Police chief warns May not to bow to pressure by adopting official definition of Islamophobia that ‘could hit terror investigations’ by stopping the UK shutting down extremist groups

  • Martin Hewitt said the proposed wording could ‘undermine counter-terrorism’
  • He warned the PM that it could prevent authorities conducting searches at ports
  • The proposed definition calls Islamophobia a ‘type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness’ 

Adopting an official definition of Islamophobia could hinder British counter-terror efforts, a police chief has claimed. 

Martin Hewitt said the proposed wording could ‘undermine many elements of counter-terrorism powers and policies’. 

In a letter to Theresa May he said it could prevent authorities from shutting down extremist groups or conducting searches at ports. 

Advocates of an official definition believe it could help Muslims report crime against them and improve relations between Islamic communities and the government. 

But critics say it could restrict legitimate debate about Islam and confuses criticism of the religion with hatred of individual Muslims. 

MPs will discuss the matter tomorrow.  

Adopting an official definition of Islamophobia could hinder British counter-terror efforts, a police chief has claimed (file photo: armed police officers in London) 

What is the UK law on Islamophobia? 

There is no specific law against Islamophobia in the UK. 

However, there are numerous laws which might be used to prosecute offenders. 

Stirring up religious hatred is an offence under the Public Order Act 1986. 

It can carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison.  

Criminals may also be handed longer sentences for other offences if they are found to have been motivated by racial or religious hostility.  

There are separate laws covering online abuse. 

In addition, the Equality Act 2010 stops discrimination based on ‘protected characteristics’ including religion. 

If a new, official definition is adopted, it could be used to block government actions in the courts. 

Terror legislation could be subject to such judicial reviews, it is claimed.  

An unofficial 1997 wording defined Islamophobia as ‘unfounded hostility towards Muslims’. 

The suggested new one says: ‘Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.’ 

The proposed definition calls Islamophobia a ‘type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness’. 

Mr Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said an official wording could weaken terror laws and prevent stop-and-search at ports, The Times reported. 

The term was ‘perhaps misleading in the context of hate crime… hate crime seeks to protect Muslims and not Islam,’ he warned the Prime Minister. 

A group of opposition MPs led by Labour’s Wes Streeting and Anna Soubry of Change UK have pushed for an official definition. 

The group, chaired by Ms Soubry, recently published a 72-page report arguing that ‘the lack of a widely adopted working definition… has led to an increase in Islamophobia in society to devastating effect’. 

A new official definition could allow victims of Islamophobia to challenge government decisions in the courts.  

The report said the lack of a definition ‘would allow for the continued denial of Islamophobia as a real lived experience’. 

A definition would mean ‘British Muslims would be able to trust the government, which would assist in decreasing the disaffection British Muslims often experience in relation to the government,’ the authors claimed. 

‘Not recognising that Islamophobia is a specifically racial and religious form of discrimination leaves Muslims vulnerable to abuse without recourse to legal or political remedy,’ they said. 

The lack of a proper wording would also ‘prevent the analysis of incidents around the country, and continue to weaken the way in which Islamophobic incidents are addressed,’ the report argued. 

Responding to criticism about free speech, it said: ‘The aim of establishing a working definition of Islamophobia has neither been motivated by, nor is intended to curtail, free speech or criticism of Islam as a religion.’

‘Criticism of religion is a fundamental right in an open society and is enshrined in our commitment to freedom of speech.’  

Independent Group MP Anna Soubry (pictured) is the chair of a group of MPs which is advocating for an official definition of Islamophobia 

One Muslim man said he had been stopped at Heathrow airport because of the clothes he was wearing. 

‘I cannot report it because the police do not see this as Islamophobic behaviour,’ he said. 

In the most recent Home Office figures, more than 52 per cent of religious hate crimes recorded by police were Islamophobic. 

In a written parliamentary answer last month, the Government said it was considering adopting an official wording. 

On Thursday MPs will hold a ‘general debate’ in the Commons chamber to consider the matter.  

The Muslim Council of Britain has backed calls for an official definition. 

However, it suggested a different wording, emphasising ‘the curtailment of the ability of Muslims to articulate their Muslimness’.  

Theresa May (pictured at 10 Downing Street yesterday) has been warned against adopting an official definition by a senior police chief 

The National Secular Society has opposed the change, saying last year that the terminology was ‘vague and unworkable’. 

‘While we believe that in a liberal secular society individuals should be afforded respect and protection, we are clear that ideas should not,’ they said in a letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid. 

‘We are concerned that the report’s proposed definition of Islamophobia conflates hatred of, and discrimination against, Muslims with criticism of Islam. 

‘Expressions of Muslimness can effectively be translated to mean Islamic practices. In a society which is free and open, such practices must remain open to scrutiny and debate.’  

The debate echoes that over an official definition of anti-Semitism which engulfed the Labour party last year. 

Labour was beset by a months-long row over whether to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

Critics of the IHRA approach have claimed it could restrict their ability to criticise the Israeli government’s actions. 

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