Tackling Islamophobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:22 pm on 7 December 2023.

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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.