I like Tan Dhesi, the Labour MP for Slough. I’ve known him since we were both fresh-faced university students. We last met at this year’s Vaisakhi reception at Downing street and he was as cordial as ever. It was a proud moment for us all, when he was elected as the first turban wearing Sikh in parliament. I’m always intrigued by what colour turban he will next be wearing whilst eloquently articulating constituent concerns in the Commons – purple, peach, or perhaps pink?
That said, I’m afraid he’s got it wrong on the issue of defining ‘Islamophobia’, which includes attacks on Sikhs or the ‘Muslim looking other’. Following the government’s decision to reject the APPG on British Muslims definition and commit to a process to establishing a workable one, Dhesi has backed calls to include words from the shelved definition, such as expressions of ‘perceived Muslimness’ which he says would protect groups like Sikhs from persecution. Really? The vagueness of ‘Islamophobia', described by Ed Husain as an ‘etymological fallacy’, is problematic enough without the subjectivity of this newly invented adjective: ‘Muslimness’.
The problem hinges on how police currently deal with hate crime, which is based entirely on subjectivity. Whose perception of ‘perceived Muslimness’ would be relied upon – the victim, perpetrator or any other person? As things stand, perception (not fact), is all that matters, according to the College of Policing’s hate crime operational guidance. Remarkably, ‘the victim does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief, and police officers or staff should not directly challenge this perception.’ Worse still, no evidence of the perceived hostility is required for an incident to be recorded. So, what’s the point in having these figures in the first place? Are we not in danger of creating an Orwellian thought crime repository, which drowns out the genuine and sometimes horrendous incidents of hostility targeting race and religion?
This move towards subjectivity was introduced by recommendations in the Macpherson report after the murder of Stephen Lawrence. But evidence has come to light suggesting this approach affects the credibility of official statistics. Last year, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services expressed concern about the implications of using perception-based reporting in a report, suggesting it ‘can lead to confusion over whose perception is being recorded (that of the victim, or of the police officer dealing with the report, for instance), and to inconsistencies in how different police officers in the same force flag similar incidents.' I’m sure statisticians would agree, this isn’t good news for data integrity.
Admittedly, there are police officers, academics and experts who know more about this than me, but common sense dictates that an incident against a Muslim, Christian or Sikh is best recorded as anti-Muslim, anti-Christian or anti-Sikh. The absurdity of the intellectual gymnastics, self-diagnosed phobias, and invention of adjectives no one (including the police) have heard of, isn’t surprising. It’s the preserve of toffee-nosed academics who sneer at the opinion of us ordinary plebs, who know the difference between race and religion. As previously highlighted in The Spectator, one of the academics responsible for jointly coining the APPG Islamophobia definition has worked with the Islamic Human Rights Commission – the group who gave Charlie Hebdo staff an ‘Islamophobe of the Year’ award, two months after they were shot dead. Yes, after they were shot dead.
Of course, most of us understand it’s not racist to hate an idea, but there may well be political mileage in all this for Corbyn’s Labour. Layers of subjectivity could stymie criticism of his associations with Hamas and Hezbollah – because Islamists themselves would surely profess to have some degree of ‘Muslimness’ by virtue of their beliefs, or the way they dress. A vague Islamophobia definition extending to criminalising the targeting expressions of ‘Muslimness’ or ‘perceived Muslimness’ (whilst equating it to ‘racism’) would therefore have a chilling effect on free expression. The APPG definition’s negative implications on Britain’s counter-terror operations have already been flagged by top cop Neil Basu.
Along with semantics, there are other troubling aspects to consider. During a Home Affairs Select Committee hearing last week Tim Loughton MP quizzed the co-chairs of the APPG on British Muslims, Wes Streeting and Anna Soubry, on the persecution of Ahmadiyya Muslims, by their co-religionists.
Loughton asked: ‘Is it possible to have Islamophobia by one Muslim group against another?’
Streeting responded, ‘No, I think that is sectarianism. That is a really serious and important issue in this country and internationally. It is worthy of deeper consideration. It is worthy potentially of government action.’
A burglar who intends to steal is guilty of the offence defined in law as burglary. It is true regardless of his or her faith. So why should Islamophobia, in the context of a legally binding definition, be any different? Loughton continued with his line of interrogation, perhaps hoping Streeting would see sense, adding:
‘Muslims who boycott the Ahmadiyya businesses and restaurants, for example, who bully Ahmadiyya children at school and who distribute leaflets calling for their death, that is not Islamophobia because it is by Muslims, but if that activity was by non-Muslims, absolutely, I think that we would all agree that it should fall foul of Muslim hatred and Islamophobia, shouldn’t it? Is it possible or not between different Muslim groups for exercising the same activity?’
Yet Streeting maintained his line of sectarianism. An inconsistent approach like this serves to shield extremists who target minority sects (and Kaffirs). Dhesi’s support for this hideously vague terminology, like his previous advocacy for the rejected APPG definition which wrongly equated Islamophobia to ‘racism’, won’t protect Sikhs or others who are confused as Muslims. The ambiguity might just help Islamists instead.