‘Utter neglect’: Government fails to create Islamophobia definition two years after pledge
The government has been accused of “utterly neglecting” Islamophobia after failing for over two years to produce a definition that can be used to combat anti-Muslim hatred.
A group of MPs and peers called for a working definition to be adopted following a six-month inquiry in 2018, saying the lack of one was allowing Islamophobia to “increase in society to devastating effect”.
The Conservative government rejected the proposals in May 2019 and announced it would commission independent experts to draw up a different definition.
But only one adviser is known to have been appointed and no proposals have ever been published.
Members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, which drew up the 2018 definition, are to raise the issue in parliament on Thursday.
Vice chair Naz Shah told The Independent: “It is astonishing that 845 days on, we are still calling on the government to adopt the APPG definition of Islamophobia.
“The government’s complete and utter neglect on working to accept a definition of Islamophobia highlights how much consideration it gives to tackling the very real form of racism.”
The Labour MP said Islamophobia affected people’s everyday lives and highlighted terror attacks targeting Muslims, including the 2019 mosque shootings in New Zealand.
“We just can not afford an incident like Christchurch to happen in the UK, but while everyday Islamophobia is becoming normalised, the government does not seem to care,” Ms Shah added.
After taking evidence from Muslim organisations, legal experts, academics, MPs and other groups in 2018, the APPG called on the government to use the definition: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
It was adopted by the Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the London mayor’s office, but rejected by the Conservative government.
In May 2019, the then communities secretary James Brokenshire said ministers would instead 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,” he said at the time, pledging that the government would “develop an effective definition of Islamophobia which commands widespread support”.
Senior police officers had written to the prime minister with concerns that the definition was too broad and could “undermine many elements of counterterrorism powers and policies”, and critics voiced concern over freedom of speech.
Members of the APPG disagreed and added: “The aim of establishing a working definition of Islamophobia has neither been motivated by, nor is intended to curtail, free speech or criticism of Islam as a religion.”
The group’s report said: “From hate crimes motivated by anti-Muslim feeling, buttressed by stereotypes and racist caricatures prevalent in social and media discourse, to policies which perpetuate discriminatory outcomes for Muslims, a definition of Islamophobia is vital.”
One independent adviser, imam Qari Asim MBE, was appointed in July 2019, but a second adviser was not announced and no proposals have been published.
The row over the definition was noted in a report on Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, which was published in May.
It found that two-thirds of discriminatory incidents reported to the party’s headquarters over six years related to anti-Muslim hatred and warned that “concerns about Islamism should not prevent the party from significantly improving its community outreach efforts into Muslim communities”.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “We have always been clear that this government does not, and will not, tolerate anti-Muslim hatred in any form and will continue to combat such discrimination and intolerance.
“We’re working to agree a robust definition of Islamophobia and it’s important to take the time to get this right – the one proposed by the APPG is not acceptable as it would have severe consequences for freedom of speech.”