Government REJECTS proposals for an official definition of Islamophobia after experts warned Sajid Javid it could be a ‘backdoor blasphemy law’ and limit free speech
- Home Secretary Sajid Javid was urged to block a new definition of Islamophobia
- Mr Javid was told the proposed rules could be lead to a back door blasphemy law
- Police are also unhappy with the proposed rules as they could aid terrorists
- Experts said such rules could shield extremists from justifiable criticism
- Advisors will now draw up a less ‘legally problematic’ definition, sources said
Proposals for an official definition of Islamophobia were rejected by the Government yesterday.
Supporters of the idea say that formalising the term will help to counter hostility toward Muslims.
But Downing Street said the suggested definition had not been broadly accepted, adding: ‘This is a matter that will need further careful consideration.’
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, pictured, has been warned that tightening the definition of Islamophobia could hit police anti-terror operations while stifling the freedom of the press
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.’
Ministers are expected to appoint two independent advisers to draw up a ‘less legally problematic’ definition, the Times reported.
More than 40 religious leaders and experts wrote to Sajid Javid yesterday, telling the Home Secretary that the definition could be a ‘backdoor blasphemy law’ and limit free speech.
Police warned it could undermine counter-terrorism operations.
MPs and peers on the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims want the Government to define Islamaphobia as ‘rooted in racism or a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness’.
However, the letter’s signatories, who include prominent Muslims, said: ‘We are concerned that allegations of Islamophobia will be – indeed already are being – used to effectively shield Islamic beliefs and even extremists from criticism, and that formalising this definition will result in it being employed effectively as something of a backdoor blasphemy law.
‘Evidently abuse, harmful practices, or the activities of groups and individuals which promote ideas contrary to British values are far more likely to go unreported as a result of fear of being called Islamophobic.
‘We are concerned that the definition will be used to shut down legitimate criticism and investigation.’
Ian Murray of the Society of Editors said ‘badly-worded descriptions of what Islamaphobia is taken to include’ could ‘prevent sensible and genuine debate’ and would ‘undoubtedly have a chilling effect on Press freedom’.
Martin Hewitt of the National Police Chiefs’ Council added: ‘We are concerned 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. There is also a risk it could also undermine counter-terrorism powers, which seek to tackle extremism or prevent terrorism.’
The definition has already been accepted by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
The Labour Party was forced last September to adopt an internationally-agreed definition of anti-Semitism following months of controversy.
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