reflects badly on the HRC. I normally support the HRC—in fact, I have been on picket lines in support of its staff when there were staff cuts—but I think it needs to examine its behaviour that regard.

Turning to the Labour party, we have to be straight— I know that at the moment in the Labour party, being straight can sometimes be dangerous. I want to raise a number of points. First, the Labour Muslim Network, which was founded a number of years ago, did an excellent job in researching and exposing Islamophobia within our own party. We need to listen to that. I cannot understand how three years on, the Labour Muslim Network is trying to establish itself as a formal affiliate to the Labour party, but still has not been allowed to affiliate.

Secondly, it is accurately reported that in my local area, for example, Ali Milani—who is one of the founders of the Labour Muslim Network, and was an excellent candidate for Uxbridge in the general election—was warned off standing again in the by-election. It was made clear that he would not be allowed to stand, which is unacceptable. I put on record that any party that allows the deselection of my hon. Friend Apsana Begum is not protecting the Muslim community in the way I would expect it to. I want to send that message. I have raised these issues in private—I have written to the leader of the Labour party—and the reason I am now raising them in public is that I have not had a sufficiently positive response that addresses those issues.

The final point I want to make with regard to the Labour party is this: why is it that when someone is accused of Islamophobia and they apologise, disciplinary action is then ended and there is no issue with regard to the Whip or whatever, but in a number of instances where a person has been accused of antisemitism, the Whip is withdrawn and they spend months awaiting any form of investigatory process? In his inquiry into the Labour party, Martin Forde addressed the issue of a potential hierarchy of racism within our party, and I am afraid that the way in which we treat individuals reinforces that concern. We all condemn antisemitism and Islamophobia, but we have to treat all forms of racism with equivalence, as well as the individuals against whom allegations have been made. I think we have a job of work in our own political parties to ensure that we tackle Islamophobia effectively, in a way that will make us—particularly the Labour party—the anti-racist party that we have always wanted to be, and an example to other political parties.

Finally, I want to emphasise the point that Paul Bristow made: at every meeting I have in my constituency with regard to the Muslim community, I am so proud of the way that it that has come forward in a migrant community over the past 50 to 70 years and now plays such a significant role in my constituency, but also nationally. Whenever there is a problem—whenever there is an issue that I need support on and I put the call out—it is the Islamic centres and the mosques that come forward and provide the resources. In fact, the Islamic centre in Hayes was visited by the Prince and Princess of Wales only a few months ago, just to thank the people there for the work they have done in raising funds for Afghanistan and elsewhere. I put on record my thanks to the Muslim community and my gratitude for all the work they do, and my pride in being able to represent the Muslim community in my constituency.

Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Labour, Manchester, Gorton 2:34, 7 December 2023

Islamophobia is an insidious kind of racism that is prevalent not just in British society but globally. Across the world, Islamophobia looks like the continued torture in concentration camps of Uyghur Muslims in China, the merciless killing of 51 worshippers in New Zealand, and the ongoing persecution of Rohingya Muslims at the hands of Myanmar’s brutal regime.

I commend the UN for designating 15 March as the International Day to Combat Islamophobia, and thank the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation for its effort. Recognising the existence of Islamophobia and how it plagues society is vital if we are to begin to tackle it. Canada and the European Commission have tasked key individuals with combating Islamophobia, and to mark Islamophobia Awareness Month, the US has announced that it will develop a national strategy to counter Islamophobia. Regrettably, we do not have the same leadership domestically, despite Islamophobia damaging public and political life in Britain. Most victims of religious hate crime in the UK are Muslims, and in October, Islamophobic incidents were up by 600%. A recent report found that 35% of British mosques experience a religiously motivated attack at least once a year.

Islamophobia is not just hate crime: it permeates every aspect of a Muslim’s life. Muslims are more likely to live in poverty, they are the UK’s least liked religious group, and most Muslims have experienced religion-based discrimination in their everyday life. All of that makes it harder for Muslims to live as equal members of British society. When I was first elected to this House, I swore my oath in English and Urdu—a language that Queen Victoria also proudly spoke. I was then subjected to a barrage of hate for daring to speak another language and for boldly expressing my Muslimness. There is a small, but increasingly vocal, minority in this country who hate the idea of a rich, pluralistic society that British Muslims contribute to. It is that minority that we all must stand up to, and to do so, we must have a clear, community-endorsed definition of Islamophobia.

In 2018, following extensive consultation with academics, experts and faith communities, the all-party group on British Muslims formulated a definition of Islamophobia. In the years since, every political party except the Conservatives has adopted that definition, alongside councils, elected Mayors, trade unions, academics and community groups across the country. However, there is one blocker to UK-wide adoption of a formal definition of Islamophobia: the Tory Government. They rejected the expert definition put forward by the APPG, claiming that it is inconsistent with the Equality Act 2010. To adopt that definition of Islamophobia at Government level would not be legally binding—it would be intended to serve as a workable measure for action against Islamophobia. No legislative change is being proposed, so the Equality Act would not be undermined. In reality, most acts that are deemed Islamophobic under the APPG’s definition would also be considered religious discrimination under the Equality Act. The APPG’s definition and the Equality Act complement each other—one does not challenge the other.

Given that the Government’s argument against that definition does not stand up, and considering that they have abandoned all plans to develop their own definition, can the Minister outline why the Government still think that the APPG’s definition of Islamophobia breaches the Equality Act if it is not legally binding? I imagine that this Government are reluctant to adopt any definition of Islamophobia, because the longer we do not have one, the longer the Conservative party cannot be in breach of it for failing to deal with the widespread Islamophobia within its own ranks.

