SACC Statement on the APPG Definition of Islamophobia

In brief

  • SACC supports the working definition of Islamophobia put forward by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims:

    “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”

  • SACC's support for the definition is limited to the sentence quoted above and does not extend to the whole of APPG report “Islamophobia Defined” .

Full statement

SACC welcomes and supports the working definition of Islamophobia put forward by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims and presented to the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia on 25 April 2019.

The definition states:

“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”

The definition aligns with the approach SACC has taken to Islamophobia over many years and with our 2017 recommendation1 to the Scottish Government that:

“The Scottish Government should work towards developing a concise, easily understood working definition of Islamophobia that incorporates an understanding of Islamophobia as a form or racism”.

We believe that the APPG definition is an important step towards changing public attitudes, challenging and eradicating institutional Islamophobia and building wider strategies to tackle Islamophobia. It is important to recognise that it is only a first step and that these goals will not be achieved without energetic action.

Islamophobia has assisted and driven the growth of other forms of xenophobia that are now being felt across the UK. Across Europe it is fuelling the growth of far-right parties that, once empowered, threaten Jews, LGBT people and disabled people. It is difficult to imagine any other area of policy where failure to act, and act wisely, will have more serious political consequences.

Our support for the APPG working definition of Islamophobia is limited to the core text quoted above and does not extend to the whole of the 72-page APPG report “Islamophobia Defined: the inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia”. The report contains valuable background, analysis and case studies. It also includes explorations of how the definition could be applied that are rather discursive and are not, in that form, capable of adoption as a policy position. There are significant points on which we disagree strongly with the APPG. In particular:

The report discusses ways in which the working definition could be reflected in criminal law. We are sympathetic to moves to reform the law to deal more effectively with Islamophobia. But we believe that a definition that has statutory force cannot be regarded as just a “working” definition and needs to be considered in a different way. The report includes suggestions that anti-Islamophobia legislation could borrow concepts around intentionality from anti-terrorism laws, for  example the concepts of glorification, recklessness and incitement contained in the Terrorism Act 2006. These concepts were extremely controversial when first put before Parliament. SACC continues to call for the repeal of the Terrorism Act 2006 along with other repressive anti-terrorism legislation. We strongly oppose the migration of principles drawn from anti-terrorism legislation into other areas of law.

The APPG report claims to find parallels between its approach to defining Islamophobia and the explanatory notes and examples included by the International Holocaust Memorial Alliance (IHRA) as part of its working definition of anti-semitism. SACC is opposed to this aspect of the IHRA definition. The effect of the IHRA notes and examples is to link some forms of criticism of Israel to anti-semitism. Doing so undermines the struggle against the continuing threat of anti-Jewish racism, undermines civil society’s capacity to resist the growth of the far-right and undermines support for the internationally recognised rights of the Palestinian people. We find the APPG’s attempt to map Islamophobia onto the IHRA template contrived and problematic.

The APPG asserts a right to self-determination of “Muslim populations” (p56 of Islamophobia Defined), by analogy with the right to self-determination of the Jewish people referred to by the IHRA. On the one hand, the IHRA’s position implies equivalence between the recognised right to self-determination of peoples suffering occupation or colonial rule with the supposed right of Jewish people from Europe and America to determine that they will settle in the Middle East. On the other hand, the APPG asserts, presumably for balance, a right to self-determination of “Muslim populations” that has no basis in international law. The right of self-determination belongs to whole peoples, broadly construed, not to religiously defined populations. For example, the Palestinian right to self-determination belongs collectively to all the Palestinian people, including the Christian minority (perhaps 6-7% of the global Palestinian population). In pursuit of harmony with the IHRA, the APPG has in this respect concocted a chimera whose purpose appears to be propaganda rather than policy construction.

In adopting the IHRA template, the APPG risks negating the internationalist and de-colonial perspective that should be fundamental to its recognition that Islamophobia is rooted in racism.

We hope that organisations adopting the APPG's one-sentence definition of Islamophobia, which we commend, will take care to avoid these pitfalls.

Background

Islamophobia Defined: the inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia (APPG on British Muslims, 2018)

Muslim Council of Britain statement on the APPG definition

Muslim Council of Scotland statement on the APPG definition

SACC message to MSPs regarding the IHRA definition of anti-semitism