Report: one in seven councils has adopted ‘Islamophobia’ definition

Posted: Tue, 19th Sep 2023

National Secular Society's role in resisting adoption of flawed definition highlighted

Report: one in seven councils has adopted ‘Islamophobia’ definition

One in seven local authorities has adopted a definition of 'Islamophobia' rejected by the government over free speech concerns, a new Civitas report has revealed.

In 2018, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims defined Islamophobia as "rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness". The definition has now been adopted by all major UK political parties except the Conservatives.

The National Secular Society has opposed the APPG definition from the outset on the grounds that it conflates legitimate criticism of Islamic doctrine with racism, thereby creating a de facto blasphemy code.

The Civitas report, authored by journalist Hardeep Singh, reveals over 15% of local authorities in England have now adopted the APPG definition. It also highlights how NSS lobbying successfully resulted in Lancashire and Aberdeenshire councils voting against the adoption of the definition.

Islamist groups such as Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) have campaigned for all Scottish councils to adopt the definition. The Home Secretary has said public authorities should not work with MEND because they "legitimise extremism".

The report uses the case of Professor Steven Greer to illustrate how allegations of Islamophobia are used to silence criticism of Islam. Prof. Greer had taught a human rights law module at the University of Bristol which discussed the 2015 Islamist attack on Charlie Hebdo and the use of the death penalty to punish 'blasphemy' against Islam.

Accusations of Islamophobia from the university's Islamic Society led to Prof. Greer being driven from his home in fear of his life and, despite being fully exonerated in a subsequent investigation by the university, his module was cancelled. The NSS hosted a talk by Prof. Greer last year.

In a foreword to the report, former Telegraph editor Charles Moore writes: "To argue that criticism of Muslim ideas is a form of racism is, in most cases, a profound mistake.

"If the APPG definition of Islamophobia were to prevail, our society would cease to put all religions on the same footing and would empower those unrepresentative Muslim leaders who are keenest to silence critics."

The report recommends that an anti-Muslim hate crime definition would be preferrable to the use of the term 'Islamophobia'. It also calls on the government to "reaffirm the principle of equality before the law" and for local councils which have adopted the APPG definition to recognise that criticism of religion is legally protected under the Public Order Act 1986.

NSS: "individuals should be afforded respect and protection, but ideas should not"

NSS chief executive Stephen Evans, who contributed to the report, said: "Our conception of secularism includes the conviction that criticism of ideologies and beliefs is important and necessary.

"After campaigning so vigorously to see Britain's blasphemy laws abolished, we are determined to ensure that new de-facto blasphemy laws aren't introduced by the back door.

"Our central concern with the APPG definition, and the term Islamophobia itself, is the way in which it conflates criticism of Islam or Islamic practices with hatred of Muslims.

"In a liberal secular society, individuals should be afforded respect and protection, but ideas should not. The widespread adoption of this definition has the potential to chill freedom of expression, including academic and journalistic freedom."

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