LONDON: MPs have urged the British government to adopt an official definition of Islamophobia following accusations that it has “utterly neglected” to tackle anti-Muslim hatred.
In 2018, a group of MPs and lords called for a working definition of Islamophobia to be adopted following a six-month inquiry.
They said at the time that the lack of a clear definition was allowing Islamophobia to “increase in society to devastating effect.”
The following year, the government rejected those proposals but failed to publish any counter-proposals to combat Islamophobia.
The inquiry’s agreed definition was: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West, told The Independent: “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.”
Members of the original inquiry, including Shah — run by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims — raised the issue in Parliament on Thursday.
Speaking in the debate, Shah said she and her colleagues are “not asking for special treatment, we’re asking for equality,” and warned of the prevalence of Islamophobia in Britain today.
“In the British context, Islam and Muslims have increasingly been seen to be culturally dangerous and threatening to the British way of life. Muslims have been labeled as deviant and evil,” she added.
“We witnessed through the height of the pandemic how untrue these statements are. When the nation needed to come together, to serve, to unite, British Muslims played a leading role.
“But sadly, far-right extremists and Islamophobic stereotypes are peddling a narrative that can lead to worrying consequences for Muslim communities.”
Shah continued: “Adopting a definition is only the first step. Preventing, challenging, and tackling Islamophobia is a debate that still needs to take place.
“This isn’t a change of law or Muslims asking for extra protection, but simply requesting that the government recognize Islamophobia.”
Imran Hussain, MP for Bradford East, said he accepts the APPG’s definition of Islamophobia, but said the root problem is the “culture of discrimination” against Muslims in Britain.
“We’ve seen the creation of a culture which tells people it’s acceptable to discriminate against or abuse Muslims because everyone else seems to be doing it,” he added.
“It has spread because it has been actively promoted by the rhetoric espoused in the media and by countless public figures who reinforce over and over again that Muslims are dangerous and second-class citizens in our society.”
This kind of discrimination, Hussain added, has “spread because society has normalized it. That’s the real problem here.”
This kind of normalization can have real-world and sometimes fatal consequences, said Afzal Khan, MP for Manchester Gorton.
“Muslim communities have suffered a shocking 40 percent increase in online Islamophobia incidents during the pandemic,” he added.
“This ugly face of right-wing racism reared its head in the horrific attacks in Ontario, Canada — a sobering reminder that Islamophobia can kill.”
That attack saw four members of a Muslim family murdered in a premeditated attack, leaving just a 9-year-old boy, now orphaned, alive.
Khan also pointed to an attack that occurred earlier this week in the UK, in which a young Muslim student was left hospitalized after being “punched and kicked” by fellow students. “These aren’t isolated incidents,” Khan said.
For the Muslim Council of Britain, defining Islamophobia represents the “first step” in preventing these hate crimes.
“Islamophobia is a pervasive and pernicious form of racism. The first step to tackling it is to acknowledge it exists and defining it,” an MCB spokesperson told Arab News.
“On both those counts, the government has failed miserably and shown a complete disregard for Muslim communities and the discrimination they face.
“The MCB has consistently called for the government to adopt the APPG on British Muslims’ definition, which has broad support across civil society and from leading academics on the subject.”