Response to Home Affairs Committee call for evidence

22nd January 2019

We publish below Quilliam’s response to the Home Affairs Committee call for evidence, which asks in particular for our views on impact of official adoption of a definition of Islamophobia, in the context of the report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims calling for the adoption of an official working definition of Islamophobia.

We note that until last week, the call for evidence also asked for evidence relating to “intra-faith Islamophobia”. For reasons which are not clear, that call was removed last week. However, we regard the omission of intra-faith Islamophobia as one of the shortcomings of the APPG definition, and so we have retained a discussion of this subject in our response. 

Quilliam International shares the widespread and proper concern in relation to manifestations of anti-Muslim prejudice and bigotry. Nobody should face snide remarks, open abuse, conspiracism, discrimination, hostility or violence on the basis of their confessional identity or religious beliefs. There is a strong argument for the formulation of a well-drafted and effective definition of such unacceptable conduct, and its adoption as a guide to addressing expressions of hatred. Unfortunately, the working definition proposed by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims is not fit for that purpose.

This submission primarily addresses the impact of the “official adoption of a definition of Islamophobia” along the lines proposed by the APPG. In that context, we also discuss the failure of the APPG definition to address “intra-faith Islamophobia”.

The IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism is the Wrong Model

The fundamental problem with the proposed working definition is that it seeks to mirror, in terms of form and content, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of Antisemitism. However, not all species of bigotry are identical. Homophobia is not the same as anti-black racism. Misogyny is not the same as transphobia. And antisemitism does not operate in a manner that is identical to anti-Muslim bigotry.

In particular, a significant component of antisemitism is conspiracism: the ascription of supernatural power to Jews, which is portrayed as the cause of many of the ills of the world, and control of banking, politics and the media. The IHRA working definition explains:

“Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.””

Accordingly, much of the IHRA working definition is directed to identifying and addressing the various aspects of that conspiracist world-view. By contrast, anti-Muslim hatred is whipped up in relation to a different range of accusations: in particular, relating to terrorism, child sexual abuse and demographic change.

A useful definition of anti-Muslim bigotry should focus on the particular charges that are made, collectively, in relation to Muslims, However, instead of identifying the range of canards that are frequently deployed against Muslims and employing them as a starting point, the APPG has attempted to shoehorn the definition of Islamophobia into the pre-existing IHRA working definition. The product of this Procrustian exercise is a definition which does not address the specific nature of anti-Muslim bigotry.

It is this flaw in the APPG’s proposed definition of Islamophobia that vitiates the entire exercise. Although the definition contains some elements that do properly identify certain aspects of anti-Muslim incitement, the structure of the definition as a whole is not fit for purpose. It should therefore not be adopted in its current form.

The following sections identify particular shortcomings of the proposed definition of Islamophobia.

Revisionism

Holocaust revisionism is a common manifestation of antisemitism. The essence of revisionism is the suggestion that the Holocaust did not occur, or that Jews died of natural causes rather than being murdered by the Nazis, or that the death toll was significantly lower than six million, or that “Zionists” collaborated with Hitler. Such claims are made by antisemites for a variety of reasons: to argue that Jews are liars and manipulators of history, or that Israel has invented the ‘hoax’ of the Holocaust for self-serving purposes, or merely to distress Jews, who may have lost family members during the Holocaust. It is deployed against Jews both individually and collectively, and in relation to the State of Israel.

For this reason the IHRA identifies as a species of antisemitism:

“Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.”

The APPG follows suit:

“Accusing Muslims as a group, or Muslim majority states, of inventing or exaggerating Islamophobia, ethnic cleansing or genocide perpetrated against Muslims.”

