An independent adviser has been appointed to provide expert advice on a definition of Islamophobia to the government.
He’s a Muselmaniac. Nothing “independent” about him. He will strife hard to put all ‘expressions of Muslimness’ above criticism.
I am humbled and honoured to have been appointed an adviser to establish a definition of #Islamophobia –Imam Qari Asim MBE
Theresa May’s last stab at Boris Johnson before leaving office:
Government ‘Islamophobia’ adviser wants Islamic blasphemy law
Tim Dieppe comments on the new government-appointed adviser to establish a definition of Islamophobia.
Last month, the government appointed Imam Qari Asim to lead a process for establishing a definition of Islamophobia. The government had previously announced that, while it would not be accepting the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims proposed definition of Islamophobia, it would instead appoint two advisers to propose an alternative definition. The government says that the appointment of a second adviser will follow in due course.
In the last hours of Theresa May’s administration
The timing and manner of the appointment look like Theresa May’s administration was desperate to make this appointment on its last full day in office, even though the second adviser has not yet been decided. This leaves the new Boris Johnson administration with an appointment which cannot easily be repealed.
Indeed, the appointment may also have been a deliberate parting shot at the new prime minister, given that Qari Asim has been a vocal critic of Boris Johnson. Johnson said last year that wearing the burqa made people resemble “bank robbers” and “letter boxes,” but he also made clear that he did not think the burqa should be banned even though it has been banned in many other countries.
Qari Asim argued that Johnson’s comments “legitimised the hatred that exists towards Muslim women” and “fanned the flames of Islamophobia.” Asim has also tweeted an article from The Guardian saying: “Boris Johnson’s white privilege: imagine he was a black woman.” I think it is fair to conclude that Asim is not a fan of Boris Johnson, and it is likely that Theresa May and those in her administration were aware of this when they rushed the appointment through in the last few hours of their government.
Earlier this year, it was reported that Asim had expressed support for Pakistani radical cleric Khadim Rizvi. Rizvi supported the death penalty for Asia Bibi who was falsely accused of insulting Muhammad. Asim posted a statement on his Facebook page in 2017 in solidarity with the cleric whose organisation was behind protests in Islamabad which were marred by violence. In response to the report, Asim took the post down and claimed that he had not intended to endorse Rizvi. He later signed a letter calling on the government to offer asylum to Asia Bibi.
Qari Asim wants an Islamic blasphemy law
Asim gave a talk at a workshop organised by The Centre for Muslim-Christian Studies last year on ‘Law of the Land and Islam.’ I was present at the event, and the PowerPoint slides and an audio recording of his talk are available online.
In his talk, Asim argued the case for Muslims to obey the law of the land most of the time. But he also made clear how he would like the law to accommodate Islamic ideas. For example, he would like to see polygamy legalised, and inheritance to favour male heirs in line with sharia principles. He also supports Islamic finance with its radical view that interest should be banned. See my criticism of Islamic finance here.
Asim then went on to discuss areas of current law that “really challenge Muslims.” Here, he highlighted same-sex marriage, blasphemy, and honour of the prophet. In relation to blasphemy and honour of the prophet, Asim claimed that “Muslims cherish freedom of speech,” but then went on to argue:
“As we can have exceptions to the freedom of speech on the basis of some words or actions being offensive or distasteful, then if this is something that is distasteful to Muslims, or they find it offensive, … then whether we can have that exception or not.”
In other words, Asim would like to ban speech which is distasteful or offensive to Muslims, particularly any criticism of Muhammad. In the Q&A I pressed him on whether it would make a difference if the criticism of Muhammad was actually true (e.g. that he led military campaigns or discriminated against women). His reply was evasive.
Asim has previously argued that all depictions of Muhammad are harem or forbidden in Islam. This would include medieval images which have been regarded as masterpieces. Once again this is a strict interpretation of Islamic law which not all Muslims would agree with.
