England’s first Muslim MP today agreed that the Government was right to refuse to enshrine a definition of Islamophobia in law.
Labour’s Khalid Mahmood, who represents Birmingham Perry Barr, said the move would only divide the country more and lead to increased segregation of Muslim communities.
He told the Commons during a debate on the issue: ‘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’.
Supporters of the idea including the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims say that formalising the term will help to counter hostility toward Muslims.
But Mr Mahmood said: ‘I have been the victim of hate mail and actions from the far right and the Islamist community as well. I am proud to be a British Pakistani Muslim MP – the first Muslim to be elected in this Parliament from England. I will take no lessons from anyone who says I’m an Islamophobe or too much or a Muslim’.
Mr Mahmood also said the proposed definition focussed too much on what a Muslim man or woman would traditionally wear – rather than protecting British Muslims who choose to dress differently.
He said: ‘How do you protect those Muslims who dress normally in society but have the religion in their heart? The definition of ‘Muslimness’ as it is described in this report categorises people who dress a particular way and those who don’t. By defining it in this way you are excluding those who don’t’.
Yesterday he said the term ‘Islamophobia’ had been ‘weaponised’ by hardline groups and could be used to stifle the ‘operation of a free media’.
Labour’s Khalid Mahmood, pictured today, who represents Birmingham Perry Barr, said the move would only divide the country more and lead to more segregation of Muslim communities
Downing Street said last night the suggested definition of Islamophobia had not been broadly accepted, adding: ‘This is a matter that will need further careful consideration.’
More than 40 religious leaders and experts including Mr Mahmood wrote to Home Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday, telling him that the definition could be a ‘backdoor blasphemy law’ and limit free speech.
Naz Shah, who represents Bradford West, said Muslims in Britain were being denied the same rights as other races or religions in the UK.
Proposals for an official definition of Islamophobia were rejected by the Government yesterday after advice from anti-terror police and concerns it could be a ‘back door’ blasphemy law.
What is the UK law on Islamophobia?
There is no specific law against Islamophobia in the UK.
However, there are numerous laws which might be used to prosecute offenders.
Stirring up religious hatred is an offence under the Public Order Act 1986.
It can carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
Criminals may also be handed longer sentences for other offences if they are found to have been motivated by racial or religious hostility.
There are separate laws covering online abuse.
In addition, the Equality Act 2010 stops discrimination based on ‘protected characteristics’ including religion.
If a new, official definition is adopted, it could be used to block government actions in the courts.
Terror legislation could be subject to such judicial reviews, it is claimed.
An unofficial 1997 wording defined Islamophobia as ‘unfounded hostility towards Muslims’.
The suggested new one says: ‘Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.’
Supporters of the idea say that formalising the term will help to counter hostility toward Muslims.
Mrs Shah said: ‘If it is down to women to define the experience of feminism, the experiences of people of colour to define racism, the experience of Jews to define anti-Semitism, the experience of the LGBTQ+ communities to define homophobia, I ask the minister how dare he tell the British Muslims that our experiences can not define Islamophobia.
‘If that isn’t a pernicious form of racism then what is it?’
She called the Conservatives a ‘party in denial’ of its own problem with Islamophobia, who are ‘not serious about the safety and security if British Muslims’.
Labour’s Wes Streeting accused the Conservatives of making ‘the same mistakes’ over dealing with Islamophobia within the party as Jeremy Corbyn did with anti-Semitism.
During a Commons debate on Islamophobia today, he told MPs: ‘I have watched with some amazement and even greater despair the Conservative Party making exactly the same mistakes over Islamophobia within their party, as my party has with anti-Semitism.
‘The same miserable, inexcusable pattern of dismissal, denial and delegitimisation of serious concerns raised by prominent Muslims about racism within their ranks.’
He added: ‘As we recoil in horror at the deafening silence of decent people in the Conservative Party about racism within their ranks, I would respectfully say to some quarters in my own party: ‘that is the same silence you demand of me’.
‘It is a silence on anti-Semitism you will never receive’.
The definition is supported by political parties including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, pictured, has been warned that tightening the definition of Islamophobia could hit police anti-terror operations while stifling the freedom of the press
Ministers are expected to appoint two independent advisers to draw up a ‘less legally problematic’ definition, the Times reported.
Labour’s Naz Shah, who represents Bradford West, said Muslims in Britain were being denied the same rights as other races or religions in the UK.
Police warned it could undermine counter-terrorism operations.
MPs and peers on the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims want the Government to define Islamaphobia as ‘rooted in racism or a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness’.
However, the letter’s signatories, who include prominent Muslims, said: ‘We are concerned that allegations of Islamophobia will be – indeed already are being – used to effectively shield Islamic beliefs and even extremists from criticism, and that formalising this definition will result in it being employed effectively as something of a backdoor blasphemy law.
‘Evidently abuse, harmful practices, or the activities of groups and individuals which promote ideas contrary to British values are far more likely to go unreported as a result of fear of being called Islamophobic.
‘We are concerned that the definition will be used to shut down legitimate criticism and investigation.’
Ian Murray of the Society of Editors said ‘badly-worded descriptions of what Islamaphobia is taken to include’ could ‘prevent sensible and genuine debate’ and would ‘undoubtedly have a chilling effect on Press freedom’.
Martin Hewitt of the National Police Chiefs’ Council added: ‘We are concerned the definition is too broad as currently drafted, could cause confusion for officers enforcing it, and could be used to challenge legitimate free speech on the historical or theological actions of Islamic states. There is also a risk it could also undermine counter-terrorism powers, which seek to tackle extremism or prevent terrorism.’
The definition has already been accepted by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
The Labour Party was forced last September to adopt an internationally-agreed definition of anti-Semitism following months of controversy.