Monday, August 06, 2018

What is Islamophobia?

Both Anti-Semitism and prejudice against Muslims are on the rise. I don't believe any major party can afford to be complacent about either of them.

There is a temptation for some people on each side of politics to brush aside suggestions of one or other problem with "Whataboutery" e.g. instead of investigating whether there is really a problem you just say "whatabout" and point to a real or imagined problem on the other side of the political spectrum.

There can be a very fine line between the actions of a brave and honest person who is calling for or taking action about a genuine injustice and someone who is making a bad situation worse with inflammatory or exaggerated claims which will drag in innocent people as well as the guilty.

And some of the issues involved are incredibly difficult and emotive. For example, we have a real problem of terrorism by Islamist extremists who claim to be acting in the name of Islam. However, blaming all Muslims for such acts of terror is wrong and can stigmatise the innocent and lead to another type of terrorism - attacks on Muslims such as happened at Finsbury Park Mosque.

An even worse difficulty involves grooming and the sexual abuse of children. People of both genders and most racial and ethnic identities have been guilty of this foul crime.

Most child-abusers are not Muslims and most Muslims are not child abusers but in a number of cities the courts have convicted gangs of Muslim men who were.

Anyone who is guilty of this crime should be prosecuted regardless of their religion or the colour of their skin. But anyone who is accused of it is entitled to a fair trial. Getting the balance on this one right is not always easy and, sadly, the British establishment let down many vulnerable women and children down badly in the recent past.

Turning trials into kangaroo courts or subjecting the accused to trial by media is not the answer whether the "journalist" concerned works for the BBC or calls himself Tommy Robinson.

I think we need a clear definition of what we mean by any given form of racism.

In the case of Anti-Semitism there is a widely agreed definition, originally adopted by he EU Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC)which has been adopted by more than 40 countries including the UK and the USA and is generally known as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition.

Contrary to what is sometimes suggested, this definition  permits and would not describe as Anti-Semitic severe criticisms of the actions or policies of the State of Israel provided that criticism is based on grounds for which the person making the criticism would also criticise any other country.

How then do we define the equivalent prejudice against Muslims, sometimes called Islamophobia?

The Runnymede trust brought out a definition in 1997 which was highly influential and as follows: their original Islamophobia report states that the term "refers to three phenomena:

• Unfounded hostility towards Islam;
• Practical consequences of such hostility in unfair discrimination against Muslim individuals and communities;
• Exclusion of Muslims from mainstream political and social affairs."

They more recently updated this as follows:

"Definition: Islamophobia is anti-Muslim racism.

This is obviously a short definition. We have also developed a longer-form definition, building on the United Nations definition of racism generally.

Longer definition: Islamophobia is any distinction, exclusion or restriction towards, or preference against, Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life."

This is a good start but I don't think it is complete or comprehensive.

We need a properly agreed definition of anti-Muslim hatred into which the Muslim community should have a major input just as the Jewish community did with the decision to adopt IHRA working definition of Anti-Semitism.

And just as the IHRA definition allows you to criticise Israel as long as you don't do it in a blatantly unfair or unreasonable way, so the definition of Anti-Muslim prejudice must allow you to disagree with and criticise the religion of Islam as long as you don't do it in a way which stirs up hatred of all Muslims.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Best put that in a letter to Boris - mind which post box you put it in.

Chris Whiteside said...

The party chairman and the PM have both asked him to apologise - not for expressing the view that Britain should not ban the burka, but for expressing the view in insulting language.

He should.