Tim Dieppe comments on the suspension of Trevor Phillips from the Labour Party.
Former head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, claims to have: “introduced the term ‘Islamophobia’ to British politics by commissioning the Runnymead Trust’s 1997 report on the issue.” Now the proliferation of this term and its proposed definition as adopted by the Labour Party have come back to haunt him.
Allegations of Islamophobia
On Monday, The Times reported that this same Trevor Phillips, who lobbied for the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 – the first law giving practical protection to Muslims – and who was also an architect of the Equality Act which gave added protections to religion and belief, has been suspended from the Labour Party over allegations of Islamophobia.
Controversial definition of ‘Islamophobia’
The problem here stems, in particular, from a controversial definition of ‘Islamophobia’ proposed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims in November 2018. The definition is:
“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
I have written before about how dangerous this definition is. Islam is not a race. ‘Perceived Muslimness’ is ridiculously vague. The APPG report on the definition makes clear that the idea is to define ‘Islamophobia’ as a form of ‘cultural racism’ whereby criticism of Islamic culture or practices is unacceptable. The adoption of this definition will serve to seriously threaten free speech in relation to Islam and Islamic issues. I was one of over 40 signatories to an open letter to the then Home Secretary last year which outlined the serious concerns about this definition which are shared by people from a wide range of faith and non-faith backgrounds.
In spite of such concerns, the APPG definition has been hastily adopted by various local councils, and by political parties, including, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru and, of course, the Labour Party.
The adoption of this Islamophobia definition is now bearing its predicted fruit. Those who dare to raise valid questions about Islamic beliefs and practices are indicted – no matter what their prior track-record.
Policy Exchange has released a report which contains the full eleven page indictment that the Labour Party sent to Trevor Phillips. Phillips is not told who has made the allegations, and he is instructed to keep the matter entirely confidential. His fate will be decided behind closed doors in a meeting to which Trevor Phillips is not invited.
The content of the allegations is a collection of statements that Phillips is well-known to have made in the media stretching back over the last four years or so. The offence archaeologists did their homework. It is worth highlighting what some of these statements are.
Muslims ‘see the world differently’
Perhaps the most ridiculous allegation is that Phillips “told a meeting at the Policy Exchange think tank in Westminster on Monday that Muslims ‘see the world differently from the rest of us.’” Of course, that is a true statement. Muslims think that Muhammad is a prophet of Allah, whose example and teaching should be followed. Non-Muslims do not agree with this perspective of the world. Christians also see the world differently. Such a statement is hardly hateful or discriminatory. Are we really not even allowed to acknowledge differences between worldviews and religious communities?
Grooming gangs of Pakistani Muslim heritage
Another of Phillips’ crimes is stating that grooming gang abuse in Rotherham and Rochdale was carried out “by men of mostly Pakistani Muslim origin.” Once again this is a statement of fact. By not acknowledging this fact, as I have said before, we are sacrificing young girls to political correctness. Then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said in October 2018:
“It is a statement of fact – a fact which both saddens and angers me – that most of the men in recent high profile gang convictions have had Pakistani heritage.”
These grooming gangs have been operating on an industrial scale for over 40 years and continue to do so to this day. It is reported that 19,000 children were sexually groomed in 2019. We need to be able to speak plainly about who the perpetrators are. A petition to pressure the government to release its official research into grooming gangs rapidly gained over 100,000 signatures showing the strength of feeling around the politically correct silence over this issue.
Islamophobe of the year
Another offence that Labour cites against Phillips is joking that he was nominated as “Islamophobe of the year.” This so-called award is given by the fundamentalist Islamic Human Rights Commission. Previous recipients of the award include Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Aung San Suu Kyi, and satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was awarded just weeks after a terror attack slaughtering most of the journalists at their offices. An appropriate response to such a farcical award is to ridicule it with satire which is just what Phillips was doing.
Other offences of Phillips include citing statistics from surveys. For example, the indictment cites this:
“A third of UK Muslims would like their children educated separately from non-Muslims. A quarter disagreed with the statement that ‘acts of violence against anyone publishing images of the Prophet could never be justified’; and a quarter were sympathetic to the ‘motives’ of the Charlie Hebdo killers. These facts should presage a society in a turmoil of preparation for change; and a political and media elite engaged in serious debate as to how we meet this challenge to our fundamental values.”
This is a quotation from a Civitas report published in 2015 which refers to a 2015 poll by the firm Survation for the BBC. Much of what Phillips is doing here is merely citing some figures found in a respectable poll. Is it Islamophobic to quote what polls have found? Perhaps it would be Islamophobic to even carry out such polls. Is it Islamophobic to suggest that some of these polls raise questions that should be debated in our society?
Trevor Phillips Responds
Phillips says that: “In essence, I am accused of heresy, and I am threatened with excommunication.” Rather than “endure the spectacle of a great party collapsing into a brutish, authoritarian cult,” he has vowed to fight his suspension.
His response has been to give it maximum publicity so as to publicly shame the Labour Party over its treatment of him. His formal letter responding to the indictment is also included in the Policy Exchange report. It makes a mockery of the process and the allegations made by the Labour Party.
In passing, he cites Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights which requires a fair and public hearing in relation to charges made against someone. He asks whether the confidentiality instruction forbids him from consulting a lawyer, a pastor, or an imam! He then raises multiple questions about the allegations. Were any allegations rejected? Do they know who made the allegations? What definition of ‘Islamophobia’ are they using? When were the allegations first made? Was the context of the alleged statements fully taken into account? Was Phillips’s own track record and background taken into account?
So far, none of the contenders for the Labour Party leadership have commented on Phillips’s case. To support him might risk their own suspension! No one will defend Phillips’s right to free speech or even a fair hearing. Such is the sorry state of the Labour Party.
Definition not fit for purpose
Trevor Phillips has been outspoken about the problems with the APPG definition of Islamophobia. Reflecting on his suspension, he writes:
“It was therefore only a matter of time before this ‘definition’ would inevitably lead to the persecution of individuals who dissented. I never imagined that I myself would be the first political victim of such a witch-hunt.”
Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Bar, and member of the APPG on British Muslims, writes in the Policy Exchange report:
“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. We need now to accept that reality and move on.”
I agree. The case of Trevor Phillips is a test case. It has brought to the forefront our predicted concerns about defining Islamophobia. If a public figure like Trevor Phillips isn’t safe from being indicted for Islamophobia, none of us are. If political parties have any sense, they will quickly move to abandon the APPG definition and its attempts to silence any criticism of Islam. Sadly, I am not holding my breath.