Last week, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims published a ‘landmark report’ demanding a ‘legally binding definition of Islamophobia’. The APPG suggests we define Islamophobia as: ‘Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.’
Use of the term Islamophobia is at present indiscriminate, covering everything from a dirty look to violent physical attack. Usually it is an accusation hurled at anyone more concerned about Islam than they are about Methodism.
Last year, Prime Minister Theresa May, without attempting to define the term, described ‘Islamophobia’ as a form of ‘extremism’ comparable to Islamist terrorism. It is doubtful that the APPG’s definition will make things any clearer.
The APPG on British Muslims has prominent figures behind it. The co-chairs are Tory MP Anna Soubry and Labour’s Wes Streeting. Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General, wrote the report’s foreword.
The group’s vice-chair is Naz Shah MP. In 2016 the Parliamentary Labour Party withdrew the whip for three months for her anti-Semitic remarks. She shared a post on Facebook suggesting Israel be relocated to the US, adding the comment ‘problem solved’. Encouraging Palestinians to take part in an online poll she gave the reason as ‘the Jews are rallying to skew the result’.
The treasurer is former Conservative minister Baroness Warsi who alleges that anti-Muslim bigotry has crossed the dinner party threshold and is socially acceptable. She has demanded that fellow Tories Zac Goldsmith and Boris Johnson be sent for ‘mandatory diversity training’.
One of the APPG’s secretariat, Muhbeen Hussain, comes from Rotherham. In 2015 he organised the local Muslim community to boycott the police for their ‘Islamophobic’ behaviour after the child-sex grooming scandal was finally exposed following years of cover up to avoid accusations of Islamophobia.
Baroness Warsi has played a prominent role in encouraging Muslims to give evidence to the APPG. Some groups specifically asked for input by Baroness Warsi have dubious credentials.
One of them, Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND), has Islamist links. A report last year found that MEND promotes ‘extremism’, harbours anti-Semites, and gives a platform to Muslim grievance narratives and Islamist views, including promoting false claims of ‘Islamophobia’. MEND has been denounced for ‘racist’ attacks on a moderate Muslim appointed to advise the government on integration.
Counter terrorism police chief Mark Rowley in his keynote valedictory address compared MEND to a banned terror group, and criticised it for fostering grievances and isolation.
Baroness Warsi asked the Muslim Council of Britain, which is accused of working with extremists, to give evidence. The government has admitted the MCB is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, which campaigns for a global, Islamist, sharia state, and is banned as a terror group in some countries.
Also invited to contribute by Baroness Warsi was Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks). Tell MAMA is an ‘anti-Islamophobia’ group which lost government backing in 2013 after being repeatedly accused of inflating and misrepresenting statistics.
That the APPG should specifically request evidence from groups who have an interest in inflating concerns about supposed Islamophobia is sufficient reason to cast a careful eye over the report’s aims and contents.
Some of these groups are connected to a fundamentalist strand of Muslims who want a blasphemy law via the back door. The report would give them an opportunity to victimise or criminalise people who wish to make reasonable criticisms of Islam itself, for instance its pre-medieval views on women, and cruel and unusual punishments.
The report’s clearly stated intention is to go beyond anything which could be considered criminal. It recommends society should self-police what the APPG terms Islamophobia. This involves setting ‘appropriate limits to free speech’. Their definition is ‘also required . . . to bring about a transformation in social etiquette’. The group seems to believe the most effective form of censorship is self-censorship.The APPG’s litmus test for Islamophobia is ‘sincerity’. Any criticism of Islam must come from someone who can be proven to ‘really care about the issue’ and not just be using it to attack Muslims. If Peter Tatchell criticised Islam for its attitude to homosexuals he could be considered sincere. But if Tommy Robinson uttered exactly the same words he could be Islamophobic.
Who decides who is sincere? If I describe the false prophet Muhammad as a seventh-century equivalent of scientology founder L Ron Hubbard who invented his own religion for personal purposes, I am describing my sincere belief. Yet many amongst Muslims, the APPG and the politically correct will find this description Islamophobic.
Does it really matter what one’s emotional state is when discussing Islam? Surely what matters is whether a statement can be rationally defended. The APPG fails to acknowledge there might be rational reasons to have reservations concerning rising levels of radical Islam and the growing influence of Islam in the West generally.
At present Islamophobia is already classed as a specific category of hate crime by police forces. Unfortunately the definition of hate crime is so broad that anyone who feels offended by something said or done can report it as a hate crime to the police. The APPG report does little to clarify the situation.
The clearest summary of the problem is given by Andrew Cummins, but often erroneously attributed to the late Christopher Hitchens. It is that, Islamophobia is ‘a word created by fascists, and used by cowards, to manipulate morons.’ Anything that compromises our right to debate Islam, openly and freely, must be resisted.