Scottish councillors vote not to adopt ‘Islamophobia’ definition

Posted: Mon, 21st Nov 2022

Scottish councillors vote not to adopt ‘Islamophobia’ definition

Councillors have voted not to adopt a definition of 'Islamophobia' that could undermine freedom to criticise Islam, following advice from the National Secular Society.

On Thursday Aberdeenshire Council's Business Services Committee voted to adopt an alternative motion to the Islamophobia definition, after NSS chief executive Stephen Evans warned the definition "might be a counterproductive way of addressing anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred".

The council recommended the committee adopt the definition created by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, which states: "Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness".

But the committee instead voted in favour of a motion tabled by Cllr David Keating to "note the definition of Islamophobia", "condemn all discrimination against race or belief", and "agree to address any anti-Muslim bias or prejudice identified in Aberdeenshire".

Councillors voted 7:7 on adopting this alternative motion, which passed with the chair's casting vote.

The vote followed an open letter from Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) urging all Scottish councils to adopt it. MEND has been accused of supporting an Islamist agenda.

In 2019 Lancashire County Council also rejected the Islamophobia definition following an NSS intervention.

NSS: Islamophobia definition fails to "separate people from ideas"

Addressing the council, Stephen Evans spoke of the need to "separate people from ideas", which the Islamophobia definition "categorically fails to do".

He noted that the APPG definition had been rejected by the UK government and widely criticised by human rights experts.

He said that it was "dangerous" to suggest Muslims are not already protected by law, because laws that protect everyone from discrimination, harassment and violence apply equally to Muslims, and crimes motivated by hatred of members of a particular religion face more severe penalties.

He urged the council to "find other ways to foster social cohesion and of tackling anti-Muslim hatred that don't conflate race with religion or the criticism of ideas with hostility against people".

He concluded: "We need to build a more cohesive and tolerant society. This definition is contentious because it threatens the conditions we need to do that."

Speaking in response, councillor David Keating said the "vague" Islamophobia definition creates a "reasonable risk of legitimate debate being inhibited". He said it was part of a "tide of little erosions" of which the overall effect is a "dilution of one of our most precious values."

Speaking after the meeting, NSS chief executive Stephen Evans said: "Aberdeenshire councillors should be commended for applying some healthy skepticism to the concept of Islamophobia.

"The decision to note the definition, rather than adopt it, while working to end anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry strikes a balance between protecting people from harm and protecting the fundamental right to free speech.

"Other councils should take note of this approach."

Listen to Stephen's speech at the meeting (from 1:25:05)

Read Jack Rivington's recent opinion piece on Islamophobia Awareness Month

Freedom of Expression

Democracy cannot exist without the right to free speech. Join our campaign to protect freedom of expression from religious incursions.

Tags: Free speech