Politics of ‘Islamophobia’!

Recent socio-political developments, including the London mayor election (the opposition campaign attacked Sadiq Khan for who he is) and the right-wing campaign at the EU Referendum, have created a culture more open to anti-Muslim manifestations.

In 2017/18 52% of recorded religious hate crime offences were targeted against Muslims (Muslim population in England and Wales was 4.8% according to the 2011 Census) – many such crimes are not even reported because of the lack of confidence in a positive outcome, also many anti-Muslim situations or Muslim-hostile statements, including by far right extremists or the members of the political parties or by right-wing media,  have escaped the scope of the hate crime.

Therefore, no doubt there is an urgent need to address anti-Muslim hatred/ hostility/ discrimination in all areas of life that are carried out by individuals or institutions or recycled by media. But what does not help is the use of Islamophobia (fear of Islam – fear that one can argue is uncontrollable and therefore gives offender a get-out) and anti-Muslim hatred interchangeably, even though both are realities.

What is therefore needed is two prong approach: (a)strengthening and firmly applying the existing hate crimes and anti-discriminatory legislation/ mechanisms to deal with attacks on Muslims – verbal, physical, damage to property or marches and hate speech, Muslim specific negativity by media etc (b)addressing Islamophobia at socio-political and institutional levels by creating an environment in which Muslims in their day-to-day context are accepted as a part of life.

But this has not happened. What did happen is the attempt to encapsulate all kind of unfavourable Muslim experiences in Britain, including the incidents of anti-Muslim hatred, in the deficient term ‘Islamophobia’ – a misleading term.

Some months back, All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims (APPG), mostly Muslim Labour MPs, worked out an iffy definition of Islamophobia which they claimed has been supported by many Muslim academics and community organisations, and called on the government to adopt it.

“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

Irrespective of who have supported the definition or which opposition political parties have adopted it, the deficient definition has been widely questioned and seen as vague, misleading, confusing and unworkable, primarily because Muslims are not a racial group, racism itself means differently to different people, ‘type of racism’ or ‘muslimness’ have no legal status  and so on.  In short, it would be extremely difficult to interpret the definition legally.

Since it is unbelievable that well known politicians and academics behind this discredited term (Islamophobia) and its equally discredited definition could not see the uselessness of the term and its elaboration, it would be logical to assume that they wanted to score political point as the government is unlikely to adopt the defination, grow their Muslim vote bank by implying that they have done something for Muslims or had other motives and came out with something which is of no practical value and therefore would have no adverse impact on the status quo.

Following public claim of who have supported the definition, Commons Home Affairs Committee announced an Islamophobia inquiry last December and requested written submissions which have now been published ahead of the MPs debate on the definition in Parliament on Thursday – the government has said they will oppose the definition and will appoint advisors to develop an acceptable definition of what Muslims unfavourably face.

The written submissions presented a mixed picture – favourable responses by those who supported the definition  and strong criticism by other individuals and organisations, for example:

“Unfortunately, the working definition (Islamophobia) proposed by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims (APPG) is not fit for that purpose.”

“the use of the term Islamophobia and the proposed definition, which wrongly conflates criticism of Islam with bigotry towards Muslims”

“The convoluted definition of Islamophobia that the APPG has come up with – confusing a religion (a question of belief) with a race (an immutable characteristic) – will make little difference to these trends.  The report’s biases and hyperbolic stances will simply contribute to increased fear and distrust on the part of Britain’s largely thriving Muslim population”

“We would prefer a definition focusing on discrimination and hate against Muslims or people perceived to be Muslims”.

An open letter signed by over 40 academics, writers and campaigners said the definition was “unfit for purpose”, warning its “uncritical and hasty adoption” would “aggravate community tensions” and “inhibit free speech about matters of fundamental importance”.

 

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