Islamophobia, Racism and Muslimness: The Work of Definitions*

Measures of social inequality, crime surveys, polling data, reports on media bias, all consistently show that Muslims face obstacles which limit their ability to fully participate in society as equals. For too many Muslims, Islamophobia is unnamed but experienced. Its effect ranges from everyday slow burning micro-aggressions to eruptions of violence and murder; its scope extends from classrooms and workplaces to neighbourhoods and state frontiers, from print and social media to the public square. Muslims find themselves framed by Islamophobia in the form of questions around national security, social cohesion, freedom of speech, gender inequality, and cultural belonging. All this, we know already.

Defining Islamophobia

A definition is not a magic spell. Defining Islamophobia will not by itself end Islamophobia. What is needed is not a detailed legal definition but one capable of circulating in broader society, and changing the way in which Islamophobia is understood and resisted. This means a definition that is brief, which builds on already existing norms of public etiquette and which triggers a debate that helps to change the national conversation.

Reports of Islamophobia: 1997 and 2017

Earlier this month the Runnymede Trust launched a new report, Islamophobia: Still a challenge for us all, to mark the 20th anniversary of the publication of the landmark 1997 report, Islamophobia; A challenge for us all. The significance of the original Report is hard to over-estimate. While it is the case that it did not coin the term Islamophobia, it certainly gave it legs. And while it is also true that the report did not end Islamophobia, it did indict it.