We should welcome a definition of Islamophobia

Earlier this week the APPG for British Muslims launched a working definition on Islamophobia, an essential step in tackling this issue and one we should welcome.

The definition proposed is: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

This definition is not about shutting down criticism of Islam; it is about understanding what Islamophobia is, and what it is not, and strengthening our resolve to eradicate the problem.

It is widely acknowledged that the perpetrators of hate speech have become more visible and the Government has rightly taken decisive action to address this issue. The far-right and Islamist extremists spreading hate are adept at evolving their tactics to promote their warped ideologies. So we too must evolve our response.

This working definition is a much-needed evolution, and it will bring clarity to enable communities, authorities and civil society to work together to tackle the problem. Regrettably, prejudice has always existed. However, Islamophobia is more than just a prejudice, like anti-Semitism, it is a divisive form of hatred that if left unchallenged and ignored can manifest itself in horrific ways.

The rise of far-right groups is increasingly worrying, but what is particularly concerning for Muslim and Jewish communities, is that we find Islamophobic and anti-Semitic agendas trending across a range of far-right groups.

Moving forward, as the Jewish community has successfully done with regards to defining anti-Semitism, the APPG’s proposed definition will help progress the efforts of communities and authorities to tackle Islamophobia and will ensure victims receive the right level of support from Parliament, Central Government, Local Government and other public authorities.  It is now imperative that every political party and local council fully adopt this definition of Islamophobia.  Without such a clear definition, adopted unilaterally, Islamophobia can never be tackled coherently across all sectors.

However, just defining the problem will not solve it, we need to see the APPG’s work translated into action to support victims of Islamophobia, prevent Islamophobia and to eradicate Islamophobia. We need to see hate crime boards, equality groups and anti-racism committees, unite with a single voice to address this issue.

As a society, we must not allow the victims of such hate to lead this campaign alone, but it must be through collective and robust action. This includes ensuring Islamophobia is built into hate and race awareness programmes, that robust monitoring is in place and that a plan is instituted to tackle the root causes of such hate.

The Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper launched by Government in March outlines essential work that can help tackle intolerance by strengthening relationships between communities. Whether promoting twinning arrangements between schools in highly segregated areas or simply organising educational visits between faith institutions, investment in such programmes is crucial if we hope to build a truly united nation.

To defeat racist bigots and the proponents of hate we must all act. It’s vital we build resilience as communities, particularly to support those vulnerable to the tactics of extremist groups and hateful voices – to both help the victims but also to help those who are susceptible to recruitment to their ways of thinking and acting.