Select Committee on Religious Offences in England and Wales Written Evidence

Submission from the Islamic Society of Britain

  We are delighted to hear of the recent initiative currently being undertaken by the House of Lords on Religious Offences. We appreciate the opportunity to submit our concerns regarding this vital matter. These are detailed below.

  ISB strongly supports the passing of a law that clearly prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion in all areas of British life, not merely in employment. We welcome this change, for as the law stands, it is currently discriminatory. This is clearly evidenced in the fact that incitement to racial hatred is classified as a legal offence, whilst incitement to religious hatred is not recognised or punishable under current legislation. Yet nevertheless, under existing legislation, particular faith communities, namely Jews and Sikhs are protected as they are recognised as identifiable racial/ethnic groups. This has meant that because Muslims cannot be classified as a singular racial/ethnic group due to Islams' multi-racial and universal vision, Muslims have been overlooked and denied the protection they rightly deserve. This anomalous situation (dating as far back as the Race Relations Act of 1974) is in urgent need of rectification and must be addressed in order to create a fair, just and safer society in which members of all faiths are equally protected.

  This legislative disparity is doubly alarming in light of the recent surge of Islamaphobic attacks in the aftermath of September 11 2001. The term "Islamaphobia" has come in to frequent currency to describe the "unfounded hostility towards Islam."[10] Muslim women in particular have been singled out by their headscarves and been subject to physical and verbal abuse: none of which have been or can be addressed under current legislation. This loophole has been further abused by right-wing fascists who have no qualms about blaming all of society's ills on Muslims. Inciting Islamaphobic hatred as a key part of their political agenda, after September 11, the British National Party jumped on the anti-Islamic bandwagon and began distributing leaflets that "explained" to the British public how Islam "spawns psychotic murderers." This type of vilification is deeply disturbing and has been reinforced in many spheres of British life, namely the media. Vulnerable to discrimination, this has left many British Muslims living in fear and insecurity.

  Islamaphobia however, did not suddenly appear post-September 11 for it is a longstanding prejudice, which has wrought pervasive and systematic inequalities in Britain's social and professional landscape. Muslims have for some time now been projected as a dangerous fifth column, vilified in the media as "terrorists" and treated as the Trojan horse in the heart of Britain. Many followers of the Islamic tradition have been socially alienated, institutionally marginalised and publicly ridiculed. The cargo of negative connotations that today accompany Britain's some three million Muslims has and will continue to have serious short-term and long-term consequences. This was clearly documented by the Runnymeade Trust in the Islamaphobia Report. (Islamaphobia, Report of The Runnymeade Trust Commission on British Muslims and Islamaphobia, 1997 p12). The report listed the consequences of Islamaphobia: some of which include, injustice, social disorder, the obstruction of co-operation and interchange and a waste of valuable skills in the economy.[11] These factors indicate the sheer severity of the problem, for it is not merely Britain's Muslims that are affected by this legal anomaly, but in turn, the well-being of wider British society. ISB thus urges the House of Lords to deal with this legal loophole and thereby continue to allow Britain's Muslims to continue to make a productive contribution to British society. We would also suggest that you take into consideration the proliferation of Islamaphobic discrimination in recent times.

  Finally, ISB also suggests that the law of Blasphemy is incorporated as a key facet of this initiative. As Law-abiding Muslims we support a law on blasphemy, which would protect religious figures/beliefs from defamation and vilification. At the present time however, the law is only favourable to the Christian religion, and rightly protects Jesus (Peace be Upon him), an important prophet in the Islamic tradition. It is unfortunate however, that there is no law that protects other religious beliefs by enforcing due and equal respect. In light of this inadequate protection for beliefs other than those of Christianity, ISB urges that all faith groups are protected legally in a comprehensive and respectable fashion. To be clear, this is not a censorship on faith dialogue or religious discussion as ISB is involved in successful interfaith dialogue and strongly encourages this. Rather, we simply request that the vilification and defamation of religious beliefs are outlawed under British legislation.

  We would appreciate a considered response to our submission and look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

29 July 2002

10   Islamaphobia Report, 1997, p. 4. Back

11   It is also noted that Islamaphobia prevents co-operation on shared issues, for example urban poverty and deprivation. (Islamaphobia report, 1997, p. 12). Back

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