Government criticised for rejecting definition of Islamophobia

Working definition has already been adopted by Labour, Lib Dems and Scottish Tories

The government has been criticised for rejecting a proposed working definition of Islamophobia that has been adopted by parties including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives.

The definition was set out in a report published by a cross-party group of MPs in December. “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness,” it says.

The government said the definition needed to be given further consideration.

Martin Hewitt, the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which represents the leaders of law enforcement in England and Wales, issued a statement expressing concern about the definition on Tuesday. He said it was “too broad as currently drafted, could cause confusion for officers enforcing it and could be used to challenge legitimate free speech on the historical or theological actions of Islamic states”.

The former Conservative chair Sayeeda Warsi, who has been outspoken about the need to tackle Islamophobia in the party, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Hewitt’s letter was “irresponsible scaremongering” and urged the government to accept the definition.

She said “a non-legally binding working definition” would not interfere with policing work and Hewitt had not engaged with the process to produce the guidance.

The row echoes the furore over Labour’s attempts to amend the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism because of concerns from some in the party that it could hinder criticism of the Israeli state, though the definition and its examples were later adopted in full.

In March, the Conservatives suspended 14 members for allegedly making Islamophobic comments after a string of abusive posts were uncovered on social media.

A government spokesperson said: “Any hatred directed against British Muslims and others because of their faith or heritage is utterly unacceptable.

“We are conscious that the [all-party parliamentary group’s] proposed definition has not been broadly accepted – unlike the IHRA definition of antisemitism before it was adopted by the UK government and other international organisations and governments. This is a matter that needs further careful consideration.”

Buzzfeed News reported the government had concerns that the definition could hinder free speech, prompting the Muslim Council of Britain to say it was “truly astonishing the government thinks it knows better than Muslim communities”.

The organisation added: “If this free speech rationale is true, it would mean that the government believes that defining the racism that targets Muslims or expressions of Muslimness somehow impinges on free speech. Defining antisemitism does not do so, but defining Islamophobia does.”

The inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims held sessions in Manchester, London, Birmingham and Sheffield. Members heard about a wide spectrum of Islamophobic experiences, including multiple incidents of physical and verbal abuse.


Jessica Elgot Chief political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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