This illustration seeks to address a form of Muslim-baiting that is relatively infrequent. No state has advocated or pursued the policy of global extermination of Muslims, akin to the Holocaust. Accordingly, a close parallel to Holocaust revisionism does not exist in relation to Islamophobia. For example, the playing down of Serbian genocide against Bosnian Muslims does occasionally take place, but does not have the emblematic status of Holocaust denial. By contrast, there are few antisemites who do not toy with Holocaust revisionism. Moreover, unlike Holocaust Revisionism, attempts to minimise war crimes against Muslims are generally not deployed in a conspiratorial fashion. Antisemites frequently allege that the ‘Zionist controlled media’ have perpetuated a ‘Holohoax’. Equivalent charges are not usually levied at Muslims. Neither is it common for those who hate Muslims to deny that persecution of Muslims takes place. Rather, anti-Muslim agitators suggest that Muslims deserve persecution.

Nor do anti-Muslim bigots usually claim that “Muslim majority states” are the prime movers of a conspiracy to promoting disinformation about “Islamophobia, ethnic cleansing or genocide”. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan may be commonly criticised for many things: but the falsification of history is not one of them.

The choice of the IHRA definition as a model for the APPG definition results in the misapplication to Muslims of a form of incitement which is an established component of antisemitism. As a result, it misses its proper target.

Self-determination

A second illustration of the unfitness of the IHRA definition as a model for the APPG definition is provided by the illustration which relates to self-determination. The IHRA text states:

“Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.”

The APPG text states:

“Denying Muslim populations the right to self-determination e.g., by claiming that the existence of an independent Palestine or Kashmir is a terrorist endeavour.”

The IHRC text identifies is directed to a particular form of antisemitism: namely calls to dismantle an existing and established UN Member State, accompanied by an ‘original sin’ argument: that Jewish self-determination in Israel is, uniquely, a ‘racist endeavour’. It draws upon a long history of Christian thinking about Jewish ‘exile’, which itself is rooted in Jewish theological attempts to explain the fall of Judea in the first century: i.e. that Jewish infidelity to God resulted in expulsion from the land of Israel. Charges of this nature are not routinely made by anti-Muslim bigots against Muslims or in relation to existing Muslim states.

The international law position on the cardinal principle of the right of a people to self-determination is complex, and this short submission does not discuss the learned commentary on this subject. However, a claim to self-determination by any people will not always be supported by international law. Moreover, it may be opposed for reasons which are unrelated to discrimination, prejudice or bigotry.

It is notable that the two examples of the denial of self-determination which are provided involve Muslim populations under the jurisdiction, to a greater or lesser extent, of non-Muslim majority states. However, a significant number of examples of Muslim populations being denied self-determination arise within the context of Muslim majority states: for example, the position prior to the creation of Bangladesh, the Ahwazi independence movement in Iran, or in the context of Balochistan. Some of these cases may involve racism against national minorities, but are not motivated by generalised prejudice against Muslims. By contrast, certain examples of Muslim populations which have been subject to persecution and a denial of national autonomy are accompanied by sectarian intra-faith Islamophobia: for example, the position of the regional Shia minority within Saudi Arabia. However, such cases are not caught by the proposed definition.

A further problem arises in relation to the substitution of ‘racist endeavour’ with ‘terrorist endeavour’. As discussed above, the IHRA example is directed at arguments that Jews – and uniquely Jews – who live in a state that defines itself as culturally Jewish are engaged in a racist project, and that such a state should accordingly be dissolved. The parallel charge would be that a state such as Pakistan, which defines itself as an Islamic Republic, is a racist endeavour. Such an accusation, if made only in relation to Muslim-majority states, and not to any other state that adopted a cultural or religious self-definition, would be improper. However, such charges are not generally made against Muslim majority states.

The authors of the APPG definition have accordingly replaced ‘racist’ with ‘terrorist’. Although it would be an expression of bigotry to suggest that any Muslim majority state would inevitably be a “terrorist endeavour”, it should not be improper to raise concerns of this nature in relation to specific states and terrorist organisations. An independent Kashmir run by Lashkar-e-Taiba would likely be a terrorist state. Given that Hamas launched a coup within Gaza in 2007, ousting and executing its rivals in Fatah, and establishing a one party state, such misgivings are not misplaced. Moreover, on its face, such a definition would potentially render a description of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as a ‘terrorist endeavour’ an expression of Islamophobia.

