Islamophobia – a challenge for us all

British Islam Conference 2018

Speaker: Omar Khan, Runnymede Trust

The original report on Islamophobia was published in 1997. The 20th anniversary report has just been published in 2017.

The original report was published when Muslims felt they were under siege facing discrimination with a government that wasn’t interested. Mainstream white liberal classes had no understanding or concern of the issues being faced by British Muslims.

Islamophobia is not just a battle of ideas. It has a material impact on peoples lives affecting their physical and mental wellbeing.

The short definition of Islamophobia is anti-Muslim racism. The longer definition is:

Islamophobia is any distinction, exclusion, or restriction towards, or preference against, Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) that has the purpose or effect
of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.

We need to ensure there is agreement on the above definition which purposefully avoids limiting it to an act of hate crime. This is because it is not simply limited to hate crime perpetrated by white working class people. It involves white middle classes who contribute to Islamophobia in many ways including:

  • Designing budgets that hit the poorest black and asian women the hardest
  • Denying jobs to black and ethnic minorities
  • Awarding first class degrees to three times as many white graduates compared to their black counter-parts

Islamophobia is not a criticism of ideas which is a hallmark of a free society. Islamophobia is discrimination against Muslims which is the hallmark of an unjust society. The focus has to be on Muslims and not Islam. Because it is individuals who suffer from the effects of institutional and inter-personal Islamophobia in terms of jobs, mental health, physical health and higher child poverty.

Key messages:

  1. Policy formation needs to be reframed as currently it is focused on hate and counter terrorism. The scope has to be extended beyond this to include overcoming barriers in the labour market, health and education inequality
  2. The challenges of addressing Islamophobia should include working in partnership with wider civic society. An approach centred on universal values that targets all forms of discrimination and not just Muslim centric

Whilst there has been a sea change in societal attitudes towards gender inequality and homophobia there is increasing prejudice against Muslims.

The Grenfell tower tragedy demonstrated that you don’t need to be living 200 miles away from Westminster to lack a voice or resources.

Discussions overcoming Islamophobia should also include the need for positive framing of British Muslims.

Download Islamophobia still a challenge for us all – Runnymede Trust.

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