Backdoor blasphemy law
I was one of the signatories to an open letter to the Home Secretary in May this year which expressed concerns about the proposed definition of Islamophobia. The letter stated:
“We are concerned that allegations of Islamophobia will be, indeed already are being, used to effectively shield Islamic beliefs and even extremists from criticism, and that formalising this definition will result in it being employed effectively as something of a backdoor blasphemy law.”
Qari Asim would support an explicit Islamic blasphemy law, let alone a backdoor approach. He is likely to push for a definition of Islamophobia which will restrict free speech and regard any criticism of Muhammad as Islamophobic.
Does not bode well for free speech
The appointment of Qari Asim to advise on a definition of Islamophobia does not bode well for the protection of free speech in the UK. As I have argued before, the government would be better to use the term ‘anti-Muslim’ rather than ‘Islamophobia’ as this more clearly expresses discrimination against Muslims rather than criticism of Islam. The new administration under Boris Johnson should revisit the process and this appointment if they care about protecting free speech.
UK: The Push to End Free Speech
- “We are concerned that the definition… could be used to challenge legitimate free speech on the historical or theological actions of Islamic states. There is also a risk it could also undermine counter-terrorism powers, which seek to tackle extremism or prevent terrorism.” — Martin Hewitt, Chair, National Police Chiefs’ Council.
- Islam represents an idea, not a nationality or ethnicity. The conventional purpose of most hate-speech laws is to protect people from hatred, not ideas.
- The new proposed definition would criminalize criticism of Islam. Considering the origins of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, that is probably the whole point.
- “[A]n alternative definition of Anti-Muslim Hatred should be specific and narrow. It should focus on addressing bigotry directed at individuals, and avoid censoring debate or freedom of expression on religion. Finally, a comprehensive definition of Anti-Muslim Hatred must take intra-Muslim hatred into account to protect those who want to speak freely or express themselves differently.” — Nikita Malik, Forbes, May 20, 2019.
|Martin Hewitt, Chair of Britain’s National Police Chiefs’ Council, recently said: “We are concerned that the definition… could be used to challenge legitimate free speech on the historical or theological actions… There is also a risk it could also undermine counter-terrorism powers, which seek to tackle extremism or prevent terrorism.” (Photo by Anthony Devlin – WPA Pool / Getty Images)|
In April 2018, Britain’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims began work on establishing a “working definition of Islamophobia that can be widely accepted by Muslims, political parties and the government”.
In December 2018, the group concluded its work with a “Report on the inquiry into a working definition of Islamophobia / anti-Muslim hatred.” The report defines “Islamophobia” as a form of racism, conflating religion with ethnic origin or nationality: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
The report, furthermore, claims that a definition of Islamophobia is “instrumental” to “the political will and institutional determination to tackle it.”
Most political parties, including Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Conservatives, have adopted the broadened definition of Islamophobia, but it has not been adopted by the government. According to a government spokesperson:
“We are conscious that the [all-party parliamentary group’s] proposed definition has not been broadly accepted – unlike the IHRA definition of antisemitism before it was adopted by the UK government and other international organisations and governments. This is a matter that needs further careful consideration.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council, which represents the leaders of law enforcement in England and Wales, have also expressed concern with the broadened definition. Its chair, Martin Hewitt, said:
“We take all reports of hate crime very seriously and will investigate them thoroughly. However, we have some concerns about the proposed definition of Islamophobia made by the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims. We are concerned that the definition is too broad as currently drafted, could cause confusion for officers enforcing it and could be used to challenge legitimate free speech on the historical or theological actions of Islamic states. There is also a risk it could also undermine counter-terrorism powers, which seek to tackle extremism or prevent terrorism”.
