In a year when the British National Party (BNP) won two seats in the European parliament, the English Defence League have marched in protest against the ‘Islamification’ of Britain in various towns and cities, and more recently, there has been a referendum in Switzerland to ban minarets, the University of Birmingham this week hosts a national conference that explores the timely issue of Islamophobia and religious discrimination (9th December 2009).
Bringing together key individuals from the Department of Communities & Local Government (CLG), the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC), the Houses of Parliament, Birmingham City Council and the University of Birmingham amongst others, the conference – “Islamophobia & Religious Discrimination: new perspectives, policies and practices”  – will consider the extent to which religious discrimination is on the rise and whether the legislation and policies that seek to address these are indeed working.
Dr Chris Allen  from the Institute of Applied Social Studies (IASS) and who convened the event says:
“Despite the fact that there are a growing number of British people choosing to identify themselves in terms of their religion and greater recognition is being afforded to religion and faith in the public and political spaces, research continues to suggest that Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination are on the rise – not just here in Britain but elsewhere in Europe too. People are finding it increasingly acceptable and ‘normal’ to be prejudiced and discriminatory about others on the basis of religion or belief.
Sometimes through fear and suspicion, sometimes because of ignorance and a lack of understanding, if left unchecked, these could easily become hostilities and hatreds that result in tensions, unrest and harm between different communities and religions. So if we want to ensure the future wellbeing of a cohesive multicultural, multi-faith Britain, it is vital that we begin to discuss these issues now.”
For one of the speakers, the Reverend Dr John Hall – Director for Social Responsibility in the Diocese of Coventry and Chair of the regional West Midlands Faiths Forum – the rise in Islamophobia and religious discrimination is based largely upon fear and mistrust:
“Fear of the other is potentially the most destructive threat to our community life…an increasingly fear driven Islamophobia points to our need for more dialogue and better understanding”
Another of the speakers, Robin Richardson – a former director of the race relations think tank Runnymede Trust, responsible for a ground-breaking report on anti-Muslim prejudice in Britain way back in 1997 – says of the event:
“The conference at the University of Birmingham is extremely important and timely. Many people will be grateful to the University for its initiative in creating the conference.”
He goes on:
“In some ways the position of Muslims in Britain has improved over the last ten years. But also, many British Muslims feel they are not allowed to feel that they have a full place in British society. This conference will be invaluable for getting influential decision-makers to think hard about what still needs to be done.”
At the event, as well as hearing presentations, an audience of around 200 will be able to put questions to a panel of experts . Drawn from a wide range of different backgrounds, the audience will include: local government representatives from Birmingham, Sandwell, Dudley, Wolverhampton, Newcastle-Under-Lyme and Stoke on Trent amongst others; public sector officials from the police, probation service, and PCTs in such places as Blackburn, Coventry and London; leaders from Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and Christian communities; and numerous others representing third sector and grassroots organisations.
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For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact Chris Allen on 07940 537691 or email@example.com
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. “Islamophobia & Religious Discrimination: new perspectives, policies and practices” takes place on Wednesday 9 December 2009 from 2.00-5.00pm at the University of Birmingham (G15, Muirhead Tower, Edgbaston Campus).
2. Dr Chris Allen is a Research Fellow in the Institute of Applied Social Studies, School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham having completed his Arts & Humanities Research Council funded doctoral studies that explored the discourse and theory of Islamophobia. With a monograph entitled ‘Islamophobia’ (Ashgate) due in 2010, he has since published widely in such places as Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland as well as the UK. He has also presented his findings at conferences in Austria, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Norway and in November 2009 was invited to the European Parliament to debate the issue of Islamic and European identities. At the European level, he was also co-author of the influential EUMC’s report into Islamophobia in the EU after 11 September 2001. He has worked closely with a range of different organisations and institutions on policy issues including the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism & Xenophobia, the House of Lords Select Committee on Religious Offences, the Centre for European Policy Studies, the British Council, the European Commission on Security Issues in Europe, and the Greater London Authority amongst others.
3. A complete list of speakers appearing at the conference:
Maqsood Ahmed OBE
Senior Adviser on Muslim Communities, Department for Communities & Local Government
Dr Chris Allen
Research Fellow, Institute of Applied Social Studies, University of Birmingham
Rev Dr John Hall
Director for Social Responsibility, Coventry Diocese and Chair of West Midlands Faiths Forum
Project Manager, Birmingham City Council
Rt Hon Mark Pritchard MP
Conservative MP for The Wrekin and member of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission
Director INSTEAD, original member of the Commission on British Muslims & Islamophobia, and former director of the Runnymede Trust
Head of Programmes (Workplace & Employment), Policy Lead (Religion & Belief), Equality & Human Rights Commission
Dr Basia Spalek
Reader in Communities & Justice, Institute of Applied Social Studies, University of Birmingham