In the local elections earlier this year, three Conservative councillors were re-elected despite having previously been suspended for alleged Islamophobia and racism, with no information provided on why they were readmitted to the party and deemed fit for public office. If we are to begin to tackle Islamophobia in British society, we need strong leadership and a commitment from the very top to root out this dangerous hate. Other nations across the world are waking up to the threat that Islamophobia poses and are doing something about it, but not the UK. The longer the Tories stay in Government, the longer we will have no leadership and no action on Islamophobia. My constituents and British Muslims across the country deserve better.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Labour, Luton South 2:40, 7 December 2023

I am pleased to be able to speak in today’s debate, which was so brilliantly opened by my good and hon. Friend Naz Shah. As a Member of Parliament representing a significant Muslim community—some 30% of my constituency’s population are Muslim— I understand just how important tackling Islamophobia is, and I am grateful for this debate.

We all in this place have a duty to ensure that the UK is a welcoming, tolerant place for all, irrespective of religion or belief. We must stand up to religious hatred in all its forms. I am proud of the rich contribution that Muslim communities make to the United Kingdom, but, sadly, we have people who seek to sow division by spreading racism and hatred. Islamophobia is far too prevalent in our society.

Following consultation with academics, lawyers, and Muslim organisations, the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims defined Islamophobia, saying that it is

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

Labour was proud to adopt the all-party group’s definition in 2019. The Conservatives are the only major political party to continue to refuse to adopt that definition, even though the Scottish Conservatives have done so.

Identifying racism and knowing how to tackle it are of paramount importance. In 2022-23, around 44% of religious hate crimes recorded by police were Islamophobic. Muslims have formed the highest proportion of victims of religiously motivated hate crimes for each of the past five years, and we know that Muslim women often suffer greater discrimination and form the majority of victims of hate crime as a result of being more easily identified as Muslim.

As noted by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Community Security Trust and Tell MAMA, rising tensions in the middle east can lead to an increase in anti-Muslim and antisemitic incidents in the UK. We know that antisemitic and Islamophobic hate crime incidents have both increased. Tell MAMA reported a sevenfold increase in anti-Muslim incidents between 7 and 29 October compared with the same period last year. We expect to see a robust response to all incidents of hate associated with the conflict. There is no place in Britain for Islamophobia, just as there is no place for antisemitism. We must not allow these tragic events to divide our communities.

In Luton, we have a history of opposing those seeking to sow division and spread racism. We recognise that our beautiful cultural fabric is made up of many voices, but we come together to speak as one town. That means diversity is our strength. We know that understanding each other is essential to creating a harmonious society and helps to tackle inaccurate fears used to underpin racist ideologies. Luton Council of Faiths works to establish, maintain and celebrate mutual respect, friendship and tolerance in Luton, including through our Luton in Harmony initiative over the past decade. Luton Council of Faiths comprises representatives from a wide range of religions, including Baha’i, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Quaker and Sikh among others. Open dialogue across our communities is so important to breaking down any bias and prejudice.

Luton has always been a welcoming town, with Muslim diasporas from across the world—whether that is from Europe, Asia or Africa. Many excellent local community events have helped to create this robust cohesion. During Ramadan, there is the Big Iftar in the town centre, where people from all our communities come to break their fast together, as well as the Unity Iftar at Madinah mosque on Oak Road, which is hosted by its neighbour Luton Town Football Club. Events such as these bring people together to understand the Muslim faith.

I am also proud that Luton Labour has developed and encouraged many Muslim members to get involved in democratic institutions by standing and getting elected as local councillors. I am pleased to say that Luton Labour group has not only a majority of women councillors, but, within that, a majority of Muslim women councillors, and I am proud to campaign alongside them every week. But I recognise that, sadly, they have been targeted for abuse, which is simply unacceptable.

I take this opportunity to give recognition to this year’s civic mayor of Luton—my good friend Councillor Yaqub Hanif, who has been excellent at demonstrating that, to tackle division and discrimination, we must all focus on equality, inclusivity and tolerance.

I finish by saying once again how proud I am to represent Luton and our wonderfully diverse town. Our Muslim communities are integral to our town’s identity, and I am their ally and, in the strongest possible terms, against anyone who seeks to spread Islamophobia. I ask the Minister again whether this Conservative Government will adopt the cross-party APPG’s definition of Islamophobia, as the Labour party did in 2019, and if not, why not.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Exports) 2:45, 7 December 2023

I express my gratitude to the Backbench Business Committee for providing this platform for a debate of such importance. I congratulate my hon. Friend Naz Shah, Paul Bristow and others on having secured it.

Once again, I rise to speak in this Chamber to address a pervasive issue that continues to affect our society deeply: the distressing rise of Islamophobia. This matter is significant not just to British Muslims, but to the very essence of what our country stands for. The Muslim community, especially in my Slough constituency, makes a huge and positive contribution to our economy and society. Today, though, I am here to voice my concerns and to challenge the Government’s inaction and indifference towards Islamophobia.

The statistics show the stark reality for many Muslims in Great Britain. An alarming 44% of all religious hate crimes last year targeted Muslims. That highlights the fact that a significant portion of our society endure persistent discrimination and fear due to their faith—an issue on which I have campaigned tirelessly. Such statistics, and the ones provided by Tell MAMA and other respected organisations, should make us all very concerned, and they highlight the need for action.

