Islamophobia definition risks ‘burning the bridges of liberty and freedom of expression’
Attempts to define ‘Islamophobia’ risk curtailing freedom of speech and work to expose extremist activities, a new collection of essays warns.
Activists and authors ranging from the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell to the former Islamist Ed Husain warn of the dangers posed to liberal values by attempts to promote the concept of Islamophobia.
Other contributions come from Lord Singh of Wimbledon and Professor Richard Dawkins, who provide prefatory comments, and essays from representatives of Christian Concern, the Network of Sikh Organisations, the National Secular Society and the Quilliam Foundation.
The authors are especially critical of an effort by a group of parliamentarians to define Islamophobia as ‘a type of racism’ – granting Islamic ideas and beliefs a protection not afforded to other religions.
This definition, written and promoted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, has not been endorsed by the government.
However, a review to agree on a definition was set up by former Communities Secretary James Brokenshire in the final months of Theresa May’s premiership.Peter Tatchell, who was accused of Islamophobia after protesting against the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, says:
‘No-one in our society should be discriminated against because of who they are, yet the term Islamophobia downgrades protecting Muslim people and mistakenly puts the focus on protecting ideas. This has to be challenged. We are, it seems drifting towards a de facto threat to free speech and liberal values.’
Ed Husain, who has written widely on extremist groups after spending time as a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir as a teenager, says:
‘One impact of adopting any definition of “Islamophobia” is that we encourage victimhood rather than responsibility. We burn the bridges of liberty and freedom of expression on which millions of Muslims travelled to the West.’
Lord (Indarjit) Singh of Wimbledon, the crossbench peer and regular presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, describes Islamophobia as a ‘vague catch-all term’ that poses a ‘danger to free speech and legitimate discussion’, adding:
‘Hatred arises out of ignorance in which small differences can assume frightening and threatening proportions. It can only be removed through greater emphasis on religious and cultural literacy.’
Professor Richard Dawkins, the evolutionary biologist and atheist, says:
‘Islamophobia is an otiose word which doesn’t deserve definition. Hatred of Muslims is unequivocally reprehensible, as is hatred of any group of people such as gay people or members of a race. Hatred of Islam, on the other hand, is easily justified, as is hatred of any other religion or obnoxious ideology.’
The collection is edited by Emma Webb, director of the Forum on Integration, Democracy and Extremism (FIDE) at Civitas, who warns that the APPG definition would choke legitimate discussion and exposure of Islamist activities:
‘The definition would have a chilling effect on necessary discussion around the Islamist threat to the UK. In a free society, there can be no arbitration of which criticisms of any given religion or ideology are legitimate, regardless of perceived motive, level of education or quality of debate.’
Civitas director David Green says:
‘There is wide public support for freedom of speech, and it is unlikely to be officially ended by an act of parliament, but it can be chipped away bit by bit, and giving official recognition to the APPG definition of Islamophobia will be a giant step towards an arbitrary police state.’
Islamophobia: An Anthology of Concerns is published by the cross-party think tank Civitas on Thursday August 22nd. A PDF of the full text can be read here http://www.civitas.org.uk/content/files/islamophobiaananthologyofconcerns.pdf. Hard copies are available to journalists on request.
The collection includes essays from:-
- Emma Webb, director of the Forum on Integration, Democracy and Extremism (FIDE) at Civitas;
- Dr Rumy Hasan, senior lecturer at Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex;
- Peter Tatchell, director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation;
- David Green, director of Civitas;
- Professor Paul Cliteur, professor of Jurisprudence at Leiden University in the Netherlands;
- Tim Dieppe is head of public policy at Christian Concern;
- Hardeep Singh, deputy-director for the Network of Sikh Organisations
- Pragna Patel, a founder and director of Southall Black Sisters’ advice and advocacy centre
- Ed Husain, director of Islam, the West and Geopolitics at Civitas;
- Maryam Namazie, spokesperson for Fitnah – Movement for Women’s Liberation, One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain;
- Mohammed Amin, former chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum;
- The National Secular Society;
- David Toube, director of policy at the Quilliam Foundation.
Islamophobia: An Anthology of Concerns