Muslim MPs urge government to reject Islamophobia definition

Counter-terror will be harmed by a proposal put forward by the APPG on British Muslims, Sajid Javid has said


Sajid Javid said the Islamophobia definition proposed by the APPG on British Muslims would risk creating a blasphemy law (Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)

Former home secretary Sajid Javid and Labour’s Khalid Mahmood, the UK’s longest-serving Muslim MP, have urged the government not to adopt a definition of Islamophobia put forward by a parliamentary committee. 

In a foreword for a Policy Exchange report on the subject, Javid said the definition – first proposed in 2019 by the APPG on British Muslims – would damage counter-terror efforts and risk creating a blasphemy law “via the back door”.

"The horrific attacks of October 7 have caused incredible tension within communities, sparking a wave of hatred and abuse,” he wrote. 

"Hostility on the streets, racist abuse and empowered extremists now feel almost commonplace. No group has been unaffected, and there has been a deplorable increase in antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred.”

But, he added, “this definition would risk creating a blasphemy law via the backdoor by targeting legitimate speech.”

Over the past six months, demands for the APPG definition to be adopted by the government have gown, Javid claimed.

Already accepted by the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives, it states that Islamophobia is, “rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.

Analysis conducted by the Civitas thinktank last year revealed that 52 local authorites had passed motions in favour of the definition. 

Until now, however, the Conservative Party have declined to adopt it nationally over the alleged threat to freedom of speech it would pose.

Writing for Policy Exchange, Labour’s Khalid Mahmood, Britain’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir John Jenkins, and historian Dr Martyn Frampton have argued that the term “Islamophobia” has already been used to supress debate.

In one instance, the reports authors’ detail, Rishi Sunak was accused of Islamophobia after asking Labour MP Zarah Sultana if she would call on Hamas and the Houthis to "de-escalate the situation" in response to her request that he call for a ceasefire.

Earlier this year, the government was condemned as Islamophobic by professor David Miller over their proscription of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. 

While in another incident, Sir Keir Starmer was condemned for Islamphobia after Labour suspended a non-Muslim MP.

When the whip was withdrawn from Andy Macdonald after he said he would not rest until “all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty,” a member of the party’s national executive committee said Labour was “institutionally Islamophobic”. 

Jewish groups have condemned a chant calling for Palestine to be freed “from the river to the sea” as a demand for the expulsion of Jews.

In a foreward to the Policy Exchange report, Javid wrote: “I remain concerned about the significant risk that counterterrorism powers and policies will be undermined on the basis they are ‘Islamophobic’.

"As a former Home Secretary, I know the government duty to protect its citizens is of supreme importance. Anything that puts that at risk must not be allowed to happen.”

He added: “No religion should be immune from criticism. Yet this definition would risk creating a blasphemy law via the backdoor by targeting legitimate speech. Critics are right to question how such a definition would be consistent with freedom of expression, and also the potentially dangerous consequences of suppressing it…

"Extremists will always seek to sow seeds of division. But alongside targeting their hate, we urgently need to strengthen our communities, encourage greater integration, and come together under a shared sense of what citizenship of this country means — and requires.

"A new definition of Islamophobia would make meeting that objective more difficult, and if introduced, I fear the consequences.”

Mahmood said: “As a society we will only become more divided if we allow activists to lead us in the wrong direction, shouting 'Islamophobia' uncontrollably. The examples in this report, should concern us all.”

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