The current Israel-Hamas conflict, marked by a grave humanitarian crisis with more than 15,000 deaths, has tragically fuelled a rise in both antisemitism and Islamophobia. The harrowing images of death and devastation broadcast globally underscore the profound indirect impact that such conflicts have on societal attitudes, exacerbating domestic prejudice and hate in the UK. This time of global distress should prompt a call for unity, not be a catalyst for further division and conflict. The world does not need more conflict, and we must urgently push for peace.

The Conservative Government’s hesitation to formally define Islamophobia, despite widespread calls for them to do so, marks a significant failure. Their reluctance hinders our collective efforts to effectively confront and mitigate this hate crime. Notably, the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, which I have served as a vice- chair, has defined Islamophobia as a “form of racism” targeting manifestations of “Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. That definition is crucial in understanding and tackling the multifaceted nature of Islamophobia, and I have raised this issue on previous occasions in various meetings.

Sikhs have been targeted, taunted and even shot dead, as in the US, simply because of the way they looked, having been mistaken for Muslims because of their turban and beard. A hate-filled killer in Arizona, for example, shot to death a Sikh outside his petrol station. The attacker had reportedly declared that he wanted to

“go out and shoot some towelheads”.

This Government’s failure to recognise and adopt that definition, despite all the other major and mainstream political parties having adopted it, implies that they are neglecting the complexity of Islamophobia, leaving its victims without the necessary protection and support. The Government’s failure to define Islamophobia, coupled with divisive rhetoric and policies, especially concerning immigration and the invoking of culture wars, has fuelled an atmosphere in which Islamophobia and other forms of racism have flourished.

The Government’s approach has been marked by language that alienates and vilifies specific groups, contributing to a climate of fear and misunderstanding. That was exemplified when the former Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, referred to women wearing a burqa as looking like “bank robbers” and “letterboxes”, a statement that not only demeaned a religious practice, but inflamed anti-Muslim sentiment. Such racist remarks, especially from a political leader, have a tangible impact, emboldening prejudicial attitudes against Muslim communities. They led to a huge spike in hate crimes against Muslim women, with some hate-consumed individuals throwing eggs and tomatoes at them. There is still no independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative party, despite the then Prime Minister and then Chancellor promising it on national television.

In my role as a Labour Member of Parliament and an elected representative of Slough, I am committed to opposing divisive tactics and to fostering a Britain that thrives on its diversity. We must envisage a nation that unites in its varied cultural and religious make-up, standing against any rhetoric that seeks to divide us based on race, religion or origin. For example, in Slough, a major multicultural hub, our strength lies in our diversity, and it is crucial to ensure that every community feels safe and respected. We aim to develop policies that promote integration and cohesion, addressing racism and discrimination proactively and reactively. Indeed, our nation’s rich cultural and religious diversity is its core strength. Upholding and celebrating that diversity is vital to maintain Britain’s standing as a beacon of pluralism and inclusion. By actively condemning the intolerant individuals who engage in racism and hate crime in all its forms, we commit to a society that values and respects every single individual.

The time for mere words has passed. We need a Government who not only acknowledge, but actively implement policies to combat Islamophobia. We have heard some excellent examples from right hon. and hon. Members today. It is crucial to address its root causes, foster understanding and create a society where hatred finds no sanctuary.

Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South 2:53, 7 December 2023

In a debate on Islamophobia in Parliament two years ago, I spoke up about my experience as a left-wing Muslim woman in the public eye. I spoke up about the barrage of hate I receive on a daily basis. I talked about being called a “cancer” and being told that my

“Muslim mob is a danger to humanity”,

as well as about how people tell me to “go back” to my own country. That is a difficult claim to get my head around, I must admit, since I was born in Birmingham. I spoke about the worst effects of Islamophobia, and about how they are shaped in this very Chamber at that very Dispatch Box in policy and political decisions, from attacks on civil liberties at home to disastrous decisions to wage wars abroad. I would like to say that in the two years since, things have changed and people have listened, and that people take Islamophobia more seriously, but I cannot. If anything, things have got worse.

In recent weeks, as I have stood up for the rights of the Palestinian people, I have experienced a new wave of hate. Because I am a Muslim who supports the rights of the Palestinians, far-right trolls widely share claims that I am a Hamas supporter, repeating the allegations no matter how many times I condemn Hamas’s killing of civilians. Because I am a Muslim, when I speak up about Palestinian children being indiscriminately slaughtered, people write to me telling me, “Keep your effing mouth shut, you Muslim bitch.” And because I am a Muslim, when I called for a ceasefire and an end to the bloodshed—a view supported by 76% of the British public, but not this House—someone wrote to me saying it was me who was “anti-democratic” and “anti-British”, and I was again told to “go home.”

I want to live in a country that looks after the poor and the vulnerable at home, and respects human rights and international law abroad, and where the NHS is fully funded, homes are not mouldy or unaffordable, everyone can go to university without having to worry about debt, and every single person can put food on the table and keep a roof above their head. But for some people, the colour of my skin and the religion I choose to follow mean I am beyond the pale. That is difficult to process, but what makes it harder is knowing that that racism does not come from a vacuum.

As I said in the debate two years ago, that hate is not innate or natural; it is taught from the very top by people in positions of power and privilege. For example, despite a Home Office report saying that most child sexual abuse gangs are made up of white men and there is no evidence that grooming gangs are disproportionately black or Asian, earlier this year the then Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, falsely said that grooming gangs were “almost all British-Pakistani”—a claim so strikingly wrong that even the press regulator called it out.

