Tackling Islamophobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:40 pm on 7 December 2023.

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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.