Islamophobia and racism

A separate and distinct problem arises in relation to the core definition of Islamophobia proposed by the APPG:

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

That description does not draw directly on the IHRA working definition. However, one of the APPG examples refers to racism and fascism, and mirrors an IHRA illustration. The APPG text reads:

“Calling for, aiding, instigating or justifying the killing or harming of Muslims in the name of a racist/ fascist ideology, or an extremist view of religion.”

The parallel IHRA text provides:

“Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.”

Elements of racism and fascism often, but do not always underpin antisemitism. Therefore,the IHRA working definition does not identify antisemitism as rooted in racism or fascism. That is because antisemitism is not simply a species of racism or a product of fascism. Antisemitism may be the product of a variety of forms of other, radical ideologies.

Similarly, although, bigotry against Muslims may be occasioned by racism, and some fascists may hate Muslims, that will not be the primary motivation in all cases of anti-Muslim hatred. It is now sadly common to see expressions of hatred of Muslims arising within a socialist or communist context. Such incitement is all-too-frequently expressed by supporters of the Russian military intervention in Syria, who claim that all opponents of Assad, and even the White Helmets, are theocratic jihadists. Therefore, a definition of Islamophobia which required that incitement against Muslims be rooted in racism or fascism would leave such expressions of hatred untouched.

More fundamentally, it is not accepted that Islamophobia is “rooted in racism and is a type of racism”. To give a clear example: many examples of anti-Muslim bigotry, some set out in the text of the APPG Report, involve the experiences of Muslim converts who have been the subject of hatred. Those expressing hostility do not believe that converts have changed their race. Rather they attack them because they have changed their confessional and cultural identity.

Intra-faith Islamophobia

Separately from the concerns related to the improper choice of the IHRA working definition as its model, the APPG definition has been properly criticised for failing to address intra-faith Islamophobia. Intra-faith Islamophobia should be defined as including both sectarian hatred between different Muslims groups (e.g. Sunni, Shia, Ahmadi), and incitement by Muslims against other Muslims, for reasons related to their preferred expression of religious observance.

If Islamophobia is regarded, simplistically, as a problem of ‘white people’, and for ‘brown people’, then it makes sense to limit any definition to examples which are most likely to arise within this context. Such an understanding of Islamophobia fits well with the assertion that Islamophobia is a “type of racism”.

However, intra-faith Islamophobia also equally “targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. Nevertheless, as drafted, it is unclear that the definition adequately or specifically contemplates such expressions of intra-faith hatred. The United Kingdom is a diverse society, which has experienced a long period of sectarian intra-faith bigotry by Protestants against Catholics, which persists: albeit to a diminished extent. We should therefore be particularly alert to such challenges to social cohesion. Accordingly, a definition which does not protect minority Muslim groups from attacks which – were they directed by non-Muslims – would be regarded as Islamophobia, is not fit for the purposes of our society.

Quilliam is aware of a number of examples of vicious, theologically driven attacks on Shia Muslims, emanating in particular from specific Salafi institutions, who refer to Shia Muslims as “Rafidah”. Such terms are closely associated with discrimination, incitement and physical attacks on Shia Muslims, and are often also advanced by clerics, and promoted by religious institutions. Similarly, members of the Ahmadi minority in the United Kingdom are subject to an organised campaign of incitement, boycott, and hatred, some of it promulgated by the Khatme Nubuwwat organisation. Ahmadis are often referred to by the insulting term, “Qadiani”. Tragically, in 2016, an Ahmadi shopkeeper, Asad Shah, was murdered by Tanveer Ahmed, who had been influenced by anti-Ahmadi incitement. There are no examples within the APPG definition which specifically address this form of attack on an “expression of Muslimness”.

