Over 3 years ago the government promised its own definition of Islamophobia. So where is it?

For far too many, when it comes to the list of concerns about the current corrupt and incompetent government, Islamophobia and prejudice against Muslims isn’t considered to be anywhere near the top.

Islamophobia Awareness Month

It has at times felt like an incredibly lonely struggle for British Muslim communities. Trying to get the government as well as many prominent journalists and newspapers to pay attention to Islamophobia, which is having a devastating impact for communities up and down the country, has proved incredibly difficult.

For far too many, when it comes to the list of concerns about the current corrupt and incompetent government, Islamophobia and prejudice against Muslims isn’t considered to be anywhere near the top.

This despite the fact that Muslims have been the target of almost half of recorded religious hate crimes, according to a Census 2021 report from Home Office. In the last few days it’s also been revealed that the Metropolitan Police produced an Islamophobic document which predicted “crime and disorder” in the days after the Grenfell Tower fire. They claimed this was because “the majority of those affected are believed to be coming from a Muslim cultural background”.

One of the reasons Islamophobia has been allowed to go unchecked is because of the government’s own repeated failure to take it seriously as well as its lack of commitment to rooting it out.

It’s now been more than three years since the government pledged to come up with its own working definition of Islamophobia, yet still we’ve had nothing.

Much like other matters concerning Islamophobia and prejudice against Muslims, the issue has been met with delay and denial – repeatedly kicked into the long grass, with senior Tories hoping it will just go away. In this, they have compliant allies across sections of the UK media, who have barely reported on the issue.

In May 2019, then late James Brokenshire said the government would come up with its own “working definition of Islamophobia”, after claiming that the definition proposed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims was not in line with the Equality Act 2010 and could “undermine free speech”.

This is despite the fact that the definition is not legally binding, and the report into the definition repeatedly references guaranteeing free speech.

The APPG definition of Islamophobia was widely accepted by other major political parties, including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives. Even senior police chiefs who had initially expressed scepticism over fears the definition could undermine efforts to combat extremism, later urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to adopt it, saying they had been reassured it would not hinder their work.

But none of this has mattered to the Conservative Party which continues to drag its feet over Islamophobia. By portraying Islamophobia as a contested term, it has also allowed the party an excuse to let itself off the hook. It cannot be in breach for failing to deal with a hatred it refuses to define and won’t let its victims define either.

This sorry state of affairs is compounded by the fact that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission has, for several years, refused to take action or to investigate the Conservative Party, even as MPs such as Bob Blackman, hosted anti-Muslim hate preachers who praised the Rohingya genocide in parliament, and party members call for Muslims to be thrown off bridges and sterilised. More recently Tory MP Nus Ghani says that she was sacked as a minister because of her Muslim faith.

Yet despite all of this, there have been no consequences for Tory members who espouse Islamophobic views. According to a Hope Not Hate report, 57 percent of party members had a negative attitude towards Muslims, with almost half of party members (47 percent) believing that Islam is “a threat to the British way of life”. In addition, 58 percent believe “there are no go areas in Britain where Sharia law dominates and non-Muslims cannot enter”.

We’re left with only one conclusion. The government knows that by failing to come up with its own definition of Islamophobia, and by refusing to let its victims define their own suffering, it can continue to portray hatred and racism against Muslims as a matter of debate. That means it can afford to let itself off the hook.

Basit Mahmood is editor of Left Foot Forward

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