Police chiefs and Muslim groups in the UK have clashed over a proposed official definition of Islamophobia as part of efforts to tackle anti-Muslim crimes in Britain. The definition, proposed by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims based on wide consultation over the issue, reads: "Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness."
But the UK's National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) warned in a statement on Wednesday that the definition may be too broad and cause confusion. "We take all reports of hate crime very seriously and will investigate them thoroughly. However, we have some concerns about the proposed definition of Islamophobia made by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims," said NPCC Chair Martin Hewitt.
"We are concerned that the definition is too broad as currently drafted, could cause confusion for officers enforcing it and could be used to challenge legitimate free speech on the historical or theological actions of Islamic states. There is also a risk it could also undermine counter-terrorism powers, which seek to tackle extremism or prevent terrorism," he said, calling for wider consultation on any definition of anti-Muslim hostility. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which had made a "resounding call" for political leaders to adopt the definition when it was released as part of the APPG on British Muslims report at the end of last year, attacked the NPCC stand.
MCB general secretary Harun Khan said: "Our understanding is that the police and security forces will rightly fight terrorism based on intelligence and scrutiny of the evidence. "Anti-terrorist operations can only be 'hampered' if counter-terror officers have been targeting Muslims because of their identity (or Muslimness as the definition states), categorising them as security concerns. If this is the case, it confirms long-voiced concerns about the disproportionate focus and impact of counter-terror operations on Muslim communities."
The row comes ahead of a UK Parliament debate on whether to formally adopt a definition of Islamophobia. The debate, initiated by MPs from the APPG on British Muslims in the House of Commons on Thursday, is expected to mount pressure on the Theresa May led the government to accept the formal definition. The definition, which has been accepted by Opposition parties such as Labour and the Liberal Democrats as well as the London Mayor's Office, followed concerns of a rising number of Islamophobic attacks in the UK. Home Office data notes that 52 per cent of religious hate crimes recorded by the police were against Muslims. The APPG's report concluded that the lack of an official definition was hampering efforts to counter Islamophobia, harming Muslims and wider British society.
It said: "The aim of establishing a working definition of Islamophobia has neither been motivated by nor is intended to curtail, free speech or criticism of Islam as a religion. "No open society can place religion above criticism and we do not subscribe to the view that a working definition of Islamophobia can or should be formulated with the purpose of protecting Islam from free and fair criticism or debate."
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a former Conservative Party chair who has called for an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Tory party in the past, also countered the view that a formal definition would interfere with police work. "The report makes clear that the definition does not seek to protect or stop criticism of Islam – to suggest it would, is disingenuous and divisive," she said.
"The inability of senior police officers to understand how Islamophobia – the plethora of everyday microaggressions impacting British Muslims is not the same as hate crime shows a worrying lack of understanding of the communities they seek to police," she said. A minister is set to present the UK government stand on the definition of Islamophobia at the end of the Commons debate this week, but it looks unlikely that it would be formally adopted.
A UK government spokesperson said it was conscious that the APPG's proposed definition has "not been broadly accepted" and the matter needs further careful consideration. "Any hatred directed against British Muslims and others because of their faith or heritage is utterly unacceptable," the spokesperson said.
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