Tackling Islamophobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:54 pm on 7 December 2023.

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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.