David Toube

We need an effective definition of Islamophobia

David Toube argues that the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslim's definition is fundamentally flawed.

March 19, 2019 12:01

In the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre, in which fifty worshippers were murdered by a man who subscribed to a series of conspiracy theories, many now understand that there is an urgent need to adopt and enforce a definition that addresses anti-Muslim hatred.

There is now a rush to sign up to the definition of Islamophobia published in November by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims. Unfortunately, that definition is not fit for purpose.

The authors of the report have taken the structure and content of IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism as their starting point and, in many places, done little more than cross out ‘Jew’ and insert ‘Muslim’ in its place. Most forms of bigotry have some common characteristics but diverge significantly in their details and form. Homophobia doesn’t take the same form as anti-Black racism. Transphobia isn’t identical to misogyny. If you start out with a definition of antisemitism and try to apply it to the sort of hatred that Muslims face, you will miss the mark.

For example, the IHRA definition provides that antisemitism includes “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor”. The APPG follows suit, defining Islamophobia as “Denying Muslim populations the right to self-determination e.g., by claiming that the existence of an independent Palestine or Kashmir is a terrorist endeavour”. But a large number of Muslim populations are denied self-determination by other Muslim-majority states, including the Ahwazi Arabs and the Kurds. This denial is plainly not motivated by Islamophobia.

In other areas, the APPG definition amends the IHRA text in a manner which improperly limits its application.

The IHRA text catches “calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology”. The APPG renders this as “in the name of a racist/ fascist ideology”. The shift from “radical” to “racist/fascist” is particularly unhelpful. It should be clear by now that not all incitement against Muslims comes from the far Right. It is sadly commonplace in that part of the Left which has aligned itself with Putin and Assad, where it is regularly alleged that the opponents of tyranny in Syria, including the White Helmets, are jihadists.

Here’s another example. A few days ago, Vanessa Beeley - a Left wing Assad supporter - recently argued that by opposing Assad, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar “effectively supports the Zionist ... neocolonialist project in Syria”. Beeley’s claims are not motivated by a racist or fascist ideology but rather a far Left ‘anti-imperialist’ worldview. She is a member of the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media which regularly defends Assad. Through that organisation, Beeley is a colleague of Professor David Miller, who notoriously dismissed Jewish students’ concerns about antisemitism as “propaganda”. Notwithstanding, David Miller contributed to the APPG Report and is cited in it, twice. It is therefore of particular concern that the APPG definition does not address conspiracism about Muslims emanating from the far Left.

The APPG definition also is inadequate in another important way. A significant amount of anti-Muslim hatred is sectarian in nature. I have lost count of the number of times I have read extreme Sunni screeds which label Shia Muslims, ‘rafida’, an insulting term which means ‘rejectors’. The same groups routinely describe the small, persecuted Ahmadiyya sect as ‘Qadiani’, in order to imply that they are non-Muslims. We should not forget that a British Ahmadi shopkeeper was killed for his beliefs by a murderer who was persuaded that he was an apostate who deserved death.

Muslims who are politically liberal are also commonly singled out for hatred because they promote progressive values within Islam and oppose extremist politics. Yet such incitement is unaddressed by the APPG definition. Indeed, the APPG definition was formulated with the assistance of an academic, Dr Antonio Perra, who has himself accused my organisation, Quilliam International, of having borrowed “elements of both Far-Right and Liberal Islamophobia”.

Instead of shoehorning Islamophobia into the structure of the IHRA definition of antisemitism, we should seek to create a tool which addresses the reality of anti-Muslim hatred.

The man who committed the Christchurch massacre was motivated by three ideological strains: neo Nazi race theory; a perspective which argues that Muslim immigrants are the latest stage of a Muslim invasion of Europe that stretches back 1400 years; and a conspiracy theory which claims that ‘elites’ - sometimes identified as Jewish or Zionist - are using Muslims to replace Europeans. I have seen all three theories circulated in the days after the terrorist attack.

Addressing these lies should be the starting point of any definition of Islamophobia. Adopting the APPG definition will do little to combat prevalent forms of ideological incitement against Muslims. It is vital that we do better.

David Toube is Director of Policy at Quilliam

March 19, 2019 12:01

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