Sajid Javid objects to ‘Islamophobia’

30 September 2019

Tim Dieppe comments on the former Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s comments on Radio 4 ‘Today’ about the term ‘Islamophobia’.

The former Home Secretary, now Chancellor, Sajid Javid was asked about Islamophobia in his interview on BBC Radio 4 Today on 30 September (from 8:24am). He helpfully clarified:

“I call it ‘anti-Muslim hate crime’, rather than ‘Islamophobia’.”

This is a moment of common sense. ‘Anti-Muslim’ is much clearer language than ‘Islamophobia’ as Javid went on to explain:

“Sometimes when some people talk about ‘Islamophobia’, sometimes some people mean that you shouldn’t criticise or shouldn’t have the ability to criticise a religion – not people, but a religion. And I think in our free society anyone should be able to talk about any religion…respectfully, but to say I don’t agree with that religion. That’s up to them. But attacking someone if they are a Muslim is completely, utterly unacceptable. So, it’s ‘anti-Muslim hate crime’.”

As proposed in an open letter

This language choice is precisely that proposed in an open letter to the Home Secretary earlier this year signed by 40 leading experts from a range of religious backgrounds, including myself. It said:

“No religion should be given special protection against criticism. Like anti-Sikh, anti-Christian, or anti-Hindu hatred, we believe the term anti-Muslim hatred is more appropriate and less likely to infringe on free speech. A proliferation of ‘phobias’ is not desirable, as already stated by Sikh and Christian organisations who recognise the importance of free discussion about their beliefs.”

It seems that the then-Home Secretary read that letter and took it to heart.

Time to abandon irrational ‘phobia’ language

It is high time that we as a society abandoned irrational ‘phobia’ language. We also object to the term ‘Christophobia’ for similar reasons, but mainly because of the ambiguity of the term. ‘Anti-Christian’ is much clearer and requires no special definition. We recently explained our objections to the use of the term ‘Christophobia’.

A phobia is an irrational fear. This is not what we are talking about when we discuss anti-Muslim hatred, discrimination or attacks. It is certainly not what criticism of Islamic teaching should be described as. The same logic applies to anti-Christian discrimination. Allegations of ‘X-phobia’ are often used to silence legitimate criticism of ‘X’. Society should not be encouraging this kind of abuse of language and restriction of free speech.

 No definition of ‘Islamophobia’ needed

We welcome the Chancellor’s clarification, though we are conscious that the definition ‘hate crime’ is disturbingly vague, being grounded merely in perception. It would be better to say, ‘anti-Muslim crimes’, or ‘anti-Muslim discrimination’.

Over the summer, the government appointed an advisor to lead a process for establishing a definition of Islamophobia. As I pointed out at the time, this advisor would like to see an Islamic blasphemy law. Sajid Javid appears to understand the problems that such a definition would pose, and the sufficiency of anti-Muslim language in any case. The government should revisit this appointment and halt the process for establishing a definition of Islamophobia.

More clarity of language needed

I hope that other government ministers and parliamentarians will pay attention to Sajid Javid’s objection to the use of ‘Islamophobia’, and to the open letter objecting to a proposed definition of Islamophobia. We could all do with more clarity of language rather than increasingly irrational use of ‘phobias’ to silence debate.

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