MPs used the Jewish experience of antisemitism to urge the Government to adopt a definition of Islamophobia during a House of Commons debate late last week.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims developed the definition and is now pressing the Conservative Party to follow other parties in adopting it. Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has urged it to do so.
Ilford North MP Wes Streeting, vice-chair of the APPG on British Jews and co-chair of the APPG on British Muslims, said the Christchurch mosque killings in March lent urgency to the debate.
He explained that the APPG’s Islamophobia definition includes “a series of examples, inspired by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, to help people to understand how Islamophobia manifests itself”.
The IHRA definition of antisemitism was adopted by Theresa May on behalf of the Government in December 2016, making the UK the first country to do so. Opponents of the IHRA definition said it risked shutting down free speech on Israel, while opponents of the Islamophobia definition say it risks shutting down speech on Islam.
Labour MP Lyn Brown thanked the Community Security Trust for training a Muslim organisation in her constituency. “Sadly, the CST gained its expertise because Jewish communities have also been so consistently under threat for so long,” she said. “Its knowledge has been won from pain.”
She added: “The same poisonous rhetoric that has long targeted our Jewish communities is being used to incite hatred and violence by Islamophobes, racists and fascists, and the rhetoric is sometimes directed at both Jewish and Muslim communities simultaneously.”
Streeting said two Muslim organisations that had previously raised Jewish concerns – Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) and Cage – had “pointedly refused to support our definition”.
He added that the Conservatives were “making exactly the same mistakes over Islamophobia as my party has with antisemitism – the same miserable, inexcusable pattern of dismissal, denial and delegitimisation of serious concerns raised by prominent Muslims about racism within their ranks”.
Conservative MP Sir John Hayes suggested that having the debate would “fuel the extreme or far right,” saying: “Defining Islamophobia as anti-Muslim racism… will distort the argument rather than clarify it.”
However Labour MP Naz Shah said: “If it is down to the experiences of women to define feminism, of people of colour to define racism, of Jews to define antisemitism, and of LGBTQ+ communities to define homophobia, I say to the Secretary of State: how dare he tell British Muslims that our experiences cannot define Islamophobia.”
She also called Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Martin Hewitt, “plain stupid” for arguing that the non-legally binding APPG definition of Islamophobia “creates some sort of security risk”.
She said: “It is as stupid as saying that, because we have a non-legally binding definition of antisemitism, we can no longer do foreign policy in the Middle East.”
Secretary of State James Brokenshire said “further work” was needed on the definition to determine whether it “will have the positive effect it sets out to achieve… and do no harm” or whether it “commands broad support within communities and wider society”. MPs replied that 750 Muslim organisations supported it.