Labour MP gives tearful account of experiences of Islamophobia in Britain
The 27-year-old, representing Coventry South, said she had been called a “cancer” and “terrorist sympathiser” and treated as though she were “an enemy of the country that I was born in” because of her Muslim faith.
Her emotive speech was given at a Westminster Hall Debate about defining Islamophobia - which follows years of refusal by the Conservatives party to adopt a formal “working definition” of Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is very real in Britain today, it’s something I know too well,” said Sultana.
“I’ve discovered that to be a Muslim woman, to be outspoken, and to be left-wing is to be subjected to this barge of racism and hate.”
This wasn't an easy speech to give, but I can't be silent about Islamophobia. pic.twitter.com/lU26RsmSez— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) September 9, 2021
An inquiry by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims (APPG) produced a definition of Islamophobia in 2018 after a long consultation process with parliamentarians, exports, lawyers, community activists and victim-led organisations.
The APPG’s definition is “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.
It has been adopted by major parties - including Labour and the Liberal Democrats - as well as civil society organisations and British Muslim communities.
'Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness' (the APPG’s definition)
However, the Conservative government rejected the APPG’s definition in May 2019.
Senior police officers wrote to the PM saying that the APPG’s definition is too broad and could “undermine many elements of counterterrorism powers and policies”.
Instead, the Tories announced a commission of independent experts to draw up a different definition. However, only one adviser, Imam Qari Asim, has been appointed to the commission and no proposals have been published so far.
Paul Bristow, a Conservative MP for Peterborough and co-chair of the APPG, called the 2018 inquiry a “valuable piece of work” and said “a definition has the potential to be a tremendous force for good”.
He urged for a second advisor to be appointed or for Asim to begin his work.
In the APPG’s report titled “Islamophobia Defined”, the group warned that Islamophobia is now “so prevalent in [British] society and dispersed across institutional, social, political and economic life that it deserves to be recognised as Britain’s ‘bigotry blind spot’.”
The group cited examples of fireworks being thrown through the letterboxes of Muslim families, of young girls being told to "go back to where they came from" and Muslims being spat at.
The APPG is urging the government to adopt an agreed definition in order to tackle the problem.
“It is not just British Muslims who are impacted by Islamophobia,” said the APPG report.
“It is British society at large who, by virtue of normalised prejudice against Muslim beliefs and practice,” come to adopt “falsehoods or misrepresentations” about the Muslim community.