A retired Jewish doctor from London who chaired the groundbreaking Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia this week reflected on his role, 20 years after the publication of its first report.

Dr Richard Stone, a GP in the West End and racial equality activist, retired early aged 55, and was involved in the setting up of the Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE) along with Edie Friedman.

He had not been working in general practice for four years when he was asked to participate as one of 18 members, together with Reform Rabbi Baroness Julia Neuberger, on the multi-ethnic, multi-religious Islamophobia Commission, which he later chaired.

Published in 1997 and produced by the Runnymede Trust, the Commission authored the report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All. It was soon launched by Tony Blair’s Labour government and was one of the first tasks of then Home Secretary Jack Straw.

It found parallels between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, a term it popularised, after an earlier decision by the Trust to examine religious discrimination, not just race discrimination, which had first looked at anti-Semitism.

“I was honoured to take part,” says Stone, who said he had met Muslims in his role as a GP, particularly Bangladeshi families. He went round the country talking to people in Muslim communities. “They’re lovely people,” he said.

He has since advised the Mayor of London and the Home Office and was also an advisor to the judge on the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, which ruled that the Metropolitan Police was ‘institutionally racist.” He also served on the board of human rights charity Liberty under Shami Chakrabarti.

He chaired the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia for four years, publishing a second report in 2004, and said: “The whole experience was very positive for me, as a Jew, to be investigating Islamophobia.” 

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Stone, whose family foundation contributed towards the reports’ publication, later helped set up interfaith councils and opportunities for dialogue.

He said: “People asked me why I was bothering with all these black people and Muslims when there were plenty of issues to deal with in the Jewish community. My response was always to say there are plenty of Jews who are prepared to do this voluntary work in the Jewish community.”

Retired GP and racial equality activist Richard Stone

The Commission’s first report highlighted how some people held a “closed” view of Islam, seeing it as “inferior to the West” or “violent, aggressive, threatening and supportive of terrorism”.

The second report dealt with the surge in Islamophobia, with police reporting a doubling in attacks against Muslims during the Iraq War.

The Commission sought to “counter assumptions Islam is a monolithic system without internal development, diversity and dialogue” and “to draw attention to the particular dangers that Islamophobia creates or exacerbates”.

Stone said: “Some young people have been seduced away from the tenets of Islam”, but added that the fight against Islamophobia had to stem from “leadership at the top”.

JCORE director Friedman said: “We believe Muslims ought to be concerned about anti-Semitism, just as Jews ought to be concerned about Islamophobia,” and that the latest report on Islamophobia was “still a challenge for us all”.  She added: “I’m anxious that we in the Jewish community become aware of this report and discuss its
implications.”