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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:49 pm on 9th September 2021.

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Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Shadow Minister (Employment Rights and Protections) 3:49 pm, 9th September 2021

Thank you, Mrs Murray. My difficulty is that I cannot do any justice to this debate in two minutes, so please bear with me. I can certainly assure you that I will not take as long as the previous speaker.

I thank Paul Bristow and my hon. Friend Naz Shah for securing this important and pertinent debate. I thank all individuals and campaign groups who bravely fight to raise awareness of Islamophobia and tackle it in our society on a daily basis. I also thank Bradford Council for Mosques, which this week celebrated a proud 40 years of serving our communities. I want to take this moment to commend its work, commitment and leadership, not just in Bradford but on a regional level.

Sadly, I cannot speak in this debate without feeling a deep sense of frustration and disappointment because, since we last debated this issue, Islamophobia has continued to run rife in our society. It has continued to blight our communities and, sadly, has not got any better. Indeed, the campaign group Tell MAMA last year reported that the UK had seen a rise of almost 700% in Islamophobic incidents. Let us take a minute just to take that in: a 700% rise. That is borne out by the sickening stories that people tell me of Muslim men, women and even children of all ages, in my constituency and across the country, who still face Islamophobic attacks and Islamophobic persecution on a daily basis, who are still subject to vile abuse because of their religion, and who are still told go home—even in the very town where they were born and raised.

It is a sad day when we have my hon. Friend Zarah Sultana reduced to tears for merely trying to do her job. That my hon. Friend, as one of the youngest Members, has come here and told this House that she feels she is unable to carry out her job as a democratically elected Member of Parliament is shocking and disgusting. We must all hang our heads in shame over the appalling treatment of my hon. Friend and Members like her.

At the heart of the issue is the normalisation of Islamophobia in our society. I accept the definition; I will not get into debates about a definition. The reality is the vile poison that has spread. We have seen the creation of a culture that tells people that it is acceptable to discriminate against, to persecute, to abuse Muslims because everyone else seems to be doing it. It has spread because it has been actively promoted in the rhetoric espoused in the media, and by countless public figures who reinforce over and over again a false narrative that Muslims are dangerous, and second-class citizens in our society. It has spread because it has been pushed and endorsed even by our own politicians—even by the Prime Minister, who thinks it is okay to describe Muslim women as “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”—as well as by many others who are in the public eye, talking down Muslims, treating us as a policing and social problem and promoting divisive policies that disproportionately target Muslims, such as Prevent. It has spread because society has normalised it, and that is the real problem.

Indeed, the normalisation of Islamophobia has now reached the point where it has become so commonplace and trivialised that, even if we do not see an active discrimination against Muslims that manifests in the most extreme way as violence and a vitriolic hatred by racists and bigots, we still experience a bias against us that sees Muslims denied employment opportunities, taken less seriously, and talked down to, because it has now become so endemic and so institutionalised that it has become subconscious discrimination. This normalisation is therefore as big a threat as the far right, because it creates an atmosphere on which far-right thugs and fascists feed—an environment in which they feel welcome, and in which bigoted Islamophobia can flourish unchallenged.

Mrs Murray, I am looking at the clock. I have a lot to say, but I will cut it short because of your request. The last thing I will say is this. If we are serious about tackling Islamophobia—this is where I agree with the point made earlier—we must move on from discussing the definition. We have spent the last two years talking about a definition, but that has not stopped Islamophobia. The point is that we need a definition in legislation. At the moment when these matters go to judges in courtrooms, they are not obliged to take it into account; it is a mitigating factor that they may take into account if they so wish. We need to legislate against this, which was the point made earlier by the hon. Member for Peterborough. We must stop talking and start acting—acting to stop religiously and racially motivated hate through legislation and acting, as a society, to challenge and tackle the vile and appalling normalisation of Islamophobia.