An-Nisa Society urges Brent Council to reject the All-Party Parliamentary Group’s ill thought out and regressive definition of Islamophobia at the full Council meeting on Monday July 8th that has been tabled by for adoption by Cllr Ahmad Shahzad (Labour – Mapesbury).
An-Nisa Society rejects this definition which states that:
“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
The definition and the arguments in the report are riddled with thinking that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
We reject that Islamophobia is a form of racism. Rather, it is a deeply rooted historical hatred and prejudice of Islam as a faith and of its adherents, who are Muslims from diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds. This manifests in prejudice, discrimination, abuse and attacks. It is a hatred of Islam and Muslims that drives the discrimination and attacks. This is not just the case in the West but also in places like China, India and Myanmar.
To subsume Islamophobia into racism, which is about colour and ethnicity no matter how much this definition is trying to manipulate it as a form of ‘cultural’ racism, is to minimise the alarming extent of the hatred of Islam. We cannot combat Islamophobia effectively if the root cause is not properly identified.
This definition of Islamophobia, like the Prevent policy and it’s Public Sector Duty, will do little to improve conditions for our local Muslim communities. It not only fails to identify the root causes but also fails to address the most important issues that are about implementation and resources for implementation. This report does not offer any guidelines how it will be implemented in practice.
If racism alone was the issue then the anti-racism policies that have been implemented for decades would be enough to tackle this social exclusion of Muslims and the hate crimes perpertrated against them. But they clearly haven’t.
While there is often intersectionality with racism Islamophobia is a specifically anti-Muslim religious discrimination. Unless this is understood and taken on board then adopting any definition that says otherwise is not only not fit for purpose and unworkable, it is also detrimental as there will be a false impression that something is being done, thereby preventing a more relevant and meaningful definition to be worked at.
The definition is regressive and undermines all the work that has been done since the mid 80’s to identify Islamophobia as faith based and not race based. The campaign to tackle anti-Muslim exclusion and anti-Muslim hatred began in the mid 1980s in Brent, led and initiated by An-Nisa Society as a call for the government and the anti-racist movement to acknowledge anti-Muslim discrimination as a specific discrimination separate but sometimes intersectional with race. It is ironic that a movement that started locally by Muslim women and taken on board nationally has never been addressed in it’s place of origin. (1)
Our Director has worked for Brent Council in its Race Relations Unit and has served as a Commissioner with The Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia and as a trustee for the Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism. (1)
Getting the definition right should not be piggybacked on other existing recognised hatreds or as a defensive reaction to those who attack the very existence of Islamophobia. For example,
“In this definition of Islamophobia, the link to racism is made for both pragmatic and theoretical reasons. Pragmatically, many large organisations already have in place mechanisms and protocols for dealing with racism; therefore, by articulating Islamophobia as a form of racism, there is no need to invent new procedures to deal with complaints and concerns that arise. Theoretically, racism is understood to be a form of regulation based on racialization by which collective identities are formed and placed in hierarchies.” (2)
If these race-based structures had worked for Islamophobia we wouldn’t have had to campaign for decades for separate recognition. And why should we be pragmatic? We have to be bold and courageous and chart our own experience of prejudice and discrimination and how to it needs to be addressed.
Should the definition be an almost word for word copy of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-semitism?
“The authors of the report have taken the structure and content of IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism as their starting point and, in many places, done little more than cross out ‘Jew’ and insert ‘Muslim’ in its place. Most forms of bigotry have some common characteristics but diverge significantly in their details and form. Homophobia doesn’t take the same form as anti-Black racism. Transphobia isn’t identical to misogyny. If you start out with a definition of antisemitism and try to apply it to the sort of hatred that Muslims face, you will miss the mark.” (3)
Freedom of Speech & the Right to Criticise religion
And of course the issue of freedom of speech and the right to criticize religion. Yes we agree that any criticism of Islam that is made in good faith is welcome. What is not welcome where this is used as a cover to incite hatred of Islam and Muslims, either directly or indirectly leading to discrimination and attacks on Muslims. This needs to be addressed robustly through our laws around incitement to hatred, which at the moment it isn’t.
We urge Brent Council to reject this definition.
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