On Wednesday 3rd March 2010, I was invited to give an ‘expert witness’ statement at a Parliamentary meeting to discuss the creation of an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Islamophobia . APPGs include members of the House of Commons and the House of Lords from across all of the political parties who meet together to discuss a particular issue of concern. They tend to focus most on the governing party’s priorities, discussing new developments and inviting Government Ministers to speak at their meetings. APPGs have no formal place in the legislature but are an effective way of bringing together parliamentarians and other interested parties including academics, NGOs and campaign groups amongst others.

Below is a transcript of the statement I made at the meeting held in the Grand Committee Room, the House of Commons:

The publication of the Commission on British Muslims & Islamophobia’s (CBMI) report in 1997, Islamophobia: a challenge for us all, was a watershed moment in the process of formally recognising Islamophobia in the public and political spaces. That report was the start point of the journey that has tonight brought people together to consider the evidence for establishing an All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia.

What I would like to do is set out the evidence that has been put forward in the 15 years since that journey began: to fill the gaps in the evidence provided by the other expert witnesses this evening.

A brief retrospective shows that a growing body of research into Islamophobia is being established. Academically, this has included theoretical and conceptual analyses (Allen, 2006; Malik, 2010; Sayyid & Vakil, 2010), specific manifestations, for example in the British press (Poole 2002; Richardson 2004), in applied settings such as education (Shaik, 2006; Khattab, 2008) and within specific academic disciplines including psychology (Sheriden 2006).

In terms of evidence and with a specific reference to the focus of this meeting tonight, policy-based research has been undertaken both at the European level and here in the UK (Choudhury, 2002). A review of the reports that have come out of these highlights a recurrent theme.

So beginning in 2001, the Home Office’s study into discrimination on the basis of religion noted that:

“Hostility and violence were very real concerns for organisations representing Muslims…The majority of Muslim respondents thought that hostility, verbal abuse and unfair media coverage had become more frequent…” (p.vi)
[Religious discrimination in England and Wales]

Adding that:

“…A consistently higher level of unfair treatment was reported by Muslim organisations than by most other religious groups” (p.vi)
[Religious discrimination in England and Wales]

As a response to the events of 9/11, my own report for the European Monitoring Centre for Racism and Xenophobia recorded:

“a significant rise in attacks on Muslims [in the UK]” (p.29)
[Summary report on Islamophobia in the EU after 11 September 2001]

Noting how the British National Party were gaining success on the back of:

“highly explicit Islamophobic campaign[s]” (p.29)
[Summary report on Islamophobia in the EU after 11 September 2001]

A few years later in 2005, a report for the Open Society Institute stated that:

“80% of Muslim respondents reported being subjected to Islamophobia” (pp.18-19)
[Muslims in the UK: policies for engaged citizens]

Another two years after that, another report from the EUMC noted how in the UK:

“Muslims are vulnerable to discrimination and manifestations of Islamophobia in the form of anything from verbal threats through to physical attacks on people and property” (p.108)
[Perceptions of discrimination and Islamophobia: Voices from members of Muslim communities in the European Union]

This was further contextualised by an accompanying report that noted an:

“…increase in open incidents of everyday hostility…[where the] the situation had deteriorated over the last five years” (p.7)
[Muslims in the European Union: Discrimination and Islamophobia]

In a report commissioned by the Greater London Authority in 2007, the research highlighted how:

“Muslims in Britain are depicted as a threat to traditional British customs, values and ways of life…[where] Facts are frequently distorted, exaggerated or oversimplified” (p.xiv)
[The search for common ground: Muslims, non-Muslims and the UK media]

Which in the current climate:

“…is likely to provoke and increase feelings of insecurity, suspicion and anxiety amongst non-Muslims…at the same time likely to provoke feelings of insecurity, vulnerability and alienation amongst Muslims…[it] is unlikely to help diminish levels of hate crime and acts of unlawful discrimination by non-Muslims against Muslims” (p.113)
[The search for common ground: Muslims, non-Muslims and the UK media]

And most recently, a report from the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published in January this year acknowledged:

“substantial evidence of socioeconomic discrimination, particularly against groups whose culture and religion is different from the majority, most notably Muslims” (p.iv)
[‘Religion or belief’: identifying issues and priorities]

The recurrent theme therefore is that report after report has highlighted how Islamophobia is a real and tangible issue. And it is not just the handful of reports quoted here. A whole raft of other reports and research have suggested similar.

Throughout the 15 years since the publication of the Runnymede Trust report, Islamophobia has neither gone away of its own accord nor has the situation seemed to have improved.

And yet this evening, we are still discussing whether or not something needs to be done. Why?

It is no surprise that the findings from 2010’s British Social Attitudes Survey showed that 52% of respondents believe that Britain is deeply divided along religious lines, that 45% believe that religious diversity is having a negative impact on society, and that more than half would oppose the building of a large mosque at the end of their road as opposed to 15% who would object if it was a church.

None of these attitudes are, I hasten to add, Islamophobic per se. But they are – in my opinion – evidence of a hardening of perceptions and attitudes towards Muslims and Islam that are founded upon the misunderstandings and misrepresentations that can and indeed are being exacerbated to the extent that they can easily translate into more overt Islamophobic attitudes, acts and attacks.

History has shown the power of unfounded perceptions and attitudes as a catalyst for hatred and violence. If Islamophobia and all its potential impacts, consequences and ramifications are not afforded the necessary and rightful importance now, then it is possible that this will bring about deeper divisions, less cohesion, greater tensions and social unrest across British society.

Without any doubt whatsoever, Islamophobia will not go away and so it cannot be ignored any longer. It is therefore vital that we act now with the speed, clarity, commitment and impartiality that is long overdue.

I therefore support the move towards the creation of an All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia.

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2 thoughts on “Towards an All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia: expert witness transcript

  1. As someone who is a committed Christian, who has a degree in comparative religions with his thesis on the character of Islam,who has spent much of twenty years living and working in eight Islamic countries,five of them fundamentalist and who has set up a voluntary organisation supporting and protecting Muslim apostates I contend that Chris Allen is talking rubbish!

    Firstly,when he talks about Islam he is not describing a religion at all.Islam is more like a cult one which controls the lives of its adherents by demanding total submission to its so-called god,Allah, and which contains military,political and social rules all dressed up in a quasi-religious garb. It is built on a base of violence, death and destruction typified by the ghastly character of its INVENTOR, Muhammad, described in the webste of the APOSTATES of ISLAM as that of a particularly unpleasant Mafia godfather!

    I myself oppose Islamophobia which is an IRRATIONAL aversion to or fear of Islam. Most people quite rightly have a fear of Islam and particularly those who really know this alien thing. WE,therefore,have an entirely RATIONAL fear.

    THe only way to remove or considerably lessen the fear of Islam-but NOT Muslims per se-is to reform it to a considerable degree to make it even reasonably fit to have a place in any modern,European democracy!

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