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  1. The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) is lobbying to define 'islamophobia' and for the term to be made into law. The National Secular Society has other ideas... "The National Secular Society has urged the Home Secretary to resist calls to adopt a formal definition of 'islamophobia' which have been put forward by a parliamentary group. NSS chief Stephen Evans co-ordinated a letter to Sajid Javid on the subject after a high-profile report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British muslims. The APPG's report recommended that the Government define 'islamophobia' as a, "type of racism that targets expressions of 'muslimness' or 'perceived muslimness.' The NSS's letter has been co-signed by six other activists and a shortened version has been published in the Sunday Times. The letter called the APPG's definition, "vague and unworkable" and said it "conflates hatred of, and discrimination against muslims, with criticism of islam. "We believe that in a liberal, secular society individuals should be afforded respect and protection, we are clear that ideas should not." It said the phrase, "expressions of muslimness" could, "effectively be translated to mean islamic practices." At the report's launch its authors indicated that it was 'islamophobic' for inspectors from the education watchdog 'Ofsted' to even question why young girls were wearing hijab's in primary schools. The report also gave examples of speech which could be declared 'islamophobic' -- for example, the claim that 'muslim identity' has, "a unique propensity for terrorism." The APPG's report also outlined five 'tests' which would determine whether speech was 'islamophobic'. The NSS said these tests would "clearly render legitimate commentary and debate about islam (and by design muslims) beyond the bounds of reasonable public debate." The NSS letter said that currently, erroneous claims of 'islamophobia' have become, "a cover for prejudice and bigotry rather than tackling it." The signatories also said they were united by "their commitment to tackle anti-muslim bigotry coupled with their belief that the fundamental right to speak freely is precious and essential." The NSS submitted evidence to the APPG's inquiry on the matter, before its report was published. The APPG's report acknowledged the concerns raised by the NSS, along with the concerns of the Southall Black Sisters Group which campaigns for the rights of women from minority groups, but it (the APPG) based its conclusions on the interpretations of groups which claimed to represent the muslim 'community.' In the wake of the APPG's report, high-profile muslim groups have pushed the Government and major parties to adopt their definition(s). According to last week's 'Observer', Harun Khan, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, has called upon politicians to "understand the importance of listening to communities" and adopt the definition(s). Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, and the minister for 'faith', Lord Bourne, responded "enthusiastically" to the report at its launch. The Government has previously indicated that it does not intend to adopt a definition. In March, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins told the Commons that the Government does not accept the need for a definitive definition (take note: Thomas, C.). Explaining his decision to write and co-ordinate the letter, Stephen Evans said, "Racism, and anti-muslim bigotry need to be confronted, but proposals to promote the vague concept of 'islamophobia' seriously risk restricting public discussion and making matters worse." "People opposing gender segregation in schools, forced wearing of hijab's and the non-stun slaughtering of animals (let's include FGM, forced and child marriage, sharia law, immigration, women's rights, whether the illustrious mohammed was, in fact, a paedophile. Quilp.) have all been condemned as 'islamophobic' and it has become impossible to fight for any internal change in muslim communities without encountering the slur." "Prosecuting anti-muslim crimes and challenging bigoted attitudes towards muslims are both essential in a free society in which citizenship is open to those from all faiths and none, but rendering legitimate free-speech beyond the bounds of acceptable debate would be a major error." FULL TEXT OF LETTER... Dear Home Secretary, We are writing to you regarding the recent report from the APPG, on British muslims entitled, 'Islamophobia Defined.' We wish to highlight our concerns with the report and to urge the British Government to resist its proposal to adopt a definition of 'islamophobia.' Some of us also highlighted these concerns in written and oral submissions to the APPG inquiry into the matter. The report includes many examples of anti-muslim bigotry and hate-crimes, which should be universally condemned. However, the genuine problems identified in the report will only be exacerbated by adopting the vague and unworkable definition of 'islamophobia' it proposes. While we believe that in a liberal, secular society individuals should be afforded respect and protection, we are clear that ideas should not. We