Under Pressure from Labour, APPG’s definition of Islamophobia adopted by Flintshire Council

Oct 7, 2021

 

Flintshire Council in Wales is the latest local authority to adopt the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims’ definition of Islamophobia. It also accepted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism to prevent discrimination towards Jews.

Flintshire Council’s chief executive, Colin Everett, said although he was not aware of any specific issues relating to anti-Semitism or Islamophobia in Flintshire, the council wanted “to demonstrate its inclusivity”. In a report to senior councillors, he said, “It is recommended that cabinet, on behalf of the council, adopts the definitions of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, to be used as part of our working culture and in fostering greater diversity in democracy”.

By adopting the APPG’s definition of Islamophobia – as “a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness” – Flintshire joins 22 other local councils, including the Greater London Authority and the city councils of Manchester and Birmingham, out of a total of 397 authorities in England, Scotland and Wales.[1]

Political pressure

The Labour leader of Flintshire council, Ian Roberts, was reportedly encouraged to adopt the APPG’s definition of Islamophobia in a letter sent by Labour chair Anneliese Dodds, following a critical report into the Labour Party’s handling of discrimination towards Muslims.

In the letter, Dodds referred to a report by the Labour Muslim Network (LMN), Islamophobia and the Muslim Experience: The Labour Party Report, noting,

This report found that nearly half of our Muslim members (44 per cent) and supporters do not believe the Labour Party takes the issue of Islamophobia seriously, and that more than one in three Muslim members (37 per cent) have directly witnessed Islamophobia within the Labour Party … We all have a responsibility to demonstrate our commitment to supporting the Muslim community and working with them to root out Islamophobia wherever it rears its head. We ask for your support in ensuring we reach the goal of adopting the APPG on British Muslims’ definition of Islamophobia across our Labour-run councils as soon as possible.

The definition was adopted by Labour and the Liberal Democrats in March 2019, but was rejected by the Conservatives. In May 2019, a government spokesman said that “the APPG’s proposed definition has not been broadly accepted – unlike the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism before it was adopted by the UK government and other international organisations and governments. This is a matter that needs further careful consideration”.

Problems with the APPG’s definition

The APPG’s definition of Islamophobia – which first appeared in a report in November 2018 entitled Islamophobia Defined: the inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia –  asserts that “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. 

Examples of Islamophobia provided in the APPG report included alleging “conspiracies about Muslim entryism in politics, government or social institutions”, accusing Muslims of being more loyal to the Muslim umma than to Britain, and accusing Muslims of “exaggerating Islamophobia”. The possibility that such allegations might arise out of genuine concerns was effectively dismissed out of hand. As Sir John Jenkins observed in a report for Policy Exchange,

The APPG fails to offer any example of the type of criticism of Islam, or Muslims, or especially, Islamists, that might fall outside the definition of ‘Islamophobia’ that they urge the Government and others to accept. Instead, the report makes clear that a new definition could be the prelude to new kinds of ‘civil offences’, pursued through the courts.

Similar concerns were voiced in a letter to the then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid, signed by a group of critics including academics, writers, activists, and other public figures. The letter warned,

We are concerned that allegations of Islamophobia will be, indeed already are being, used to effectively shield Islamic beliefs and even extremists from criticism, and that formalising this definition will result in it being employed effectively as something of a backdoor blasphemy law.

Labour MP and Senior Fellow at Policy Exchange, Khalid Mahmood, remarked that the term “Islamophobia” has “a deeply problematic history”. In the Foreword to a Policy Exchange report On Islamophobia: The Problem of Definition, by Trevor Phillips, John Jenkins and Martyn Frampton, Mahmood noted,

For all that it speaks to genuine problems in our society, it is a word that has been weaponized by some of the most controversial groups within British Muslim communities in order to exert power and influence over those same communities.

[1] The Institute for Government breaks down this figure as follows: 343 local authorities in England, 32 in Scotland and 22 in Wales. See https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/local-government.

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