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UK parliament finally debates definition of Islamophobia

24th Sep 2021
UK parliament finally debates definition of Islamophobia

Labour’s Imran Hussain, Khalid Mahmood, Naz Shah, Yasmin Qureshi and Zarah Sultana debated the definition of Islamophobia in parliament on September 9. (Photo: Parliament UK)

Harun Nasrullah

The definition of Islamophobia was finally debated in parliament on September 9, two years after the Government initially agreed. Muslim Labour MPs Imran Hussain, Khalid Mahmood, Naz Shah, Yasmin Qureshi and Zarah Sultana all addressed Westminster Hall during the debate on a definition of Islamophobia drafted by a cross-party group of MPs.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims (APPG) which was established on July 18, 2017, is calling on the Government to adopt the definition of Islamophobia as defined in its report published on November 27, 2018.

The report, titled Islamophobia Defined: the inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia, states that “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

In an interview with the APPG Professor Peter Hopkins of the Centre for Hate Studies at Leicester University stated that by not adopting a concrete definition of Islamophobia it may “encourage some people to continue to deny that Islamophobia is an issue in society.”

Khalid Mahmood, MP for Birmingham, Perry Barr, said it was “not good enough” that any definition of Islamophobia adopted would be non-binding.

He continued, “I am concerned about the definition of Islamophobia, as I have made clear for a long time. In 1997, the Runnymede Trust referred to Islamophobia—although its first term for it was “anti-Muslim prejudice”, which it aligned with antisemitism. What we are really discussing is the issue of hatred. That should be put in legislation, and it should be a legal requirement for us, and other committed people, to deal with it.”

Naz Shah, Bradford West MP and vice-chair of APPG said, “We are here today because the Government has failed British Muslims. Five academics and over 700 Muslim organisations have endorsed the definition. It has been a decade since Baroness Warsi said Islamophobia passed the dinner-table test. It is clear that this is not a matter of the Government not trying; it is a matter of a government not caring.”

Bradford East MP, Imran Hussain, called for swift action to counter the “normalisation of Islamophobia”, which has become “widespread.”

Sultana recounted her experiences during a debate on Islamophobia. In an emotional speech, the Coventry South MP said she had been called a “terrorist sympathiser”, and described being treated by some people “as if I were an enemy of the country I was born in”. She added, “Before being elected, I was nervous about being a Muslim woman in the public eye. Growing up, I had seen the abuse prominent British Muslims were subjected to – I knew I wouldn’t be in for an easy ride.

“I would like to say I was wrong to be worried when young Muslim girls ask me what it’s like. I would like to say ‘there is nothing to worry about’, that they would face the same challenges as their non-Muslim friends and colleagues, but I cannot say that because in my short time in Parliament that is not my experience.” Sultana talked about a series of hate letters she had received since being elected in 2019.

“One person, for example, wrote to me, and I quote, ‘Sultana, you and your Muslim mob are a real danger to humanity’. Another wrote I am a cancer everywhere I go and soon, they said, ‘Europe will vomit you out’. A third called me a ‘terrorist sympathiser and scum of the earth’ and that is sanitised of their un-parliamentary language.”

The MP broke down in tears as she told the hall: “I have discovered that to be a Muslim woman, to be outspoken and to be left-wing is to be subjected to this barrage of hate. It is to be treated by some as if I were an enemy of the country I was born in, as if I don’t belong.”

Yasmin Qureshi, the MP for Bolton South East, echoed Sultana’s sentiment. “I do not know if it will help her, but many of us Muslim women have been abused in a similar format. I have had emails and messages on social media saying that I am, and I quote, words beginning with “f” and “b”, and that I should be sent off to Saudi Arabia to be raped. There are all kinds of interesting words being used and letters written. That does not help, but I hope that she understands.”

Despite an alarming rising rate of Islamophobia in the UK and the West “there is still no accepted definition of Islamophobia,” said Qureshi. “There are three million Muslims in the UK—almost 5 per cent of our overall population.

Despite Muslims having been present in this country as far back as the 16th century, many believe they are treated as the other. Islamophobia permeates all domains of our society. It threatens education, limits employment prospects and impacts everyday issues, including health, wellbeing and housing” she said.

Communities Minister Eddie Hughes, said the Government is committed “to there being a robust and effective definition [of Islamophobia] and we will outline our steps to achieve this in due course.”

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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