The working definition of Islamophobia proposed by the APPG for British Muslims endangers free speech no more than a working definition of dentistry or philosophy
The Independent Voices
What is a definition of Islamophobia for? It is to help prevent a social evil, as the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims correctly states in its thoughtful report. Baroness Warsi, the force behind it, has candidly described how “dinner party” Islamophobia has become acceptable, rather like “golf club” antisemitism used to be commonplace.
Unlike other forms of racism – and Islamophobia is, for most practical purposes, at least analogous to racism – and antisemitism, there is no widely accepted working definition of it. It certainly exists, and the APPG has drafted a fairly succinct formulation: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
Without even waiting for a parliamentary debate on the issue, the government has rejected it, apparently because those police chiefs believe it is “too broad to be effective” and would endanger free speech (which is not usually a policing matter).
Let’s be clear: Islamphobia is not about to become a “crime”, in any legal sense. In a way, it already is, and rightly so. There are today tough laws relating to religious and religious hatred, which are fairly comprehensive. There are also laws relating to terrorism and the activities and conspiracies related to it. When, for example, the man responsible for the “Punish a Muslim” campaign was apprehended last year he was charged with: one charge of soliciting to murder; two charges of sending letters promoting a “Punish a Muslim Day”, encouraging the commission of offences; five counts of sending a hoax noxious substance; five charges under the Malicious Communications Act of sending threatening letters; one charge of staging a bomb hoax. He pleaded guilty.
A working definition of Islamophobia would not hinder the police in dealing with extreme cases such as that. Hate crimes can and will be protected under existing laws – including those that impinge on absolutist notions of free speech.
What it might do is to raise awareness on the part of the police and everyone else about low-level casual insults, graffiti and other attacks. It might, as the long anti-racism campaign did, change our culture to one where racism is socially unacceptable. Like antisemitism, Islamophobia is not just another sub-set of racism, but has its own unique character and origins. We might better understand the prevalence of Islamophobia, and how it is a hurtful and disgusting un-British practice, and why people should think twice about writing or saying things that are Islamophobic. It is part, quite simply, of making a civilised society more civilised.