The Conservatives have come under fire from Muslim groups and Labour MPs for reportedly refusing to adopt a working definition of ‘Islamophobia’ proposed by an all-party Parliamentary group (APPG).
The definition, as put forward by the British Muslims APPG in December, determined that “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”, reports The Guardian.
While the definition has been accepted and adopted by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and even the Scottish Conservatives, the Conservative Party in England and Wales have yet to adopt the definition due to concerns that it would negatively impact free speech and restrict legitimate criticism of Islam as a belief system, or of Islamic countries. As such, the Conservatives are appointing two advisors to develop a new, less controversial, definition of Islamophobia.
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) April 10, 2016
The government has been advised by the Equalities Office that by British law, Islam is a religion and not a race, illustrating one of the issues with the suggestion that Islamophobia be recognised as a type of racism.
The concerns about free speech were also highlighted by Martin Hewitt, Chair of the National Police Chief’s council, who said that the definition was “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”.
The senior officer has warned the definition, if adopted, could even impact counter-terrorism operations in future, The Times reports.
Sayeeda Warsi, the former Chair of the Conservative Party, dismissed Hewitt’s concerns as “irresponsible scaremongering”. She said “a non-legally binding working definition” would not negatively impact free speech or hinder the police in doing their job.
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) May 15, 2015
Freedom of speech did not appear to be a concern for the authors of the report even from the very beginning, as Breitbart London reported in April 2018 when the call for submissions to contribute to the definition dismissed it as “possibly outside the scope of this report”.
UKIP London Assembly Member David Kurten criticised Baroness Warsi and others working on the report for their choices of participating bodies for the report, stating at the time: “MPs and Lords on the APPG should not be looking for feedback from groups which want to stop discussion or criticism of Islamic texts.
“In a free and healthy society, open discussion and debate are essential, and they should be actively seeking to allow freedom of speech, thought and conscience, rather than making rules and definitions which are likely to curtail the freedoms which have been hard won over centuries of British history.”
Having now completed its report, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said Wednesday it was “truly astonishing the government thinks it knows better than Muslim communities”.
The statement from the MCB added: “If this free speech rationale is true, it would mean that the government believes that defining the racism that targets Muslims or expressions of Muslimness somehow impinges on free speech. Defining antisemitism does not do so, but defining Islamophobia does.”
Labour MP and Chair of the British Muslim APPG Wes Streeting said “the lack of humility and self-reflection is astonishing. Given their abject failure to tackle racism within their own party, why does this Conservative Government believe they have the credibility to write their own definition rather than one backed by huge numbers of Muslims.”
UK Opposition Leader Corbyn Makes Simon Wiesenthal Anti-Semitism List https://t.co/k5j6dyiAS3
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) December 28, 2018
Labour’s shadow equalities minister Naz Shah said: “The Conservative Party is in denial about Islamophobia and other forms of racism in its ranks, and that denial flows from the very top. If Theresa May refuses to adopt the definition of Islamophobia, the message she sends to the Muslim community will be heard loud and clear.”
The criticism of the Conservatives may come as something of a deflection attempt by Labour to offset their own ongoing and major scandal about anti-semitism. The party and its leader Jeremy Corbyn have both been accused in the past of anti-semitic behaviour.
In a Facebook post in 2014, Ms Shah suggested that Israel be moved to the United States to give Palestinians “their land back”. Ms Shah also compared the actions of the Israeli government to those of Hitler, an anti-Semitic trope.
One Labour branch member also famously dismissed the controversy of anti-semitism out of hand, saying there had been too much talk of “antisemitism this, antisemitism that”.