Tackling Islamophobia

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 7 December 2023.

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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.