It is not just politicians fanning the flames of hate. Shortly after I gave my speech, the Muslim Council of Britain Centre for Media Monitoring published a report on the British media’s coverage of Muslims and Islam, analysing almost 48,000 articles and 5,500 broadcast clips. It paints a very disturbing picture of how Muslims are portrayed in the media. Articles antagonistic to Muslims were found to outnumber supportive articles by a ratio of seven to one. Islamophobic tropes were pervasive, with The Spectator, for example, asking “tough questions” such as

“can Muslims learn to put country before faith community?”

The report found that false anti-Muslim generalisations often go unchallenged on broadcast media. Recently, we have seen Islamophobia spouted by journalists, such as the newspaper editor who said that

“much of Muslim culture is in the grip of a death cult”.

With that steady drip-feeding of hate, it is little wonder that racists tell me I am not British. That is the message right-wing outlets publish, with dog whistles and sometimes even foghorns. But as I said, the worst effect of this hate is not abusive language, but policy and political decisions, and we see that today.

Earlier this year, a long-awaited review into the deeply controversial and widely discredited Prevent programme was published. The review was led by someone whose anti-Muslim views were already well-known and who had said, for example:

Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future.”

That person had been hand-picked for the job by a Government led by a man who mocked Muslim women as “bank robbers” and “letterboxes”. It is little wonder that the review totally ignored the programme’s discriminatory impact and undermining of democratic freedoms.

Of course, Islamophobia is not confined to this country; we see dehumanisation at home and abroad. Even liberal British newspapers do not talk about Palestinian children, instead referring—I quote a recent article—to

“Palestinians aged 18 and under”.

The Palestinian people as a whole are often depicted and treated as terrorists, deserving not of rights and self-determination, but of suppression or even elimination. In India, Prime Minister Modi has introduced discriminatory anti-Muslim legislation and anti-Muslim mob violence is becoming normalised. In China, shocking human rights abuses and the suppression of Uyghur Muslims are well documented.

In the US, we have seen horrifying attacks in recent weeks. The six-year-old Palestinian American Wadea al-Fayoume was killed after being stabbed 26 times, with his landlord charged with the boy’s murder, and three young Palestinians were gunned down in what is believed to be hate crime, for the apparent wrongdoing of speaking Arabic and wearing keffiyehs. Across Europe, the Islamophobic far right is on the rise, from the hate-filled and openly Islamophobic Geert Wilders in the Netherlands to Le Pen’s continued advance in France.

Much closer to home, as I discussed in the debate two years ago, I still have serious concerns about my party’s handling of Islamophobia. The Forde report into the Labour party, commissioned by the party’s national executive committee and carried out by the distinguished Martin Forde KC, published its final report in summer last year.

It found that:

“the Party was…operating a hierarchy of racism or of discrimination with other forms of racism and discrimination”— such as Islamophobia and anti-black racism—

“being ignored.”

Martin Forde reiterated that view this year with a stark warning that still has not been listened to. That is why I, along with the Labour Muslim Network, have called for an independent inquiry into Islamophobia in the Labour party.

Today, both Islamophobia and antisemitism are rising sharply across Britain, but they are not disconnected struggles or competing concerns, as some people like to portray them. The far-right thugs who attack one group of us today will go for the other group tomorrow. The politicians who whip up hatred against migrants now will want other scapegoats in the future, and history tells us that Jewish people and Muslims are often at the top of their list. For me, the fight against Islamophobia and the fight against antisemitism are part of the same struggle: the fight to live in the world where everyone, no matter their race or religion, is able to live in dignity and freedom. I believe that we are made stronger not by not pitting our communities against each other, but by uniting our struggles and finding solidarity and safety.

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Scottish National Party, Dundee East 3:00, 7 December 2023

May I start by thanking Naz Shah for the way in which she led the debate? I do not think there was a single important part of this matter that she did not touch on extremely well.

I will pick up on one thing: the issue of definition—not the APPG definition, which I will come to, but the United Nations definition. The UN describes Islamophobia as:

“a fear, prejudice and hatred of Muslims that leads to provocation, hostility and intolerance by means of threatening, harassment, abuse, incitement and intimidation of Muslims and non-Muslims, both in the online and offline world. Motivated by institutional, ideological, political and religious hostility that transcends into structural and cultural racism, it targets the symbols and markers of being a Muslim.”

That is a very technical description. I will come back to the evidence of what it means to Muslims in Scotland on a day-to-day basis, and then to the rather less technical definition.

To stay with the United Nations for a moment, the recent report by the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief found that suspicion, discrimination and outright hatred towards Muslims has risen to “epidemic proportions”. The UN says:

“Following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and other…acts of terrorism purportedly carried out in the name of Islam, institutional suspicion of Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim has escalated to epidemic proportions” and

“widespread negative representations of Islam, and harmful stereotypes that depict Muslims and their beliefs and culture as a threat have served to perpetuate, validate and normalise discrimination, hostility and violence towards Muslim individuals and communities.”

All that is deeply disturbing, but what does it mean in practice for Muslims in Scotland? Well, Christine Jardine, who is no longer in her place, touched on that. The Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on challenging racial and religious prejudice, and Newcastle University, have told us a great deal: 75% of Muslims say that Islamophobia is an everyday issue; 80% of Muslims say that they have a friend or family member who has experienced it; 79% of Muslims are fearful of experiencing it; 84% argue that social media increases it; 85% say that the broadcast media promotes it; and 89% say that the print media promotes it. We know, and it has been reported, that Muslim women are disproportionately targeted in Islamophobic hate crimes. Again, those findings—from real people—are deeply worrying.

