Islamophobia, Trevor Phillips, and free speech | Letters

Words have power – you need to choose them carefully, writes Colin Montgomery. Plus letters from David Robjant, Jonathan Longstaff, and Pete Wearden

If Trevor Phillips is guilty of anything, it’s sophistry (Labour Islamophobia row: Warsi accuses Phillips of ‘flawed’ view of race and racism, 10 March). He claims he’s only acknowledging difference in his statements on Muslims, reported statements such as “Muslims are not like us” and are “becoming a nation within a nation”. But the content of said comments clearly betrays the attitude of someone using difference to discriminate unfavourably against one particular group, based on assumptions and generalisations.

To hide behind the idea of free speech compounds the error. It’s no surprise to see he’s comfortable doing interviews with Toby Young to promote the so-called Free Speech Union. Young is another public figure who seeks to defend his right to say anything free from consequence, as a matter of personal liberty. Surely Mr Phillips would agree that words have power – you need to choose them carefully. To misunderstand that is to misunderstand the true nature of freedom.
Colin Montgomery

• The point Trevor Phillips has been making for the last full decade is that communities of race and of faith are two different sorts of identities, properly generating two different kinds of moral and legal rights and obligations, which are not simply to be collapsed into each other. This claim is dangerous, unsettling, and offensive for many who are rightly worried about very real discrimination, and in eliding race and faith thought they had the best way to address it. None of this establishes, however, that Phillips’ argument is wrong.

Stigmatising Phillips’ work through selective quotation and a collective “tut-tut” is a gift to fascists. It is not a step towards freedom from discrimination. It just moves us further towards explosive silence, towards camps defined by what you are allowed to say within them. You cannot win against fascism by suppressing reasoned disagreement within liberal thought.

Trevor Phillips is not Enoch Powell. He does not speak in order to win power over a racist mob. And if he fears for diverse unintended consequences of eliding race and faith, his view, while unsettling, is not without argument. People could address those arguments and perhaps think about them, rather than pointing to their evident dangers.
David Robjant
Cople, Bedfordshire

• Trevor Phillips and the Conservative party are under the spotlight because of alleged discrimination. One definition of discrimination is that it is “recognition and understanding of the differences between one thing and another”, such as between right and wrong, left and right, different social groups or between one religious faith and others. Rather than criticising individuals or groups for being able to distinguish the differences between one thing and another, society should applaud those who are intelligent enough to be able to discriminate between things, so society can take necessary action to address issues.

One failing of pluralism is the inability to accept irreconcilable differences between social groups or ideologies, and the fact that one may be right and the other wrong, rather than demonising those individuals or groups who are able to distinguish and discriminate as required.
Jonathan Longstaff
Buxted, East Sussex

• The implication of Trevor Phillips’ comments is that the separation of some Muslim communities is the fault of those communities.

I was a sixth-form student in Accrington in 1969-71 and I joined the Labour party. I was shocked to hear the discussions of housing and the incoming populations from Pakistan and India. It was clearly the view that to house these incomers in predominantly white communities would cause “problems” and “tensions”, possibly violence. Rather than challenge the racism (in my experience, not nearly as widespread as many people claimed), many politicians, Tory and sadly numbers of Labour councillors organised housing segregation to “avoid conflict”. In reality they simply created separation and conflict as the children of the incomers grew up and were confronted by marginalisation and discrimination, often including police harassment.

You can’t fight racism by conceding to it. Instead of demanding change from our Muslim neighbours, Trevor Phillips should condemn racism of all kinds and particularly the demonisation of Muslims. He should take a leaf out of Jeremy Corbyn’s book and call for support for the protest against racism on 21 March.
Pete Wearden
Bournemouth, Dorset

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