My speech for the debate on the definition of Islamophobia
Thank you, Chair. I want to thank the honourable member for Peterborough and Bradford West for securing this important debate. 2 years ago, we had a general debate on Islamophobia, in which I delivered the Labour Party’s position. Sadly, 2 years later no progress has been made and the Government has failed to take any action on Islamophobia.
The APPG on British Muslims has worked tirelessly on creating this definition, which has the confidence of over 800 organisations and has been adopted by Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymree, the SNP, the Scottish Conservatives, as well as and the Mayors of London, Greater Manchester and Merseyside and many councils across the country. I want to applaud the aforementioned for taking this positive step. Defining and naming a problem is the first step in rooting it out.
However, 2 years later the Tory Party has shown that they are in pure denial over Islamophobia through their refusal to accept the definition proposed by the APPG, their failure to conduct an independent investigation and appoint government advisors on the issue, all of which they promised. What concerns me is that the Tory Party has an institutional problem and frankly, does not care about Islamophobia.
The damning Singh Review earlier this year revealed institutional failings within the Conservative Party in how it handled Islamophobia complaints. The review failed to engage with any Conservative Muslim Parliamentarians and did not even acknowledge or mention the term “Islamophobia”. After a definition has such widespread community support, can I ask the Minister why the Government is insistent on reinventing the wheel?
Let me tell you why I know the Conservative Party does not care about Islamophobia. After writing to the Prime Minister during Islamophobia Awareness Month, urging him to take action and meet with me and key Muslim organisations, I never received a response. It has been 10 months. Perhaps I can try again during this year’s Islamophobia Awareness Month.
The UK is home to 2.7 million Muslims, but Islamophobia is on the rise and can have distressing and real-life implications for our Muslim community. A primary example is the far-right peddling false narratives during this pandemic that British Muslims were ‘spreading corona’. As a result, Muslim communities have suffered a shocking 40% increase in online Islamophobia during this period, according to TellMAMA.
The Government’s own figures also once again reveal Muslims have been victims to the highest proportion of all hate crimes committed this year.
The ugly face of right-wing racism reared its head in the horrific attacks in Ontario, Canada. A sobering reminder that Islamophobia can kill.
Here in the UK we have seen the chilling results of Islamophobia too. Just this week, a young Muslim student in Rotherham was repeatedly punched and kicked by fellow students, leaving him hospitalised. These are not isolated incidents.
Home Office data supports this and shows that referrals to Prevent for extreme right-wing ideology have exponentially increased.
I, along with colleagues, have pushed for an independent review of the Prevent strategy for several years.
A coalition of more than 450 Islamic organisations, including 350 mosques and imams, representing thousands of British Muslim voices, have boycotted the government’s review of Prevent in protest against the appointment of William Shawcross as its chair. Shawcross has openly expressed a hostile view of Islam and Muslims, including (and I quote) “Yes, the problem is, Islamic Fascism”.
Will the Minister urgently outline why the Government has appointed someone with Islamophobic views? Will he also respond to the overwhelming discontent over Shawcross’ appointment, and will he put on record why the Government refuses to engage with the MCB, the largest Muslim organisation in the UK?
Finally, Madame Chair, as political representatives, we all have a responsibility to listen to the voices of our communities and diligently strive to serve them in the best way we can.
Because representing British Muslims in your constituency and beyond- requires more than just lip service. It requires leadership and action, and as Chair of the Labour Muslim Network I reaffirm my commitment to tackling Islamophobia and I hope the Minister today will finally endorse the definition and pledge to take meaningful action.
You can view clips of my speech here.