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Muslim group condemns UK government's rejection of Islamophobia definition

Muslim Council of Britain slams government over APPG definition, while critics say it would harm counter-terror operations and free speech

The UK government has come under fire from a prominent British Muslim group for its reported intention to not adopt a definition of Islamophobia that has been endorsed by hundreds of Islamic organisations.

The proposed definition came about following months of consultations by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims.

The APPG definition calls on Islamophobia to be defined as "rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness and perceived Muslimness".

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Harun Khan, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, condemned reports that the Conservative government plans to reject the definition.

"It is truly extraordinary that the government believes it is better placed to determine the harm that Muslim communities face than Muslim communities themselves, who - alongside dozens of leading academics in the field - have overwhelmingly endorsed the APPG definition of Islamophobia," Khan told Middle East Eye.

BuzzFeed News on Wednesday revealed that government ministers intend to oppose the definition at a parliamentary debate on anti-Muslim abuse on Thursday.

According to the report, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire decided to reject the definition, which has been endorsed by over 750 British Muslim groups, on the grounds of free speech.

Instead, the government will appoint two new advisers to produce their own definition of Islamophobia. 

"To claim that merely defining this racism is somehow an impediment to free speech is deeply disingenuous and appears to be a willful misreading of the definition" Khan said.

'To claim that merely defining this racism is somehow an impediment to free speech is deeply disingenuous'

- Harun Khan, Muslim Council of Britain

The decision, he said, is "aligned to a number of bad faith actors whose views - rather than those of Muslim communities - appear to be influencing this decision". 

Earlier on Wednesday, senior British police leaders wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May in a letter leaked to the Times newspaper, saying that the proposed definition of Islamophobia would undermine counter-terror operations and free speech.

In the letter, Martin Hewitt, the chair of the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), raised concerns over the definition.

"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 and theological actions of Islamic states," Hewitt said.

"There is also a risk it could also undermine counterterrorism powers, which seek to tackle extremism or prevent terrorism."

The Times reported that the police chiefs had intended to raise their concerns in private, and hoped to personally give their letter to the prime minister.

Tarek Younis, an academic who specialises in Britain's anti-terror Prevent policy at University College London, believes the NPCC's criticism of the definition stems from the growing industry built on preventing extremism. 

"Prevent, a counterterrorism policy institutionalised across public bodies, would immediately fall into the definition’s crosshairs should it get accepted," Younis told MEE. 

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"The Prevent industry is growing rapidly nationally and abroad, with millions of pounds invested in trainers, experts and materials. As such, the police chiefs are also defending a ‘pre-criminal prevention’ industry built upon a large and burgeoning financial capital."

Younis notes the NPCC's statement shows the police forces' conduct "routinely singled" out Muslims. 

"The police chiefs admit they reject a widely accepted definition of Islamophobia because, among other things, it would hamper their counter-extremism practices," said Younis.

"In doing so, the police chiefs confess Muslims are routinely singled out because of their appearance and behaviours related to their Muslim-ness – racist discrimination."  

The opposition Labour and Liberal Democrats parties, as well as the Scottish Conservative party, adopted the APPG definition of Islamophobia following its launch.