Banning Islamophobia: Blasphemy Law By The Backdoor

8 March 2024

Our Head of Public Policy Tim Dieppe reflects on his briefing that was published by the Free Speech Union, entitled: Banning Islamophobia: Blasphemy Law by the Backdoor. The briefing contains a foreword by Professor Richard Dawkins who shares Tim’s concerns about the threat to free speech from defining ‘Islamophobia’.

It is not often that Christian Concern finds itself in agreement with prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, and our agreement here has surprised people! We are pleased to work with the Free Speech Union to highlight the serious problems with defining Islamophobia.

You can download the briefing here, what follows is a summary.

The proposed definition

In 2018, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims proposed a definition of Islamophobia which reads as follows:

Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.

The definition is incredibly broad and subjective and can be used to shut down legitimate criticism of Islam as a religion. Indeed, it has already been used in this way.

As Richard Dawkins and I both point out in the briefing, Islam is not a race. Therefore it is wrongheaded to define Islamophobia as “a type of racism.” You cannot change your race, but you can change your religion.

Furthermore, the definition talks of “perceived Muslimness” – which is entirely subjective. If someone perceives you have been Islamophobic then by definition you have been! There is no defence. You are guilty by allegation.

Widely adopted

Alarming though this definition is, it has been widely adopted by multiple organisations across the country. This includes one in seven local authorities in England. Most concerningly, it has been formally adopted by mainstream political parties such as the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, the Scottish Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Greens. Adoption by political parties means that members of these parties risk being disciplined or expelled from the party if they are accused of Islamophobia.

Indeed, this has already happened. Sir Trevor Phillips was suspended from the Labour Party in 2020 following accusations of Islamophobia. Khalid Mahmood, the UK’s longest-serving Muslim MP, said at the time:

‘I’m afraid this whole episode has provided final proof – were any necessary – that the APPG definition of “Islamophobia” is simply not fit for purpose… If anything good is to come out of this sad – and frankly embarrassing – episode for my party, it is that it can hopefully serve as a wake-up call to those who believe that the APPG definition of Islamophobia represents any kind of basis for progress. It does not.’

In July 2021, Phillips was quietly readmitted to the Labour Party, but the threat of suspension remains for anyone found guilty of Islamophobia.

What is Islamophobic?

The APPG report Islamophobia Defined provides some examples of what it determines would qualify as Islamophobic. One of these examples is “Accusing Muslims as a group, or Muslim majority states, of inventing or exaggerating Islamophobia, ethic cleansing or genocide perpetrated against Muslims.”  Thus, suggesting that Hamas may be exaggerating claims of genocide in the current Gaza war is Islamophobic. Claims of genocide made by Muslims are unchallengeable on pain of being Islamophobic.

Another example in the APPG report includes “claims of Muslims spreading Islam by the sword”.  This would rule out any discussion of Islamic history, since most Muslims would agree that Islam spread by the sword for some centuries. Historians who discuss this aspect of history would be branded Islamophobic.

Yet another example is “Accusing Muslim citizens of being more loyal to the ‘Ummah’ (transnational Muslim community) . . . than to the interests of their own nations.” This would mean that the government commissioned Casey Review of 2016 is Islamophobic for stating that it found “a growing sense of grievance among sections of the Muslim population, and a stronger sense of identification with the plight of the ‘Ummah’, or global Muslim community.”

Blasphemy by the back door

The problem here is ultimately in the word itself. ‘Islamophobia’ means fear of Islam – not of Muslims. Use of word ‘Islamophobia’ is bound to undermine ability to legitimately criticise Islam, the religion. Criticism of Islam is not the same as criticism of Muslims. If we used the term ‘anti-Muslim hatred’ this would be a lot clearer. It specifies that it is against Muslims, not the religion of Islam. I fear that in defining ‘Islamophobia’ it is criticism of Islam itself that becomes unacceptable. In this way it is, as Kemi Badenoch recently pointed out: “blasphemy by the back door.”

May become law

The Labour Party has promised to introduce a new race equality act should it obtain power. Given that it has formally adopted the APPG definition of Islamophobia which classifies Islamophobia as “a type of racism” it is entirely possible that this definition gets enshrined in law. Indeed there is pressure for the government to formally adopt this definition. A proposal to adopt the definition was debated in the House of Commons in 2019. In the end, the Conservative government decided not to adopt the APPG definition. If a Labour government comes to power, we are very likely to see a different outcome given Labour’s formal adoption of the definition.

Richard Dawkins concludes his foreword to the briefing with these words:

“Here I have not considered the issue of freedom of speech. Tim Dieppe covers it so well that I have nothing to add, except this final thought. If ‘Islamophobia’ becomes punishable by law, will it be illegal to even state, as a matter of fact, that a woman in some Islamic countries can be stoned to death for the crime of speaking to a man other than her husband? Will I be arrested for stating the undenied fact that apostasy carries the death penalty?

“If so, bring it on. I look forward to defending myself in court.”

  • Share

Related articles

All content has been loaded.

Take action

Join our email list to receive the latest updates for prayer and action.

Find out more about the legal support we're giving Christians.

Help us put the hope of Jesus at the heart of society.