Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 27 May 2019

British government rejects Islamophobia definition ahead of debate

Counter-terrorism police warned the definition would harm freedom of speech

British Muslim women and children demonstrate against Islamophobia. Getty
British Muslim women and children demonstrate against Islamophobia. Getty

The British government has rejected a definition of Islamophobia created by a group of cross-party MPs because of a concern that it would threaten freedom of speech.

"Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness," the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims said.

The secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Harun Khan, said the government’s decision to reject the group’s definition was "truly extraordinary".

But the government said that the wording of the definition needed further consideration and indicated that the definition had not been broadly accepted.

MPs are due to debate the definition in Parliament on Thursday in a session on anti-Muslim racism.

A report by Buzzfeed News said that the government planned to appoint two independent advisers to produce their own definition of Islamophobia.

A senior police chief warned earlier on Wednesday that the proposed definition would undermine counter-terror operations.

In a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, the head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council said the change could “undermine many elements of counter-terrorism powers and policies”.

They included port stops, bans on terrorist groups and propaganda, and the legal duty requiring schools, councils and the National Health Service to report suspected extremism.

“We take all reports of hate crime very seriously and will investigate them thoroughly," police chief council chairman Martin Hewitt said.

"However, we have some concerns about the proposed definition of ‘Islamophobia’ made by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims.

“We are concerned that the definition is too broad as currently drafted, could cause confusion for officers enforcing it and could be used to challenge legitimate free speech on the historical or theological actions of Islamic states."

But many MPs back the proposed definition and it has been formally endorsed by the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, and the Scottish Conservatives. It has also been endorsed by several Muslim groups.

“The Conservative Party is in denial about Islamophobia and other forms of racism in its ranks, and that denial flows from the very top," said Naz Shah, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities.

"If Theresa May refuses to adopt the definition of Islamophobia, the message she sends to the Muslim community will be heard loud and clear.

“It has been a great struggle to get the police to record Islamophobia as a specific crime, so it is deeply worrying to see the National Police Chiefs' Council bringing terrorism into the discussion about tackling Islamophobia.

“This shows a worrying trend of seeing British Muslims through the lens of terror and security, and the Prime Minister must distance herself from this immediately.”

There has been an increase in anti-Muslim racism in the UK in recent years.

Islamophobia watchdog Tell Mama received 608 reports of anti-Muslim crime in the first half of 2018, 45.4 per cent of which was deemed to be "abusive behaviour".

That includes spitting, ripping women’s hijabs, destruction of Muslim property and mosques, and arson.

Updated: May 16, 2019 11:51 AM

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