November marks the beginning of Islamophobia awareness month (#IAM). Nearly a quarter of a century since we first coined the term ‘Islamophobia’, Muslim communities in the West find ourselves in perhaps our most precarious moment. From Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and Boris Johnson’s letterbox insults to recent provocations by Emmanuel Macron, the work to defeat the racism endured by Muslim communities is more important than ever.
The UK Labour Party prides itself in being the party of anti-racism, inclusion and equality. For this reason, and many more, British Muslims have overwhelming supported Labour for more than 20 years. If we look at the 2017 general election, an estimated 85% of Muslims supported the Labour Party compared to 11% who supported the Conservatives.
Similarly, in the 33 seats where Muslim voters had the potential to affect the overall outcome of the election – and where Conservatives finished either first or second – all expect for one of these seats saw a swing of 10% towards the Labour Party. These statistics are among many – including from the 2019 general election – that show a trend across the years of consistent support within the Muslim community for Labour.
However, the growing threat of Islamophobia in mainstream politics has raised serious alarm bells for the Muslim community across Britain. Since the Brexit referendum, we have seen a sharp rise in hate crime and, in particular, a rise in violent and non-violent Islamophobic attacks. Home Office figures released in October showed that the highest number of recorded hate crime offences committed in the UK were against Muslims. Of the 6,822 religious hate crimes recorded by the police in 2019/20, over 50% were targeted towards Muslims.
Added to the increasing normalisation of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party and a growing concern over its perceived penetration into the Labour Party, Muslims across the country find themselves in a perilous position. It is more important than ever for us to work across our movement to fight against Islamophobia wherever it may arise.
Some important progress has been made in recent times. In November 2018, the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on British Muslims published a report titled ‘Islamophobia Defined: the inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia’. Following two years of consultation across the political world, the Muslim community and relevant organisations and charities, the APPG settled on a working definition of Islamophobia. This definition has since been adopted by the Labour Party and multiple local authorities from across the UK.
The report contained the following definition: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” This definition was accepted and adopted by the Labour Party, councils and local authorities all through the country. But there is still so much work to be done.
As part of the #IAM programme, the Labour Muslim Network will be releasing a report on ‘Islamophobia and the Muslim experience’ in the Labour Party. This report diving into the prevalence of Islamophobia in the Labour Party is based on the largest consultation of Muslim members and supporters in our history. Its aim is to wake us up to the experiences of Muslims within our movement and spur us into action to root out racism from all aspects of society.
While the full report will be released later this month, we can reveal that 44% of Labour Muslim members and supporters told our researchers they did not “believe the Labour Party takes the issue of Islamophobia seriously”. This should shock readers – it certainly did us. It should reaffirm to us all why now is the right time for an honest, in-depth examination of the racism experienced by Muslim members and supporters of the Labour Party.
If Labour is to fulfil its promise of an open and fair society, and if it is to continue in its anti-racist traditions, our party must tackle the issue of Islamophobia in our society head-on and with serious commitment. This month is our platform and opportunity to do just that.