An important critique of the definition, highlighted both by Jahangir Mohammed and Yahya Birt is that it avoids any overt reference to Islam and the uniquely religious element of Islamophobia. This is, for Jahangir, a failure to account for the narratives of victims themselves, and for Yahya, a concession towards secularisation for an establishment more comfortable talking about race (marginally) than religion. These are valid critiques, and important points going forward.
Nonetheless, the decision to root the definition of Islamophobia in racism, as suggested by the Runneymede Foundation in their 2018 report, is important. Islamophobia is a product of European empires, with pre-colonial prejudice against Islam a related but distinctly different phenomenon. The racial hierarchies established during the period of Empire lives with us today, it may have been expressed in biological terms (the genetic and physical inferiority of a people, usually ascribed in the most vicious and dehumanising ways to Black Africans), or in cultural terms (the backwardness of “primitives”, such as the indigenous populations of the Americas and Australia), or in religious terms (of which Muslims were the predominant, though not exclusive, targets). Poor racial literacy in Britain means it is not uncommon that we think of race in purely genetic terms, and allow cultural or religious expressions to go unchallenged as part of “legitimate” critique.
Basing a definition of Islamophobia on racism then allows us to broaden the scope, to, where possible, accept the diverse ways in which real life prejudice and discrimination occur, and to consider its diverse manifestations.
The new definition is not conceptually perfect, but it is conceptually sound. And while, for its thoroughness, I consider the University of California’s “Center for Race and Gender” definition of Islamophobia to be more robust, the proposed definition by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims has the benefit of being considerably more accessible to politicians, policy makers, journalists, and Muslims themselves.
The task now falls on campaigners, scholars, and Muslims themselves to take forward this definition – and use it to challenge the dangerous ways in which British Muslims have been pushed out of public life, demonised in newspapers, and subject to violence by the state and by individuals.