The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims has formally begun work on the establishment of a "working definition of Islamophobia that can be widely accepted by Muslims, political parties and the government".
The APPG on British Muslims, according to its website, was established in July 2017. It is chaired by MPs Anna Soubry and Wes Streeting and is meant to build on the work of a former APPG: the APPG on Islamophobia. The latter came into existence as the result of a meeting at the House of Commons in March 2010, hosted by, among others, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) -- the largest Muslim organization in the UK, which claims to be representative of British Muslims -- which is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. The purpose of the meeting was "to discuss the growing spate of attacks in all its forms against British Muslims". The meeting, which was attended, among others, by parliamentarians, police and public servants called for the establishment of an APPG on Islamophobia. By November 2010, the APPG on Islamophobia had been formed, and was described by its chairman, the Conservative Kris Hopkins, as a "momentous occasion" the purpose of which was to "propose considered, evidence based policies to tackle Islamophobia wherever it exists". However, the newly established APPG quickly ran into trouble. It turned out that the Muslim organization appointed as its secretariat was the Muslim extremist organization iENGAGE, which has since changed its name to MEND.
Meanwhile, the work against "Islamophobia" instead continued in other forums. In 2012, Minister of State for Faith and Communities, Baroness Warsi -- who was the co-chair of the APPG on Islamophobia and is now the treasurer of the APPG on British Muslims -- helped form a government working group against Islamophobia, named the "Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group".
The Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group is made up of "representatives from the Muslim community, independent experts, academics, and government departments" including, among others, the Attorney General's Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the National Police Chiefs' Council.
The Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group has as its top priority "tackling the far right and counter jihadists". It seems a peculiar government priority to "tackle" people who are opposed to jihad; one would assume that the British government is also against jihad.
One member of the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group, Akeela Ahmed, who represents the organization "Hope not Hate" has said:
"One successful initiative of the [Anti-Muslim Hatred Working] group was petitioning the Home Office for funding to protect mosques from attacks around the UK. There had been a sharp spike in incidents as the result of Lee Rigby's murder in 2013 by Islamist extremists. The Home Office agreed to allocate £2 million over three years for the protection of faith institutions".
According to British government logic, after Muslims stabbed and beheaded British Army soldier Lee Rigby in broad daylight in London, Muslim institutions needed protection -- not British ones.
Other priorities of the "Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group" are "public transport awareness campaign to encourage reporting of anti-Muslim hatred incidents [one such campaign took place in October 2017], anti-Muslim bullying in schools, [and] Muslim literacy in the media".
Prime Minister Theresa May last year described "Islamophobia" as "extremism", and compared it to Islamic terrorism:
"...terrorism, extremism and hatred take many forms; and our determination to tackle them must be the same whoever is responsible... there has been far too much tolerance of extremism in our country over many years – and that means extremism of any kind, including Islamophobia."
Despite the government's focused activity on fighting "Islamophobia", the APPG for British Muslims remained dissatisfied. In October 2017, Baroness Warsi declared that "it is high time to have a definition of Islamophobia, and that to fundamentally challenge the hate that underpins hate crime, we need to define what that hate is". Warsi therefore invited the British Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, "to meet with a cross-section of community organisations and individuals, led by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, to work towards a definition".
Lord Bourne responded that he would be happy to meet with the group but that he did not accept the need for a definitive definition of Islamophobia. According to Bourne, the government "does not currently endorse a particular definition of Islamophobia. Previous attempts by others to define this term have not succeeded in attracting consensus or widespread acceptance".
"It [Islamophobia] is clearly recognised, and we have very effective monitoring of race-hate crimes... considerable work is done by Tell MAMA and the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group in these areas. We do that while understanding and being able to recognise Islamophobia, but perhaps not being able to define it precisely."
The APPG on British Muslims was not discouraged by the minister's response. In April 2018, it released a "call for evidence" -- a call for input to the upcoming report on defining "Islamophobia"-- that Baroness Warsi sent directly to a number of organizations, including Muslim Brotherhood linked Muslim Council of Britain and the extremist MEND.
At the end of the "call for evidence," the APPG's letter briefly mentioned free speech as a question that is "possibly outside the scope of this report".
It is reasonable to assume that the planned report and the ensuing work on finding a definition of "Islamophobia" is meant effectively to destroy the little that remains of free speech in the UK, where the authorities already vigorously pursue and prosecute claims of "Islamophobia".
The Palace of Westminster in London, meeting place of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. (Image source: Mike Gimelfarb/Wikimedia Commons)
John Richardson is a researcher based in the United States.