NSS: Report reveals ‘inherent danger’ of Islamophobia definition

Posted: Fri, 26th Apr 2024

Creeping restriction of free expression illustrated in report's account of increasingly spurious accusations of 'Islamophobia'.

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Usage of the term Islamophobia has become "wider, less coherent and at times inflated to a remarkable degree", according to a new report.

The report, published by the Policy Exchange think tank, says accusations of Islamophobia to "attack people with whom you disagree" and the conflation of criticism with bigotry have become "more prevalent and more menacing" over the last five years.

The report's authors, which include Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, say they seek to challenge "renewed" efforts to introduce a definition of Islamophobia, following increased levels of antisemitic and anti-Muslim sentiments linked to the conflict in Israel and Gaza.

In 2019, the Government rejected a definition of Islamophobia formulated by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, which was widely criticised by free speech campaigners, including the National Secular Society.

The APPG definition has been adopted by local authorities, universities, and all major political parties other than the national Conservatives.

Introducing the report, former home secretary Sajid Javid argues adopting the definition would "risk creating a blasphemy law via the backdoor", as well as making efforts to tackle hatred more difficult.

Accusations of Islamophobia and the suppression of speech

The report details numerous examples from the last five years where accusations of Islamophobia have been used to suppress freedom of expression or shield wrongdoing from criticism.

This includes the case of Shaima Dalalli, who was dismissed from her role as president of the National Union of Students in 2022 after an investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism against her.

The Muslim Council of Britain attacked Dalalli's dismissal as Islamophobic, with the Federation of Student Islamic Societies also describing the investigation as "institutional Islamophobia".

Another case involved the film 'The Lady of Heaven', which was withdrawn from all screens by Cineworld in 2022 following sectarian demonstrations outside cinemas. The film was attacked as "Islamophobic" by the Government's then adviser on anti-Muslim hatred, and by the editor of Islamist website 5Pillars.

The report also raises concerns that the APPG definition - which states that accusing Muslims of exaggerating Islamophobia is itself Islamophobic – portrays those challenging misinformation as racist and bigoted.

It highlights the "significant falsehoods or exaggerations" of initiatives such as Islamophobia Awareness Month, which is run by the Islamist organisation MEND, and backed by the Muslim Council of Britain.

This included claims that the level of hate crime offences targeting Muslims was more than twenty times higher than it in fact was, as well as grossly inaccurate claims regarding the percentage of Muslims stopped under stop and search powers at airports or ports.

NSS: 'Inherent danger of APPG definition made clear'

NSS campaigns officer Jack Rivington said: "The report's account of how accusations of Islamophobia have been used to suppress speech and criticism reveal the inherent danger of this flawed concept.

"It is now indisputable that many advocates for the adoption of Islamophobia terminology are concerned with restricting criticism of their political project, not with tackling bigotry and prejudice.

"Those who have adopted the APPG definition should reconsider and explore alternative approaches to tackling anti-Muslim prejudice that do not compromise the fundamental right to free expression."

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Tags: Extremism, Free speech