Sadiq Khan is an Islamophobe. Not just any old Islamophobe, and not just in the woollier parts of the web. According to a group part-funded by the EU called the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), the mayor of London, a practising Muslim, is one of the four ‘politicians and figures of note in the UK who [have] flagrantly displayed the most Islamophobia’ in 2018.
Barack Obama is an Islamophobe. Cathy Newman, the Channel 4 News presenter, is an Islamophobe. So are Louise Casey, who led an inquiry into the Rotherham grooming scandal, Michael Wilshaw, the ex-head of Ofsted, and Maajid Nawaz, the Muslim counter-extremism activist. Over the last few years, all have been shortlisted for the coveted ‘Islamophobe of the Year’ trophy at the IHRC’s annual Islamophobia Awards, a real event with a real gala dinner in a real London hotel ballroom.
The absurd, defamatory claims against Khan and the rest show how difficult the term Islamophobia can be. Many use it sincerely to describe anti-Muslim abuse and violence that is real, serious, has taken at least three lives in the past five years and blighted many more. But Islamist extremists, and wrongdoers who happen to be Muslim, routinely debase the word to smear and intimidate their critics: hence Khan and Nawaz’s appearances in the shortlist of shame.
I never minded when supporters of Lutfur Rahman, the corrupt Tower Hamlets mayor who took power with an extremist group’s help, or Tahir Alam, the grand vizier of the Trojan Horse schools plot, called me an Islamophobe for my investigations into them. Being lied about by liars is part of the job. But now maybe I should start to worry.
Last week, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims published a ‘landmark report’ demanding a ‘legally binding definition of Islamophobia’. It was launched by the group’s co-chairs, the Tory MP Anna Soubry and Labour’s Wes Streeting, and the former Tory minister Baroness Warsi. Dominic Grieve, the ex-attorney-general, wrote the foreword. Lord Bourne, the communities minister, spoke.
Wittingly or unwittingly, these estimable figures, the report and the APPG are being used by deeply problematic groups to push profoundly dubious ideas into government.
The new definition, the report makes clear, should control and police a vast spectrum of activity, extending ‘far beyond’ anything that can currently ‘be captured as criminal’.
It should, for instance, set ‘appropriate limits to free speech’ when talking about Muslims, and create ‘tests… for ascertaining whether contentious speech is indeed reasonable criticism or Islamophobia masquerading as “legitimate criticism”.’ Examples include alleging ‘conspiracies about Muslim entryism in politics, government or social institutions’. This could include the Trojan Horse plot or the extremist take-over in Tower Hamlets.
The report finds ‘compelling’ a proposal that to be legal, criticism must not be ‘insincere’, the test being: ‘Does [the critic] really care about the issue, or [are they] using it to attack Muslims in the way that many use feminism and homosexuality?’ But who decides who ‘really cares’ and who’s ‘sincere’ or not? Do only Peter Tatchell and Gloria Steinem get to criticise Islam’s treatment of gays and women?
With a fine circularity, the APPG proposes that ‘accusing Muslims… of exaggerating Islamophobia’ should itself be deemed Islamophobic. Would it then be prohibited to correct the Islamic Human Rights Commission when it calls Sadiq Khan an Islamophobe?
Free expression is not the only area affected. The definition is ‘also required… to bring about a transformation in social etiquette’. The report agreed with one witness who said it should cover ‘negative attitudes’ by individuals, including ‘micro-aggressions’. Last year, Oxford University said that ‘not making eye contact’ with a black student could be a micro-aggression.
The APPG report itself bears some resemblance to an entryist operation and fails its own sincerity test. For years, MPs have been warned off a deeply nasty group called Mend: Muslim Engagement and Development. This has hosted numerous meetings with extremists. One of its senior figures supported killing British troops, and another described the (Muslim) counter-extremism czar, Sara Khan, with the racist slur ‘Oreo’: brown outside but white within.
Mend lies about Islamophobia as part of a campaign to alienate British Muslims from their country and state. Its promotional film for its recent ‘Islamophobia awareness month’ claimed that a student had his home ‘raided over a word googled for a worksheet’, something it now says was ‘artistic licence’. It says Britain and Europe are so Islamophobic that we ‘may already be close’ to the conditions that allowed the Holocaust.
Mend was banished from involvement with a previous parliamentary group on Islamophobia, and Ms Soubry has disowned it. Alas, one of the key figures in writing the new report was Antonio Perra, the only non-MP thanked in the acknowledgments for his ‘considerable’ and ‘immensely valuable’ support. The APPG discreetly omits to mention this, but Dr Perra is, according to his LinkedIn page, ‘senior policy analyst’ for Mend.
One of the APPG’s secretariat, Muhbeen Hussain, is from Rotherham, where in 2015 he organised the local Muslim community to boycott the police for their ‘Islamophobic’ behaviour after the child-sex grooming scandal. And the man who jointly coined the proposed definition of Islamophobia? He is Salman Sayyid, ‘professor of social theory and decolonial thought’ at Leeds. But Professor Sayyid has another gig, too: he works with our very dear friends the Islamic Human Rights Commission. He’s even spoken at the Islamophobia Awards: the year they gave it to Barack Obama.
There’s a debate in Whitehall just now. At the communities department they’re thought to sympathise with defining Islamophobia. For the Home Office, headed by Sajid Javid, another of the IHRC’s Muslim ‘Islamophobes’, any legal definition of a term so abused and politically loaded is a seriously bad idea. The APPG’s report was meant to tip the scales. In overreaching so clumsily, it might indeed have done so — just not in the direction that Warsi and Mend hoped.