Mus­lim groups call for at­tacks to be de­fined as racist

The Observer - - News - Dan Sab­bagh

Mus­lim or­gan­i­sa­tions are urg­ing Theresa May, Jeremy Cor­byn and all other party lead­ers to adopt a newly pro­posed work­ing def­i­ni­tion of Is­lam­o­pho­bia in an at­tempt to put pres­sure on a re­luc­tant Home Of­fice to fol­low suit.

The Mus­lim Coun­cil of Bri­tain and other Is­lamic groups want the Con­ser­va­tives and Labour to take the lead in the af­ter­math of a week marked by pub­lic out­rage over the al­leged racist bul­ly­ing of a 15-yearold Syr­ian refugee in Hud­der­s­field.

The def­i­ni­tion was set out in a re­port pub­lished by a cross-party group of MPs last week and says: “Is­lam­o­pho­bia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that tar­gets ex­pres­sions of Mus­lim­ness or per­ceived Mus­lim­ness.”

Harun Khan, sec­re­tary gen­eral of the Mus­lim Coun­cil of Bri­tain, said his and other groups hoped po­lit­i­cal lead­ers would “all un­der­stand the im­por­tance of lis­ten­ing to com­mu­ni­ties” and make a “pos­i­tive re­sponse” by adopt­ing the def­i­ni­tion.

How­ever, a Home Of­fice min­is­ter said ear­lier that the de­part­ment had no in­ten­tion of adopt­ing a def­i­ni­tion, in re­sponse to a ques­tion from one of the chairs of the cross-party group, the Con­ser­va­tive MP Anna Soubry. Vic­to­ria Atkins told the Com­mons in March that there were “many def­i­ni­tions of Is­lam­o­pho­bia”, but added: “We do not ac­cept the need for a de­fin­i­tive def­i­ni­tion, but we know that Is­lam­o­pho­bia is clearly recog­nised and that we have very ef­fec­tive mon­i­tor­ing sys­tems of all race-hate crimes.”

The in­quiry by the all-party par­lia­men­tary group on Bri­tish Mus­lims held ses­sions in Manch­ester, Lon­don, Birm­ing­ham and Sh­effield. Mem­bers heard about a wide spec­trum of Is­lam­o­pho­bic ex­pe­ri­ences, in­clud­ing mul­ti­ple in­ci­dents of phys­i­cal and ver­bal abuse.

A Mus­lim woman de­scribed how a lit fire­work was posted through her let­ter­box in her home in Wales; a stu­dent in Sh­effield was abused on pub­lic trans­port and “no one in­ter­vened to stop it”. Vic­tims de­scribed the im­pact on their men­tal health of their ex­pe­ri­ences, which of­ten left them feel­ing iso­lated.

A newly launched web­site in sup­port of the def­i­ni­tion in­cludes the ex­am­ple of a Mus­lim mother who was al­legedly at­tacked by three women “for wear­ing a head­scarf” as she walked to a primary school in south Lon­don.

The plea for politi­cians to adopt the def­i­ni­tion comes after a bruis­ing sum­mer dom­i­nated by rows about an­ti­semitism in the Labour party as well as Is­lam­o­pho­bia among the Con­ser­va­tives, fol­low­ing a par­tic­u­larly con­tro­ver­sial news­pa­per column writ­ten by the for­mer for­eign sec­re­tary, Boris Johnson, in which he com­pared fully veiled women to let­ter­boxes and bank rob­bers.

Labour’s an­ti­semitism row was partly re­solved when, after a long pe­riod of ar­gu­ment, the party’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee agreed to adopt a work­ing def­i­ni­tion drawn up by the In­ter­na­tional Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Al­liance and all 11 at­tached ex­am­ples.

Those who worked on the def­i­ni­tion of Is­lam­o­pho­bia wanted it to cap­ture the re­al­ity that, while Mus­lims are not a race, abuse against them amounts to a form of racism. At the same time it was felt im­por­tant that the def­i­ni­tion did not si­lence non­racist crit­i­cism of Is­lam.

Two of the most in­flu­en­tial con­tri­bu­tions to the par­lia­men­tary group’s work were made by Pro­fes­sor Sal­man Sayyid of Leeds Univer­sity and Ab­doolKarim Vakil of King’s Col­lege Lon­don. They said: “Op­po­si­tion to the term Is­lam­o­pho­bia or to at­tempts at its def­i­ni­tion is noth­ing new. Is­lam­o­pho­bia is racism; nam­ing and com­bat­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia is not about spe­cial plead­ing, it’s about civil rights.”

Harun Khan, leader of the Mus­lim Coun­cil of Bri­tain, is among those call­ing for ac­tion.

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