Richard Walton, a former head of Counter-Terrorism Command of the Metropolitan Police, wrote:
“Adopting the definition would hand the initiative to those who have been trying to dismantle the Government’s Countering Violent Extremism programme for years; it is no surprise to see many of those same campaigners and radical groups have been closely involved in the APPG’s work in developing the definition (as authors or sources)… how could the police or anyone else disprove that they had targeted an expression of ‘perceived Muslimness’?…
“If the Government accepts the APPG definition of Islamophobia, all of these [anti-terrorism] powers are more likely to be challenged by anti-Prevent campaigners and their supporters who would seek to label police officers ‘Islamophobic’ (and, therefore, racist)…
“… Whole government departments, the entire police service, intelligence agencies, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), judiciary and HM Prison and Probation Service could be branded and labelled ‘institutionally Islamophobic’ by anti-Prevent campaign groups. It would be an allegation that would be impossible to refute, owing to the indistinct and imprecise nature of the APPG definition…”
Similarly, the UK government, according to a Buzzfeed report, is concerned that defining Islamophobia as a form of racism “could mean people who criticise aspects of Islam might be prosecuted under discrimination laws.”
The UK government is right, of course. Islam represents an idea, not a nationality or ethnicity. The conventional purpose of most hate-speech laws is to protect people from hatred, not ideas. The new proposed definition would criminalize criticism of Islam.
Considering the origins of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, that is probably the whole point. The APPG on British Muslims, according to its website, was established in July 2017. The organization is chaired by MPs Anna Soubry and Wes Streeting and is meant to build on the work of a former APPG: the APPG on Islamophobia. That came into existence as the result of a meeting at the House of Commons in March 2010, hosted by, among others, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) — the largest Muslim organization in the UK, and that claims to be representative of British Muslims. It is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. By November 2010, after the APPG on Islamophobia had been formed, it quickly ran into trouble. The Muslim organization that was appointed as its secretariat turned out to be the Muslim extremist organization iENGAGE, which has since changed its name to MEND. Both MEND and the Muslim Council of Britain are among the many organizations and individuals that contributed written evidence to the report on a definition of Islamophobia.
Wes Streeting, co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, recently criticized the government’s refusal to adopt the new definition:
“What we’re up against goes wider than anti-Muslim hatred. It is structural, often unconscious, bias…It is particularly disappointing to see a noisy chorus of vocal opposition making arguments in bad faith that accuse us of trying to use the term Islamophobia to shut down criticism of Islam and introduce blasphemy laws by the back door. In fact, our report makes it crystal clear that our definition does not preclude criticism of Islam or Islamic theology. God, if you believe in such a thing, doesn’t need protection from criticism.”
Streeting appears to pretend that Islam allows either criticism of Allah and Mohammed, or free choice of religion.
That is not the case: Sharia law prohibits questioning, seeming to regard it as a form of blasphemy:
“O you who have believed, do not ask about things which, if they are shown to you, will distress you. But if you ask about them while the Qur’an is being revealed, they will be shown to you. Allah has pardoned that which is past; and Allah is Forgiving and Forbearing.” [Qur’an 5:101, Sahih International translation]
“A people asked such [questions] before you; then they became thereby disbelievers.” [Qur’an 5:102, Sahih International translation]
The prohibition against questioning also seems why several Muslim organizations, such as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), fight for the introduction of blasphemy laws in the West, to prevent questioning Islam.
The proposed definition also does not take into account the threats ex-Muslims receive from Muslims (here, here, here and here), and how the definition would only make life more difficult for those Muslims who dare to leave or speak out. According to Nikita Malik, writing in Forbes:
“The term Islamophobia has a broad meaning that can easily be used to restrict free and fair discussion about the Islamic religion and Islamist extremism. Instead, an alternative definition of Anti-Muslim Hatred should be specific and narrow. It should focus on addressing bigotry directed at individuals, and avoid censoring debate or freedom of expression on religion. Finally, a comprehensive definition of Anti-Muslim Hatred must take intra-Muslim hatred into account to protect those who want to speak freely or express themselves differently.”
Whether that will happen remains to be seen.
Judith Bergman, a columnist, lawyer and political analyst, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.