EqualiTeach Submission to Enquiry into the Definition of Islamophobia

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As a result of  the education resource ‘Faith in Us’, produced earlier this year as part of our ‘Agents for Change: Islamophobia’ programme, EqualiTeach was invited to provide oral evidence for enquiry into the definition of Islamophobia/Anti Muslim Hatred by the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Muslims.

Our full submission is below:

  1. Introduction

EqualiTeach is a not-for-profit equality and diversity training and consultancy organisation working with schools across the UK to educate about prejudice and support teachers and senior leaders to create inclusive settings where everyone feels safe and able to achieve.

In 2017-2018 we worked with over 200 schools, 20,000 young people and 4,000 teachers.

Islamophobia is a big problem in schools:

  • Over 30% of young people believe Muslims are ‘taking over England’ (Taylor, 2015)
  • 11% of Islamophobic incidents happen in educational institutions (Tell Mama, 2017)
  • Many Muslim young people say that abuse is so commonplace it is normalised (British Youth Council, 2016)
  • Childline has reported a spike in race and faith-based bullying including name-calling, jibes about so-called Islamic State, violence and victimisation when wearing a hijab (NSPCC, 2017)

We recently ran a project in Tower Hamlets called Agents for Change – Islamophobia. 38 young people from 7 schools produced films to combat Islamophobia, working with EqualiTeach to produce an educational resource for teachers called ‘Faith in Us’, improve the reporting systems in their schools and raise awareness amongst their peers through assemblies and workshops.

  1. Have you adopted a definition of Islamophobia in your line of work and if so what is it?

We have been working with the Runnymede Trust definitions of Islamophobia. In our latest resource we used the 2017 version of ‘Anti-Muslim’ racism, as that is accessible for teachers and young people to follow, but we have expanded on this with examples of manifestations of Islamophobia and the fact that Islamophobia also affects those who are perceived to be Muslim.

Islamophobia denies people’s dignity, rights and liberties. Manifestations of Islamophobia take many forms, at both an institutional and individual level, including:

  1. Writing and speaking about Muslims as though all Muslims are the same, regardless of nationality, social class, political outlook and religious observance; are culturally and morally inferior; sympathetic towards terrorism; and/or have nothing in common with non-Muslims.
  2. Physical and verbal attacks and damage to property, ranging from micro-aggressions (everyday verbal, non-verbal, and environmental slights) to hate crimes.
  3. Discrimination in terms of employment, housing, medicine, the criminal justice system and in access to social and cultural spaces, goods and services.
  4. The absence of Muslim voices in politics, journalism and culture.

We believe that it is important that any definition captures the fact that Islamophobia is more than just individual prejudice and includes systemic discrimination against Muslims and the exclusion of Muslims from the public sphere. However, we need versions which are accessible to people who are not academics, or specialists in the field.

Islamophobia is not about legitimate criticism of Islam as a religion. However, there are times when criticism of Islam is used as a smokescreen for Islamophobia. The Runnymede Trust clearly outlines this in terms of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ views of Islam.

  1. What are the consequences of not adopting a definition of Islamophobia, if any?

People abuse the fact that there is no universally accepted definition of Islamophobia to assert that it doesn’t exist. For example, the Times columnist Melanie Phillips has regularly put forward the idea that Islamophobia is a fiction used to shut down debate.

When consulting on this and other resources, the definition of Islamophobia used has been one of the most contested parts, with different people strongly advocating for different definitions. The lack of a commonly adopted definition means that time which should be spent on the important job of tackling Islamophobia can be spent arguing over language instead and significant space in resources can be devoted to explaining why certain terms have been chosen.

EqualiTeach believes that Islamophobia is a term which is widely known and established and in use across the world and that this term should be kept.

  1. How useful would a scale of intensity and/or Islamophobia index be for categorising incident(s) and behaviours as Islamophobic?

We recommend a scale for schools when recording prejudice-related incidents, including Islamophobia, which was produced by INSTED consultancy:

  1. no offence was intended or taken
  2. hurt or distress was caused, but the offending behaviour is unlikely to be repeated
  3. hurt or distress was caused, and the pupil(s) responsible had previously been warned that their behaviour was unacceptable
  4. substantial hurt or distress was caused, and/or the behaviour was based on substantial hostility and prejudice, and/or the behaviour may be repeated.

The benefits of this scale is that it encourages all incidents to be recorded, and that it provides a more accurate picture of the issues in the school and which is useful for informing future strategies to tackle them.

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