are concerned that the report's proposed definition of 'islamophobia' conflates hatred of, and discrimination against muslims, with criticism of islam. The report's core point is that the Government should make it policy to define 'islamophobia' as a type of racism that targets expressions of 'muslimness' or 'perceived muslimness' can effectively be translated to mean Islamic practices. In a society which is free and open, such practices must remain open to scrutiny and debate. Further, the report's backers are keen to stress the need to to avoid shutting-down criticism of religion. However, advancing the report's ill-defined concept of 'islamophobia' and aligning the five 'tests' it recommends to determine whether speech is 'islamophobic' will clearly render legitimate commentary and debate about islam beyond the bounds of reasonable public debate. Far from combatting prejudice and bigotry, erroneous claims of 'islamophobia' have become a cover for it. LGBT rights-campaigners have been called 'islamophobes' for criticising the views of muslim clerics on Homosexuality. Meanwhile, ex-muslims and feminist activists have been called 'islamophobes' for criticising certain islamic practices and views relating to women. Even liberal and secular muslims have been branded 'islamophobes and racists. While we respect a wide spectrum of beliefs, opinions and politics, the one thing that unites us is our commitment to tackle anti-muslim bigotry coupled with the belief that the fundamental right to speak freely is precious and essential. We therefore seek a meeting with you to further explain our concerns and to seek reassurances that the Government will not treat the Civil Liberties of British citizens as an afterthought in its efforts to tackle anti-muslim prejudice. Please do let us know if you would be open to doing so. Yours sincerely, Stephen Evans, Chief Executive, National Secular Society. Mohammed Amin MBE. Amina Lone, Co-director, Social Action and Research Foundation and women's rights campaigner. Maajid Nawas, Founder, Quilliam Foundation. Pragna Patel, Southall Black Sisters. Gita Sahgal, Centre For Secular Space. To me, it seems preposterous that such consideration and (undeserved) entitlement should be given to an ideology, especially those ideologies we perceive as religion. It just so happens that in this case it is islam and its adherents clamouring for such considerations and legal protection, thereby politicising and adding legitimacy to their cause. It matters not: the criticism would/should be the same whether it's christianity, Judaism or any other faith-based belief system seeking special treatment. But it's not. Does the UK need to take a step back and introduce what amounts to a reinstatement of blasphemy laws, where criticism and legitimate debate of religion becomes punishable again?
  2. Time to talk about this again. A 17 year old girl has been arrested in relation to comments she made on Facebook about a 15 year old boy who died suddenly. BBC I believe that police interference in our lives should only happen when absolutely necessary; to protect people from violence, theft, and other very serious crimes. Arresting someone means using violence against them, and this should only occur in grave circumstances. In the conservative political atmosphere that prevails in the UK and over here, criminalisation has become an over-used tool for social engineering. Want to make people less racist? Make saying racist things illegal. Want to promote social cohesion and harmony? Make saying offensive things illegal. It is a tool which is used far too casually, and far too frequently without considering what it entails. It is firstly the use of force against innocent people (as they must be considered until they have been proven otherwise), the psychological distress of being subject to this process, and the host of other restrictions and sanctions that arrest and criminalisation often mean. The law has long strayed over the bounds in which it ought to operate. It ought to have very limited interference in speech and expression, if any at all. It may be argued that offending someone, or causing them distress or alarm, are forms of violence, and I would agree with this, but physical violence is a much more serious form, and its use by the state against innocent civilians should be used sparingly and only when most necessary; furthermore its use must by proportionate to the crime. In cases such as this one, the response of the law is not in reasonable proportion to the supposed crime. The girl's comments may have been hurtful, offensive, distressing to someone (equally, they may not have been, and it may be that someone has just decided that they could be) but this does not justify the use of force and the power of the law against her. She, and everyone else, ought to be able to speak their mind, no matter how much offense this may cause, without fear of reprisal from an overbearing state that thinks the way to create a compliant, prosperous, and peaceful society (such are their ends) is to use repressive laws as a form of social engineering. Do you think the actions of the state in this case are justified? Why?
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