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UK group: Police misunderstand Islamophobia definition

Police chiefs warn that cross-party definition risks undermining fight against terrorism, hamper free speech

Muhammad Mussa   | 15.05.2019
UK group: Police misunderstand Islamophobia definition

LONDON

U.K. police have been accused of misunderstanding efforts undertaken by a cross-party group that aims to fight anti-Muslim prejudice with a working definition on Islamophobia.

"The inability of senior police officers to understand how Islamophobia -- the plethora of everyday microaggressions impacting British Muslims is NOT THE SAME as Hate Crime shows a worrying lack of understanding of the communities they seek to police," said Sayeeda Warsi, a senior member of the House of Lords, in a statement on Twitter.

Police, however, has made a warning that efforts to come up with a working definition of the phenomenon could undermine free speech and the fight against terrorism.

Muslim groups and MPs have contested this claim, arguing that the proposed new definition was consulted extensively with parliamentarians and police officers.

The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), the policing body that represents law enforcement in England and Wales, issued a statement on Tuesday night, voicing their concerns regarding the cross-party working definition, arguing that it could cause confusion for officers.

"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" said Martin Hewitt, the NPCC’s chairman, adding that "there is also a risk it could also undermine counter-terrorism powers, which seek to tackle extremism or prevent terrorism."

Harun Khan, the head of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCP), said that the view of the NPCC and its head represented a "woeful misunderstanding" of the proposed working definition and that it is alarming for a public body to make such intervention without consulting or engaging with those involved in the definition.

"Anti-terrorist operations can only be 'hampered' if counter-terror officers have been targeting Muslims because of their identity (or Muslimness as the definition states), categorising them as security concerns," Khan said.

"If this is the case, it confirms long-voiced concerns about the disproportionate focus and impact of counter-terror operations on Muslim communities."

"We would urge Mr. Hewitt to carefully reflect on whether, in a climate where there are concerns of discrimination, it is sensible to publicly intervene in this way," Khan urged the police chief.

Last year, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims alongside the MCB devised a working definition on Islamophobia with the aim to tackle anti-Muslim prejudice and hate crime. The definition was also drawn up in part to tackle supposed police prejudice against Muslims.

The Labour and Liberal Democrats parties have adopted the working definition and the Conservative party is facing growing calls to adopt it as well after failing to tackle rising Islamophobia within its ranks.

The APPG also found that British Muslims face higher levels of hate crime. Official figures from the report found that the risk of being a victim of race hate crime was highest for Muslim adults at 1.7% compared to non-Muslim adults at 0.2%.

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