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Fact Sheet: UK’s Islamophobia Debate

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– On 15th May the UK government refused to adopt a definition of Islamophobia that had been recommended by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims;

– The APPG is chaired by MPs Wes Streeting (Labour) and Anna Soubry (Change UK) who proposed a House of Commons debate on the issue;

– Muslims are a primary target for far-right extremists in the UK, see details of the trend in this Tactics Analysis;

– Anxieties around Islamophobia increased following the terrorist attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand in April;

– Tactics has raised alarm about an apparent correlation between the rise of white supremacist activities and increasingly extreme rhetoric being adopted by mainstream politicians and media. See our analysis;

– Despite the need for action over Islamophobia, including with a clear-cut definition, the chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC,) Martin Hewitt, has claimed that creation of an official definition of Islamobhobia by the government would hinder counter-terrorism operations. His concerns are echoed by Neil Basu, assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard, who speaks about terrorism on behalf of police chiefs;

– The definition of Islamophobia proposed by the APPG, and approved by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, could make it a racist offence to criticise Islam as a religion or “Muslimness” as an identity. Current law defines racism in terms of skin colour and ethnicity, not religion. The change proposed by the APPG could enable victims of discrimination to take legal action more easily;

– Hewitt and Basu wrote to UK prime minister Theresa May to warn her that the proposed changes could “undermine many elements of counter-terrorism powers and policies”;

– Specific fears included the impact on stop-and-search at the UK’s ports, the ability to outlaw terrorist groups and ban extremists from disseminating offensive material designed to radicalise;

– The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe uses the phrase “bias against Muslims” rather than “Islamophobic”;

– Despite rejecting the APPG’s proposed definition, the communities secretary, James Brokenshire MP, has announced the government’s process for establishing a definition of Islamophobia. Two expert advisers will lead a study, in collaboration with the cross-government Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, to draw up a definition the government hopes will safeguard its ability to enact counter-terrorism policies.