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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:55 pm on 9th September 2021.

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Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Commons 3:55 pm, 9th September 2021

Two years ago, we had a general debate on Islamophobia in which I delivered the Labour party’s position. Sadly, two years later, no progress has been made and the Government have failed to take any action on Islamophobia. The APPG on British Muslims has worked tirelessly on creating the definition. My colleagues have already touched on the detail of accepting this definition. Many councils, 800 Muslim organisations and almost all political parties, including the Scottish Conservative party, have accepted it. However, two years later, the Tory party have shown that they are in pure denial of Islamophobia through their refusal to accept the definition proposed by the APPG and their failure to conduct an independent investigation or to appoint Government advisers on this issue. They promised all of this.

What concerns me is that the Tory party has an institutional problem and, frankly, does not care about Islamophobia. The damning Singh review earlier this year revealed institutional failings within the Conservative party in how it handled Islamophobia complaints and that it failed to engage with any Conservative Muslim parliamentarians—it did not even acknowledge or mention the term “Islamophobia”. When a definition has such widespread community support, I ask the Minister why the Government are insistent on reinventing the wheel. Let me tell him why: I know the Conservative party does not care about Islamophobia. After writing to the Prime Minister during Islamophobia Awareness Month urging him to take action and meet me and key Muslim organisations, I never received a response. It has been 10 months. Perhaps I can try again during this year’s Islamophobia Awareness Month.

The UK is home to 2.7 million Muslims, but Islamophobia is on the rise and can have distressing and real-life implications for our Muslim community. A prime example was the far right peddling false narratives during the pandemic that British Muslims were spreading coronavirus. As a result, Muslim communities have suffered a shocking 40% increase in online Islamophobia during this period, according to Tell MAMA.

The Government’s own figures reveal once again that Muslims have been victim to the highest proportion of all hate crimes committed this year. The ugly face of right-wing racism reared its head in the horrific attack in Ontario, Canada—a sobering reminder that Islamophobia can kill. Here in the UK, we have seen the chilling results of Islamophobia too. Just this week, a young Muslim student in Rotherham was repeatedly punched and kicked by fellow students, leaving him hospitalised.

These are not isolated incidents. Home Office data supports this, and shows that referrals to Prevent for extreme right-wing ideologies have exponentially increased. I, along with colleagues, have pushed for the independent review of the Prevent strategy for several years. A coalition of more than 450 Islamic organisations, including 350 mosques and imams representing thousands of British Muslims, have boycotted the Government’s review of Prevent in protest against the appointment of William Shawcross as its chair. Shawcross has openly expressed hostile views of Islam and Muslims, including saying:

“Yes, the problem is ‘Islamic fascism’”.

Will the Minister urgently outline why the Government have appointed someone with Islamophobic views? Will he also respond to the overwhelming discontent over the Shawcross appointment and put on the record why the Government refuse to engage with the Muslim Council of Britain, the largest Muslim organisation in the UK?

Finally, as chair of Labour Muslim Network and vice-chair of the APPG on British Muslims, I reaffirm my commitment to tackle Islamophobia. I hope that today the Minister will finally endorse the definition and pledge to take action.