What, though, is the official, measured scale of the problem in Scotland? Well, the number of charges brought for religious hate crimes in Scotland over the decade between 2010-11 and 2021-22 sat at a constant of about 600 a year. Sadly, the number of charges for all hate crimes in Scotland sat at around 5,000 a year. In only one year of that same decade has the number risen above 6,000, but in only one year has it fallen below 5,000, so there is a constant background noise of religious and other hatred. We also know from the statistics that 26% of all religious hate crimes are directed at Muslims. I am sure we would all agree that no right-minded person would argue that those numbers are anything other than too high.

Hearteningly, Police Scotland and the Procurator Fiscal Service take these matters seriously. It is reported that more than 80% of all the charges for religious hate crime do end up in court. That will cover a multitude of sins, but I believe at least that that matter is taken seriously. We cannot therefore dismiss Islamophobia simply because the number of those charged has sat constantly at 600 a year. We cannot disregard any hate crime, when the number is sitting at about 5,000 a year in Scotland. We cannot downplay the impact of Islamophobia, because, as we have heard from the cross-party group and others, the effect on people is widespread and profound. We cannot diminish the impact of Islamophobia on Muslims, or the rest of society, simply because a high proportion of the perpetrators are dragged to court, although I am glad that that is the case. And we cannot wish away the problem. Tackling it will need cogent, coherent and concrete action, with clear political leadership.

Let me return to the report by the Scottish Parliament cross-party group. Among many recommendations, it tells us that Scotland needs urgent education reforms to combat the scourge of Islamophobia—I am certain that is the case in England too. It tells us that Muslim women in Scotland are more likely to encounter Islamophobia than men, and calls for funding and support for organisations and initiatives that promote social cohesion and integration, particularly for Muslim women. I am certain that that demand would be mirrored in England as well. I will not go through the list of the many other recommendations the group makes, all of which I agree with.

I want now to get to the point on definition, because the cross-party group persuaded all of Scotland’s political parties to adopt the formal definition of Islamophobia. That was described as

“a landmark moment that will help tackle prejudice in Scotland.”

Members of the all-party group here will recognise the definition:

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

If every political party represented in the Scottish Parliament can formally adopt that, I would agree with the Labour chair of the Scottish Parliament cross-party group, who said:

“I now urge the UK Government to adopt the definition so that we can challenge hatred and prejudice wherever it exists across the country.”

That does not strike me as being contentious; it ought to have been done already and if it has not been, it should be done very quickly indeed.

I want to end with a rebuttal to those who dismiss the issue of Islamophobia. I am talking about those hard of thinking who argue that there would be no Islamophobia “if only they”—whoever “they” are—“were more like ‘us’.” It is not clear what that means. I feel strongly on this and I wish to challenge that view by quoting something that UN Secretary-General António Guterres said when marking the first International Day to Combat Islamophobia, in 2021. He pointed out that anti-Muslim bigotry is part of a larger trend of a resurgence in ethno-nationalism, neo-Nazism, stigma and hate speech targeting vulnerable populations, including Muslims, Jews and some minority Christian communities, as well as others. He said:

“As the Holy Quran reminds us: nations and tribes were created to know one another. Diversity is a richness, not a threat”.

That mirrors what many have said; it is intolerance that is the problem, not diversity. It is incumbent on all of us to challenge intolerance, including Islamophobia, and to do so, to be brutally honest, whenever we see it.

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:09, 7 December 2023

I thank my hon. Friend Naz Shah and Paul Bristow for securing this important debate. Islamophobia, like all forms of discrimination, serves to divide our communities. It is a grave form of injustice that restricts the ability of Muslims, or those perceived to be Muslims, to participate equally and completely in our society. Islamophobia culminates in violent hate crimes, targeted discrimination and structural disparities affecting access to employment, housing and healthcare, and it impedes the ability of those affected to go about their daily lives. Our failure to take action to tackle this hatred threatens our democratic principles of fairness and equality, and in so doing, undermines our social cohesion as a whole.

We see this hatred manifested online, on our streets and in our public spaces, and at its most extreme, in violent acts of terror and murder. We remember Makram Ali, who was senselessly murdered in Finsbury Park in 2017, alongside the attempted murder of nine others. That premeditated attack on innocent Muslims by a far-right attacker devastated victims, families and entire communities. We also remember two more grandfathers, Mushin Ahmed and Mohammed Saleem, as well as the victims of the Christchurch terrorist attacks. All had their lives tragically taken from them as a result of insidious hatred. This serves as a terrible reminder of the consequences of Islamophobia and the failure to tackle it.

This debate comes at a difficult time in the international community. The disgusting rise in both Islamophobia and antisemitism since the attack on 7 October exposed just how real the issue of discrimination is on Britain’s streets. Let me start by condemning those brutal attacks and the shocking rise in racism that we have seen since that day. Since Hamas’s terrorist attack, our country has seen a disgusting rise in antisemitism, with Jewish businesses attacked, Jewish schools marked with red paint and Jewish families hiding who they are. We have also seen an appalling surge in Islamophobia, with racist graffiti, mosques forced to ramp up security and British Muslims and Palestinians spoken to as though they were terrorists. While this debate focuses on the experiences of Islamophobia, we cannot lose sight of the ongoing injustice faced by the Jewish community in Britain.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

Does the hon. Lady agree that one of the most telling points made during the debate was Zarah Sultana saying at the conclusion of her speech that the most effective response to Islamophobia and antisemitism is when both communities stand by each other in resisting both those threats?

