Government urged to adopt new definition of Islamophobia following rise in hate crimes

Exclusive: More than 50 cross-party MPs and peers warn discrimination against Muslims is going ‘unreported and unchallenged’ in UK

Tom Barnes
Thursday 13 December 2018 23:24 GMT
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi exposes problems of current 'Islamophobia' definition

The government has been urged by more than 50 cross-party parliamentarians to adopt a new definition of Islamophobia which would classify discrimination against Muslims as a form of racism, The Independent can reveal.

Members of a cross-party group of MPs and peers have warned discrimination against Muslims in the UK is going “unreported and unchallenged” because of the absence of a concrete definition.

The warning comes weeks after official government statistics showed reports of racial and religiously motivated hate crime in England and Wales had risen for a fifth consecutive year.

Following six months of consultations with various groups, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims proposed “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness” as an official definition.

Now, in a cross-party letter from the APPG seen by The Independent, dozens of parliamentarians are calling on the government to adopt the phrase to clearly identify what constitutes discrimination against Muslims.

“Across policy domains, from employment, education and criminal justice to housing, healthcare and hate crime, Islamophobia has a significant negative impact on the life chances and quality of life enjoyed by British Muslims,” the letter states.

“Let us be clear, Islamophobia is rooted in racism and its victims are not just Muslims but also those who are perceived to be Muslims. Its effects are seen in individual behaviours and institutional processes.

“Whether it is Muslim women who are denied job opportunities because they wear a headscarf, gurdwaras that are defaced because they are mistakenly identified as mosques, or Muslim students who fail to secure entry offers from Russell Group universities, the effects of Islamophobia are real and measurable.”

More than 71,000 racially motivated hate crimes were recorded in England and Wales in 2017-18, almost double the 35,800 that took place in 2012-13, according to Home Office figures.

Over the same period, hate crimes committed against a person due to their religion had increased more than fivefold, up from just over 1,500 in 2012-13 to 8,300 in 2017-18.

Labour MP Wes Streeting, who co-chairs the APPG on British Muslims with Conservative counterpart Anna Soubry, said it was “encouraging” the definition had achieved cross-party support.

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“This definition recognises the deep-rooted nature of Islamophobia and therefore quite rightly has support from parliamentarians across party lines,” Ms Soubry added. “I hope it will now enable the serious work that needs to be done to tackle Islamophobia.”

The APPG’s report on Islamophobia, released in November, found large sections of the UK population bought into “myths” about Islam and Muslims.

The report noted previous studies that found a third of British people believe in the existence of “no-go zones” where non-Muslims are not permitted to enter.

It also criticised false or misleading news stories that stoked mistrust or anger towards the Muslim community, including the “Winterval” myth, which baselessly claims orchestrated efforts are being made for Christmas to be suppressed or rebranded in an attack on Christianity.

The Conservative government announced in 2016 it would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition on antisemitism in a bid to curb hate crime against Jews.

However, Tory peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi also claimed earlier this year the “poison” of Islamophobia was “widespread” at all levels of her party.

In June, the chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum accused his own party of failing to root out Islamophobia because he said they were scared of damaging their political power.

The Muslim Council of Britain also called on the government to adopt the APPG’s working definition of Islamophobia.

“This definition of Islamophobia not only has credibility due to the endorsement of over 75 academics, but also has community support with the endorsement of Muslim organisations from a range of backgrounds including representatives of hundreds of mosques from different parts of the country,” a spokesman for the organisation said.

“It is now time for the government to listen to Muslim communities and adopt this definition. It is a first and important step to recognising the scope of Islamophobia in our society today.”

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