Police ‘have misunderstood’ new definition of Islamophobia

Chiefs fear new policy could hamper fight against terror but have they misinterpreted it?

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(Image credit: Scott Barber/Getty Images)

Police chiefs have been accused of misunderstanding a proposed new definition of Islamophobia after they warned it risked undermining the fight against terrorism.

The definition, which has been proposed by a cross-party parliamentary group, is: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

Police chiefs have said there is “a risk it could also undermine counter-terrorism powers, which seek to tackle extremism or prevent terrorism”.

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The Times says the definition “could, in effect, make it racist to criticise Islam or ‘Muslimness’”, and “would clash with existing equality law, which defines racism more narrowly in terms of colour and ethnicity”. The Guardian adds that “critics of the definition claim it risks threatening free speech.”

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have already adopted the definition and the Tories are under pressure to follow suit.

But the chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, Martin Hewitt, has warned of misgivings among officers.

He said: “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.

“It is important that any definition of anti-Muslim hostility is widely consulted on and has support across the Muslim community.”

However, a case study from the parliamentary group’s report into Islamophobia suggests the definition was drawn up in part to tackle police prejudice.

The Muslim Council of Britain said police had simply misunderstood the proposed definition. General secretary Harun Khan said Hewitt’s response “belies a woeful misunderstanding of the proposed definition”.

Khan added: “We find it quite extraordinary that such a public intervention is made without even 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. If this is the case, it confirms long-voiced concerns about the disproportionate focus and impact of counter-terror operations on Muslim communities.”

A report on the issue from the Policy Exchange says the proposed definition might have prevented the government investigating allegations of an intolerant Islamic culture in Birmingham schools. The think tank suggests that term Islamophobia be replaced by “Bias against Muslims”.

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