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Yes, my hon. Friend Zarah Sultana made a very important point. We all need to stand together to ensure that we defeat Islamophobia and antisemitism.

Members who have taken part in this debate include my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum) and for Luton North (Sarah Owen), my right hon. Friend John McDonnell, and my hon. Friends the Members for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan), for Luton South (Rachel Hopkins), for Slough (Mr Dhesi) and for Coventry South. All of them have spoken about their experiences and those of the communities in their constituencies. For some of the Members who have spoken, Islamophobia has affected their safety and that of their communities. One thing they all have in common is that they were clear that we must act to tackle Islamophobia and ensure that we take real action, and all called on the Government to do that.

Year after year, British Muslims are the victims of the highest proportion of religiously motivated hate crime. Over the past 10 years, we have seen a shocking and rapid rise in incidents being reported to Tell MAMA, as we have heard, with cases doubling between 2012 and 2022. Tell MAMA’s tireless commitment to tackling Islamophobia has ensured that we have a detailed database, from which it is possible to identify key trends emerging in frequency, scope and substance, so that we can work to tackle the particular forms that Islamophobia takes. That data shows that high-profile events act as a trigger for steep rises in bigotry, both online and at street level, as they are weaponised by perpetrators to drive discrimination and violence.

This week, Tell MAMA reported that it has recorded more than 1,200 cases following the Hamas terror attacks of 7 October, representing a sevenfold rise on the same period last year and the largest, most sustained spike in reports to its service across a 55-day reporting period. Behind these numbers are real people who have been subjected to abuse and harm.

It is vital that we come together in this House to say that Islamophobia is not acceptable in any form. The Labour party stands firmly with the victims of Islamophobic hatred and commits to working across our nation to ensure that it is eradicated. It is of utmost importance that we recognise the impact of Islamophobia on people’s lives, and that we recognise the work of grassroots, community and religious organisations that have dedicated themselves to tackling it.

The message from Muslim communities and organisations is clear that, to tackle this bigotry, we must be able to identify it. Yet this Government have said that they do not support taking forward an official definition of Islamophobia. Following a six-month inquiry into the subject, the definition proposed by the APPG on British Muslims has been widely recognised and endorsed across many sections of civil society, including among academics, Muslim communities and prominent Muslim organisations. I am proud to say that we have adopted this definition in the Labour party, and it has also been adopted by the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the SNP and the Scottish Conservatives.

In 2021, Labour’s shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the chair of the Labour party and the leader of the Local Government Association Labour group wrote to the leaders of all Labour groups in local government to encourage their councils to adopt this definition. Since then, hundreds of councils across the country have taken the APPG definition on board, yet the Government have seen fit to reject this definition and have since failed to come forward with an alternative definition of their own, as they had once promised. This dereliction is both substantive and symbolic in its failure to take Islamophobia seriously.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

The hon. Lady will have seen that I have challenged my Government’s actions. If she were a Minister in that position, would she commit to appointing an independent adviser on Islamophobia straight away, as my party has on antisemitism? Can she confirm that, looking at the figures for Islamophobia/anti-Muslim hatred and antisemitism, there will be equal funding to deal with those two unacceptable forms of behaviour?

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We first need to get the basics right by adopting this definition of Islamophobia. We are committed to taking further steps to ensure that Islamophobia is stamped out.

Tell MAMA has documented how this racism dehumanises Muslims, sometimes drawing on conspiracy theories to do so. It targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness, whether real or imagined, and in doing so reduces diverse communities of people to a group identity. The power of the APPG definition is that it recognises this. Just like the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, the APPG’s definition is not legally binding. Instead, it is intended to serve as a workable yardstick for action against Islamophobia.

We must be able to name and identify Islamophobia, and that applies as much to the political arena as anywhere else. Just as high-profile events trigger peaks in discriminatory behaviour, what we say in this House and in our media has an impact on the abuse that people face online and on our streets. When the former Prime Minister, the former Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, referred to Muslim women as “letterboxes”, there was a dramatic rise in incidents reported to Tell MAMA. The week following his comments saw the number of incidents rise by 375%. Over that month, 42% of street-based cases directly referenced him or language used in his column.

Since then, we have continued to hear language in the House that risks endangering ethnic and religious minorities. We have seen the former Home Secretary refer to pro-Palestinian marches as “hate marches”, and the Conservative London mayoral candidate engaging in Islamophobic tropes.

Photo of Paul Bristow Paul Bristow Conservative, Peterborough

I appreciate the hon. Lady giving way, but is she planning to react to criticisms from Labour Members on the Benches behind her, who cited the Forde inquiry, which stated that a “hierarchy of racism” operated in the Labour party?

Photo of Liz Twist Liz Twist Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the hon. Member for that comment, and I did indeed hear those comments. What I would say is that, within the Labour party, we are seeking to address any issues that relate to Islamophobia.

We must remember that we have a choice in this House: to empower communities or to seek to divide them. Our words have consequences beyond this Chamber. It is deeply worrying that the normalisation of extremist language from the Conservative party has directly coincided with a rise in offences being reported. As political parties, we must, as I said, take responsibility for identifying and tackling Islamophobia in our own ranks. When people ask, “Well, what’s Labour doing about it?”, the answer is that that is what we are doing: we have changed our party, and we are ready to change the country. At our party conference in 2021, Labour passed a new independent complaints process to make it fairer and easier for people to bring forward cases of discrimination. We have adopted new codes of conduct on Islamophobia, and we have invested in training staff and publishing a handbook that will illustrate how our party can challenge Islamophobia directly. We have committed, when in government, to tackle structural racial inequalities with a landmark race equality Act.

