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It’s time this government started taking seriously the epidemic of Islamophobia in this country

It’s time this government started taking seriously the epidemic of Islamophobia in this country
3 min read

November marks Islamophobia Awareness Month. This yearly occasion is a sobering reminder of just how pervasive and insidious Islamophobia is in our society. It reminds us of the need to tackle this hatred and the violent crimes and discrimination it manifests.

Like so many Muslims up and down the country, I have experienced this hatred first-hand. I am often on the receiving end of Islamophobic abuse – whether it is offensive messages online holding me personally accountable for “grooming gangs” or conflating Islam to terrorism.

As Muslims we are targeted because of faith, our practices, and the way we dress. Our places of worship are threatened, and our young people fear Islamophobic bullying in schools and on the streets. I am determined to build a society free from Islamophobia to allow future generations of British Muslims to thrive.

In recognising this month, MPs from all sides of the House will come together for the first time in a Westminster Hall debate to stamp out Islamophobia once and for all. Now it is time for the government to step up and enact meaningful change to protect our communities both online and offline.

The Prime Minister’s personal culpability in fuelling Islamophobia in our society is utterly damning

The coronavirus pandemic led to a devastating 40 per cent increase in online Islamophobia, after the far-right peddled a dangerous narrative blaming Muslims for intentionally spreading the virus. The government’s own figures for the past year reveal that once again Muslims were victim to the highest proportion of all religious-motivated hate crimes reported.

In the face of this epidemic of violence and hatred in our society, the Conservative government appears to be at worst in denial about the problem and at best shockingly complacent. Most damningly, they still refuse to name and define the problem.

Since November 2018, I have been campaigning for the APPG on British Muslims working definition of Islamophobia to be universally adopted. This definition already has the confidence of over 800 Muslim organisations, hundreds of local councils, the Mayors of London and Greater Manchester as well as every single major political party. The one notable absence from the list is the Conservative Party.

How can the Muslim community trust in the Conservative government to tackle this hatred, if they cannot even name it? This year, to mark Islamophobia Awareness Month I am urging the government to begin a step-change in its approach to this issue by recognising and adopting the APPG definition of Islamophobia.

However, I fear this is unlikely. We all remember the Prime Minister’s disgraceful language describing Muslim women as “letterboxes” and “bank robbers.” He may have viewed this as harmless, but for Muslim communities this led to real and violent consequences with a 375 per cent rise in hate crimes reported.

The Prime Minister’s personal culpability in fuelling Islamophobia in our society is utterly damning. Last year, I wrote to him during Islamophobia Awareness Month calling for action. A year later, I have still not received a response.

After raising this in a Point of Order in the Chamber yesterday, I am hopeful the Prime Minister may now deign to respond. But to too many Muslims, it feels like this Prime Minister and this government simply do not care. The Muslim community in our country deserve better, they deserve an explanation and frankly an apology. 

The theme for this year’s Islamophobia Awareness Month is “Time for Change”. It is time the government changed its ways and seized this opportunity with both hands. After all, as political representatives it is our responsibility to safeguard all communities, no matter their race or religion.

 

Afzal Khan is the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton and shadow deputy leader of the House of Commons.

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