Intra-faith Islamophobia may also arise where Muslims suffer abuse and assault resulting from the manner in which they choose to express their faith identity. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, an Imam, Jalal Uddin, was Murdered in Rochdale in 2016 by Mohammed Syeedy and Mohammed Abdul Kadir. Both murderers were Muslim, and were motivated by Uddin’s opposition to the takfiri religious ideology that they both shared. At the other end, Muslims who express political views or engage in conduct which other Muslims may regard as impious – such as declining to wear the hijab – are subject to extreme expressions of hostility. In all such cases, the victims are targeted because of their chosen “expression of Muslimness”. Yet, the APPG definition provides no guidance in relation to such cases.

The absence of illustrations that focus on intra-faith Islamophobia is a serious lacuna. It is essential that this omission be remedied within any definition which is adopted by any public or private body, if it is to be effective.

Freedom of expression

Any attempt to police speech will inevitably have negative consequences for freedom of expression, notwithstanding that such action may be necessary in a democratic society. It is therefore incumbent upon those drafting and employing a definition of Islamophobia that the terms of such a definition be clear, comprehensible, apt, and easy to apply. We have listed above some of the reasons that the proposed APPG definition does not meet that test.

A helpful illustration of the uncertainty of application of the current definition is provided by Early Day Motion 392, December 2004. That EDM was tabled by various MPs, including the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. It “congratulates John Pilger on his expose of the fraudulent justifications for intervening in a ‘genocide’ that never really existed in Kosovo”.

Such a statement might well be considered an example of the relatively rare phenomenon of accusing “Muslims as a group, or Muslim majority states, of inventing or exaggerating Islamophobia, ethnic cleansing or genocide perpetrated against Muslims”. Although arguments such as these are typically primarily directed at opposition to Western military action, they may also secondarily involve accusations that Muslims are lying in order to promote sectarian interests.

The conduct of Serbian military personnel during the Kosovo conflict was appalling, and it rightly resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of a number of officers. It is strongly arguable that the intervention of NATO in that conflict prevented a genocide from taking place. The fundamental argument of the EDM is accordingly misconceived. However, genocide is a term with a precise legal meaning. Various genocide convictions resulted from the Bosnian conflict as a whole. No genocide conviction resulted from the Kosovo conflict: although certain reputable scholars take the view that genocide occurred. It would be most improper for politicians to be prevented from expressing the view that Serbian conduct in Kosovo did not constitute genocide.

As a footnote, the choice of the term “Muslimness”, upon which the APPG definition hangs, is an unattractive neologism, which is not readily understood by most people. It is therefore likely in itself to be a fundamental source of uncertainty.

The drafters of the APPG definition

We share the concerns of Policy Exchange that Dr Antonio Perra was the co-editor of the APPG Report. The Report explicitly thanks Dr Perra for his “considerable support to the secretariat in the preparation of this report [which] has been immensely valuable”. Dr Perra was formerly employed by Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND).

There is insufficient space in this submission to detail in full our objections to the conduct of MEND. We believe that the organisation has a long and discreditable track record of attacking Muslims who are politically and socially liberal, and in particular of accusing such Muslims of Islamophobia. MEND personnel have expressed such opinions. Dr Perra himself has accused Quilliam of having borrowed “elements of both Far-Right and Liberal Islamophobia”.

We regard such attacks on Quilliam and on other Muslim liberals as an abhorrent and pernicious form of “intra-faith Islamophobia”. Although we do not seek the suppression of such views, we do regard it as highly inappropriate that a report drafted by such a divisive figure should be adopted.

The APPG also cites, approvingly, the views and research of Professor David Miller. Again, it is not possible to list in full the eccentric and objectionable views which Professor Miller has promoted, in relation to the Syrian conflict, the Skripal poisoning, and other matters. Pertinently, he is reported to have expressed the view that the State of Israel is a “racist endeavour”. It is simply unacceptable that a man whose own conduct falls foul of the IHRA working definition, on which the APPG definition is modelled, should have such significant input into the process by which that definition was formulated.