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Muslims demand full legal protection from Islamophobia

Muslims demand full legal protection from Islamophobia

Muslim organisations are urging Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and all other party leaders to adopt a newly proposed working definition of Islamophobia in an attempt to put pressure on a reluctant Home Office to follow suit. The Muslim Council of Britain and other Islamic groups want the Conservatives and Labour to take the lead in…

Muslim organisations are urging Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and all other party leaders to adopt a newly proposed working definition of Islamophobia in an attempt to put pressure on a reluctant Home Office to follow suit.

The Muslim Council of Britain and other Islamic groups want the Conservatives and Labour to take the lead in the aftermath of a week marked by public outrage over the alleged racist bullying of a 15-year-old Syrian refugee in Huddersfield.

The definition was set out in a report published by a cross-party group of MPs last week and says: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said his and other groups hoped political leaders would “all understand the importance of listening to communities” and make a “positive response” by adopting the definition.

However, a Home Office minister said earlier that the department had no intention of adopting a definition, in response to a question from one of the chairs of the cross-party group, the Conservative MP Anna Soubry. Victoria Atkins told the Commons in March that there were “many definitions of Islamophobia”, but added: “We do not accept the need for a definitive definition, but we know that Islamophobia is clearly recognised and that we have very effective monitoring systems of all race-hate crimes.”

The inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims held sessions in Manchester, London, Birmingham and Sheffield. Members heard about a wide spectrum of Islamophobic experiences, including multiple incidents of physical and verbal abuse.

A Muslim woman described how a lit firework was posted through her letterbox in her home in Wales; a student in Sheffield was abused on public transport and “no one intervened to stop it”. Victims described the impact on their mental health of their experiences, which often left them feeling isolated.

A newly launched website in support of the definition includes the example of a Muslim mother who was allegedly attacked by three women “for wearing a headscarf” as she walked to a primary school in south London.

The plea for politicians to adopt the definition comes after a bruising summer dominated by rows about antisemitism in the Labour party as well as Islamophobia among the Conservatives, following a particularly controversial newspaper column written by the former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, in which he compared fully veiled women to letterboxes and bank robbers.

Labour’s antisemitism row was partly resolved when, after a long period of argument, the party’s national executive committee agreed to adopt a working definition drawn up by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and all 11 attached examples.

Those who worked on the definition of Islamophobia wanted it to capture the reality that, while Muslims are not a race, abuse against them amounts to a form of racism. At the same time it was felt important that the definition did not silence non-racist criticism of Islam.

Two of the most influential contributions to the parliamentary group’s work were made by Professor Salman Sayyid of Leeds University and AbdoolKarim Vakil of King’s College London.

They said: “Opposition to the term Islamophobia or to attempts at its definition is nothing new. Islamophobia is racism; naming and combating Islamophobia is not about special pleading, it’s about civil rights.”

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