We owe it to our Muslim communities and to communities of all faiths to do more to protect them from these forms of hate. The first step in tackling that hate is to identify it, so will the Minister commit today to adopting the APPG definition of Islamophobia? Will she also encourage Conservative-run local authorities to adopt it? Will she and her colleagues work with the police to ensure that victims of Islamophobic abuse feel able to report incidents and that they are supported and kept in the loop throughout the process? What steps will she take in her own Department to understand household and neighbourhood-related cases of Islamophobic abuse and to work with local authorities and Muslim communities to ensure that such cases are handled sensitively? Finally, what efforts are the Government making to understand and tackle Islamophobia in educational institutions and to eradicate ethnicity pay gaps?

We owe it to Muslim communities to tackle Islamophobia in our party and in wider society—on the streets of our country and online. We have committed to doing so, and I hope the Government will do the same.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 3:23, 7 December 2023

I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee, Naz Shah and my hon. Friend Paul Bristow for this debate, and I pay tribute to every Member who spoke. The hon. Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum) and for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) talked about their own personal experience of abuse, and I am deeply troubled by it.

I thank my hon. Friend Rehman Chishti for his work as the special envoy for freedom of religion and belief, and I am always happy to talk to him. I also thank my hon. Friend Dr Offord, who represents a large Muslim community. I would also like to say to John McDonnell that I am happy to help facilitate a meeting. The debate also has personal significance for me, as mine is one of the most diverse constituencies in the country. In fact, I met Afzal Khan with a large delegation from Indonesia whom I had happened to bump into that morning at my local mosque. I am privileged in that more than 12% of my electorate in Kensington are Muslim, and Kensington is home to the al-Manaar mosque, which played a pivotal role of support during the Grenfell tragedy and the pandemic. My constituency is also home to the Ismaili Centre in South Kensington, the religious and cultural centre of Ismaili Muslims in the UK, who have such a tradition of charitable giving.

Many Members have said today that this is not an issue simply of one religion, and I am pleased that there is a very active interfaith group in my constituency where representatives of the al-Manaar mosque, the Holland Park synagogue, the Holland Park gurdwara and several Christian churches come together regularly. We met collectively soon after 7 October. I am also proud of the fact that the first Muslim MP to become a Secretary of State and the holder of one of the great offices of state was a Conservative—my right hon. Friend Sajid Javid, who is also a good friend of mine.

I pay tribute to our British Muslim communities who make a huge contribution to the United Kingdom in all walks of life, and to the strengthening of the ties that bind our country together. We have 3.9 million British Muslims, 6.5% of the UK population. Earlier this year, the Prime Minister hosted an Iftar and an Eid reception at 10 Downing Street, where he was joined by many committed champions of Muslim charities and organisations who, day in day out, enrich our social capital. Muslim values are, of course, British values. Freedom of speech, freedom of worship, democracy, the rule of law and equal rights are what define us as a society, and recognising and championing those shared values is the greatest defence against those who would seek to divide us.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Labour, Bradford West

I genuinely welcome the Minister’s response and the passion with which she is laying out her thoughts, but is she aware that there is a list that Muslim organisations have to tick in order to enjoy those samosas that are offered at 10 Downing Street? The Muslim Council of Britain, one of the largest mainstream Muslim organisations, does not make the list. Organisations that do not agree with the Government are not included in it. Will the Minister be encouraging 10 Downing Street to change that policy?

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I am very much of the view that 10 Downing Street is in a position to decide whom to invite. I do not think that I am in that position.

I want to make it very clear that this Government will not tolerate anti-Muslim hatred in any form, and will seek to stamp it out where it occurs. Sadly, however, as we have heard, since the beginning of the conflict between Israel and Hamas we have witnessed a substantial increase in the number of incidents of anti-Muslim hatred reported in Britain. The Government are deeply concerned about the sharp rise in anti-Muslim hatred, which comes alongside a steep increase in antisemitic incidents, as well as wider community tensions. Tell MAMA, as many have said, has documented a total of more than 1,200 anti-Muslim cases as of 30 November. This represents an unacceptable sevenfold surge compared to the same period in 2022, and the biggest and most sustained spike in reports to Tell MAMA across a 55-day reporting period.

The Prime Minister has been clear that we stand with British Muslim communities, and he recently visited Tell MAMA to see first-hand the work it is doing to support British Muslims at this difficult time. The Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Home Secretary have also met Tell MAMA and Muslim experts to hear from them about the challenges arising from the conflict.

Photo of Sarah Owen Sarah Owen Labour, Luton North

On the anti-Muslim hatred and Islamophobia that the Minister describes, could she define what that Islamophobia is? In May 2023 one of her ministerial colleagues in the Department said that they would not accept the APPG’s definition and wrote:

“The proposed definition could also unintentionally undermine freedom of speech and prevent legitimate criticism of Islamist extremism or unacceptable cultural practices.”

Can the Minister describe how that is the case?

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I will go on to talk about definitions, but I will continue briefly on Tell MAMA, if I may.

This year Tell MAMA marked its 10-year anniversary. Over the past decade, I am glad to say, it has directly assisted more than 20,000 people with casework, advice, emotional and counselling support and signposting. I am also proud that the Government have given Tell MAMA more than £6 million of funding since its inception in 2012. In light of the current increase in reports to Tell MAMA, we have uplifted its funding to more than £1 million this financial year to support it with the rise in casework.

