Definition of Islamophobia — [Mrs Sheryll Murray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:00 pm on 9th September 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paul Bristow Paul Bristow Conservative, Peterborough 3:00 pm, 9th September 2021

I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for that contribution. He will know as well as I do that discrimination against any faith can have a huge detrimental impact on the outcomes of people who are of that faith, so championing this cause and pushing back against discrimination and hatred against Muslims—my friends, my neighbours, my city—seems like the most natural thing for me to do. It is something positive I can do as the Member of Parliament for Peterborough, because Peterborough would not be Peterborough without the contribution of its Muslim residents.

Back in 2013, a report published to coincide with the ninth World Islamic Economic Forum in London stated that the nearly 2.8 million Muslims in the UK contribute over £31 billion to its economy, and wield a spending power of £20.5 billion. I see that economic input all the time in my constituency, with its hundreds of Muslim-owned businesses: these are entrepreneurial and charitable people, wealth and job creators, making my city more prosperous. Successful British Muslim entrepreneurs not only contribute to the prosperity of Peterborough and our country, but contribute to the fabric of British society and act as role models for us all.

Muslims contribute to the social fabric of my city. In Peterborough, as in other places, we have Muslim doctors, professors, lawyers, journalists, teachers, academics, pharmacists, care staff, charity workers, those who work in local Government and, of course, thousands working across the private sector. They contribute to our politics, with Muslim councillors in Peterborough representing all three major parties. In the Conservative-led administration, two Muslim councillors serve in the cabinet and the mayor last year was a Muslim Conservative councillor. From the Labour party, we have some of the longest-serving and respected councillors in our city. In the Conservative party, we have scores of activists, members and the only local branch, I believe, of the Conservative Muslim Forum. Considering the recent Singh report, I think we are one of the flagship Conservative associations in the country for engaging with the Muslim community and Muslim members of my party.

The APPG published another report in 2021, which demonstrated the role Muslims have played in fighting covid-19. Again, Peterborough is a fantastic example. Muslim institutions in my city, both charities and Islamic institutions, have shown us what being in this together really means. Those organisations and community activists, such as Zillur Hussain, who was awarded an MBE for his community efforts, have had me handing out face masks on busy streets, delivering food and hot meals to those who were shielding, to rough sleepers and the vulnerable, and promoting businesses like car washes offering free services. I have been photographed scores of times across my city with Muslim businesses and Muslims doing good things for everybody in our city. They have brought me, as their MP, into their hearts and homes. During covid-19, they showed the best of all of us.

It would take too much time for me to name all the Muslim businesses in Peterborough and what they have done during covid-19, but I listed 30 or so in a previous Westminster Hall debate. They know who they are, and I thank them from the very bottom of my heart. I know that this was replicated across the country, but despite that amazing contribution and those efforts, Islamophobia remains a social evil that has a devastating impact on British Muslims and on wider society. It is not just British Muslims who are impacted by Islamophobia, but British society at large, to the detriment of social harmony and inclusion.

In September 2017 the Runnymede Trust published a report titled “Racial prejudice in Britain today”. The report found that one in four Britons—26%—admitted to being racially prejudiced. Given that this admission is one that individuals would not readily make, the figure may be an underestimation of the actual number. A poll carried out by Savanta ComRes in 2018 found that 58% agreed with the statement:

“Islamophobia is a real problem in today’s society.”

That is a good thing. Almost one in two agreed with the statement:

“Prejudice against Islam makes it difficult to be a Muslim in this country.”

That is shocking. A further YouGov poll from 2018 shows that around one in four Britons believes that Islam is compatible with the values of British society. Alarmingly, around one in two believe that there is a fundamental clash between the two.

Despite the levels of prejudice evidenced in the national surveys, British Muslims continue to rise to high levels of British society, experiencing loyalty, belonging and social interaction with their fellow citizens. Some 93% of Muslims say they feel they belong to Britain, with more than half saying they felt this very strongly. The APPG report on Islamophobia clearly evidences discriminatory outcomes faced by Muslims in employment, housing, education, the criminal justice system, social and public life and political or media discourse. It contains a number of incidents widely reported in the press in order to demonstrate the breadth of Islamophobia in society. I am not going to name them all, because some of them, quite honestly, are too shocking to describe in a calm and respectful manner.

One incident really did catch my eye. An investigation conducted by The Sun in January 2018 revealed that the country’s top companies that provide car insurance would give far lower quotes to drivers with typical English-sounding names, such as John Smith, and far higher quotes to drivers with typical Muslim-sounding names, such as Mohammed Ali. This form of Islamophobia manifests itself in a subtler way than, say, an act of violence. This is institutionalised Islamophobia, and it impacts the lives of Muslims and leads to unequal outcomes. To make much greater progress in reversing these discriminatory outcomes, we must begin from the point of an agreed definition.

In response to the APPG’s report, in May 2019, the then Communities Secretary said that Ministers would appoint two expert advisers to work on a different definition of Islamophobia.

“To get a firmer grip on the nature of this bigotry and division we agree there needs to be a formal definition of Islamophobia to help strengthen our efforts.”

They pledged that the Government would develop an effective definition of Islamophobia that commands wide-spread support. Following this announcement, in July 2019, the first appointment was made. Imam Qari Asim, deputy chair of the anti-Muslim hatred working group, was appointed to lead the process for establishing a definition of Islamophobia. There has been no second appointment. Imam Qari Asim was appointed for his experience working with a broad range of communities to tackle Islamophobia, including in his role as deputy chair of the cross-Government working group to tackle anti-Muslim hatred. I have spoken to him and he is keen to begin this work. Muslim communities up and down the country are waiting; they are expecting something—they were promised something. This cannot wait. In the absence of any action, the APPG definition has already been adopted by scores of councils, and the Scottish and Welsh Governments are also now considering this.

When I appeared on Salaam Radio, shortly after my election, the first question I was asked was not about the economy, the NHS or foreign affairs, but rather about when the Government were going to complete this work. I shall be on again soon; please, let me tell them that we have, at least, started this work. My message is clear: quickly appoint a second adviser, or tell Imam Qari Asim to begin his work. I shall work with him, and with the working group to tackle anti-Muslim hatred.

I know I speak for other APPG officers and Members when I say that frustration is building. A definition of Islamophobia has the potential to be a tremendous force for good, and it is brilliant that the Government recognise that. It is the first step in a country-wide effort to stamp out this evil and improve outcomes for millions of people. I cannot stand idly by and allow the children, and grandchildren, of my constituents to face the same discrimination and racism that their parents and grandparents faced during their lives. Islamophobia not only impacts lives and outcomes, it holds us back as a country. If Muslim men and women are prevented from being all that they can be, this country will never fulfil its potential. Please, Minister, let’s begin this work.