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UK government rejects racial definition of “Islamophobia”


21 May 2019

The government has rejected a proposed definition of Islamophobia, saying that combining race and religion would cause “legal and practical issues”.

Communities Secretary James Brokenshire told the House of Commons on 16 May the definition was out of line with the Equality Act 2010 and had “potential consequences for freedom of speech”. He said the government will appoint two new advisers to examine the issue further.

The definition, “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”, was proposed by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims after a six-month inquiry.

According to government equality advisers, the Equality Act 2010 “defines ‘race’ as comprising colour, nationality and national or ethnic origins, none of which would encompass a Muslim or Islamic practice”.

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Sir John Hayes [Image source: parliamentlive.tv]

The definition has been accepted by political parties including Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives. However, in the same week as the debate more than 40 religious leaders and experts warned in a letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid that the definition could be a “backdoor blasphemy law” that will limit free speech.

Conservative MP Sir John Hayes said, “The report essentially identifies Islamophobia as an exercise in racism, which presumes that the Muslim peoples of this country, or any country, are a race. Given that Islam is a religion, that proposition is of itself contentious, and has been described as such by some critics of the report.”

Hayes added, “People who ascribe to that religion come from all kinds of places, are all kinds of colours and creeds, and adopt all kinds of different practices. Rather like Christians, some take a more fundamentalist view of their faith than others. To describe them as a race is, of itself, a bold, and some would argue contentious, view, yet that is what the report does by identifying Islamophobia as a matter of anti-racism."

Speaking in the Commons debate, England’s first Muslim MP, Khalid Mahmood, said the definition would divide the country more and lead to increased segregation of Muslim communities. Mahmood, a Labour MP, said, “I am for equality for all – but I oppose this. We as Muslims should be proud of who we are and try to move away from a victim mentality.” 

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Khalid Mahmood [Image source: parliamentlive.tv]

But speaking in support of the proposed definition, Labour MP Wes Streeting, the Co-chairman of the APPG on British Muslims, accused the Conservatives of making “the same mistakes” over dealing with Islamophobia as Labour had on anti-Semitism. He said, “The same miserable, inexcusable pattern of dismissal, denial and delegitimisation of serious concerns raised by prominent Muslims about racism within their ranks.”

In 2017, Barnabas Fund published a statement recommending the use of the word “Muslimophobia” when condemning a fear and hatred of Muslim people. In the statement we said that the word “Islamophobia” should be used only to mean fear and hatred of the religious ideology Islam. Our statement also highlighted that it is a cause of much confusion that “Islamophobia” is commonly used to include fear and hatred of Muslim people as well.