In addition to supporting Tell MAMA and bringing together Muslim voices, we have extended the deadline for applications to the protective security for mosques scheme. Mosques and Muslim community centres will now have until 31 December to apply for funding for the scheme. The extension has been granted in light of the current tensions we see playing out on UK streets and comes with an additional £5 million of funding this year, bringing the total Government funding for the scheme to just under £30 million. That announcement was made at the autumn statement. That is vital funding that mosques and, for the first time, Muslim faith schools can use to procure physical security measures to combat the discrimination and intolerance faced by Muslim communities. I am pleased to say that that funding will continue into 2025. Plans are in place to introduce guarding services for both mosques and Muslim faith schools later this year.

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon

I am grateful to the Minister. She will be aware that the Community Security Trust, which is based in my constituency, has long offered advice and assistance to other faith groups, including Muslim schools and mosques, to ensure that their safety is equally paramount to that of the Jewish community.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I pay tribute to the CST for all the work it does. I have mentioned that security funding provision for mosques is just under £30 million, but I can tell hon. Members that the total security budget for faith communities is £50.9 million in total.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I am afraid I am not going to take any more interventions. I have already taken one from the hon. Lady and I am conscious that there is another debate to come.

We remain fully committed to tackling anti-Muslim hatred head on, through a co-ordinated cross-departmental effort, working with the Home Office and obviously with the police. We already have some of the strongest legislation in the world to tackle hate crime and, where groups incite racial hatred or are engaged in racially or religiously motivated criminal activity, we would expect them to be prosecuted and to face the full force of the law. To help to improve our understanding of hate crime, we have been working closely with the police in recent years to improve our data and we can now disaggregate hate crimes by ethnicity and by religion.

Our support for British Muslims is reflected by our strong track record of working with international partners to respond to hatred and intolerance and to promote freedom of religion and belief. To that end, in response to a question from an hon. Member, we are proud to have supported the United Nations General Assembly resolution last year establishing 15 March as International Day to Combat Islamophobia.

Photo of Felicity Buchan Felicity Buchan Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I have said that I will take no more interventions.

Before I finish, I want to clarify this Government’s position on terminology. I thank the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims and the two co-chairs, Sarah Owen and my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough, for the work they have championed to celebrate the contributions of British Muslims and to tackle prejudice, discrimination and hatred against Muslims in the UK. However, I want to make it clear that this Government do not accept that particular definition of Islamophobia. The definition proposed by the APPG is not in line with the Equality Act 2010, which defines race in terms of colour, nationality and national or ethnic origins. The proposed definition could also unintentionally undermine freedom of speech. The term “anti-Muslim hatred” is more precise and better reflects UK hate crime legislation. Let me put it in simple terms: free speech entitles people to express views on religion or ideology, but they must not hate or discriminate against someone because of their religion. That is why we think that “anti-Muslim hatred” is a more appropriate term.

I have been asked about the Government’s future steps. I am glad to say that we are undertaking broad and extensive engagement on religious hatred against all communities. We are considering all issues as part of that, including definitions. We know that British Muslims feel especially vulnerable at this time. I hope it is crystal clear through the many initiatives that I have outlined that this Government will always stand up for British Muslims. They are an integral part of our proudly plural, multi-faith, multi-ethnic United Kingdom. We have said loud and clear that anti-Muslim hatred has no place in British society and we will not allow the scourge of religious hatred to manifest in any shape or form.

During debates such as these, I often reflect on the wisdom of the former Member for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox, when she remarked:

“we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015;
Vol. 596, c. 675.]

This Government are committed to ensuring that the values of diversity, tolerance and compassion extend to all our communities.

Photo of Naseem Shah Naseem Shah Labour, Bradford West 3:38, 7 December 2023

There we have it. I thank everyone who has spoken in the debate, but the Government policy and response to tackling Islamophobia is: “We’ll pick and choose who we invite to No. 10 for tea and samosas, but no policy. And we will not accept your definition as you Muslims decide to define it based on your experience of discrimination. No, we don’t accept it, because we are the Government, and when it comes to you Muslims, we will apply not the liberal democratic principles that we apply to the rest of the country, but a totalitarian approach.” That is the Government’s response to tackling Islamophobia. Well done.

What was I expecting? Dare I imagine a Government who would not miss another opportunity to put policy in place to tackle Islamophobia? No; just a long list of opportunities missed by this Government and this Prime Minister, who “stands with the British Muslim communities.” No—not unless they fit the Government’s criteria.

If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a duck, it is a duck. If it feels like gaslighting and sounds like gaslighting, as a Muslim and a representative of a large, Muslim constituency of Bradford, let me tell the Government: it is gaslighting. That is what we have had from those on the Government Benches today. What a shame that they did not uphold the British values that bring us here: the British values of equality, fairness, justice and treating people equally. The Government are saying, “Let’s treat you Muslims differently. We are not going to give you a definition of Islamophobia, and we do not want you to have a say on what it feels like to experience Islamophobia. We will just call it anti-Muslim hatred.”

Rehman Chishti was right to say that the Prime Minister is not just gaslighting, but has created a hierarchy of racism. He does not treat Islamophobia as equal, and it disheartens me. I will just wait for the next general election and let people vote with their feet by choosing the party that stands for equality, justice and fairness. It certainly ain’t the Tories.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the matter of tackling Islamophobia.