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Submission to the Inquiry into Islamophobia in Scotland

launch of the inquiry into Islamophobia in Scotland

The Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on Tackling Islamophobia is carrying out an inquiry into Islamophobia in Scotland and has invited written evidence from organisations and individuals (closing date extended to 30 September 2019). More information, including a short online survey and instructions on how to make a submission, here.

Submission to the Inquiry into Islamophobia in Scotland conducted by the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group (CPG) on Tackling Islamophobia from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities (SACC), 25 August 2019

by Richard Haley


  • Islamophobia in Britain (including Scotland) is strongly shaped by British military interventions and colonial-style policies in the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan, and cannot be dismantled without at the same time dismantling these policies.
  • Islamophobia should be understood as a form of racism. The definition proposed by the APPG on British Muslims expresses this well and deserves support, but the APPG report includes some confused and untenable views derived from the IHRA definition of anti-semitism and should not be relied on.
  • Islamophobia appears to be a fairly common experience for Muslims in Scotland, though quantitative data is scarce.
  • Police Scotland should develop a method for reporting Islamophobic hate crime statistics.
  • The Prevent strategy is Islamophobic and should be scrapped. In the meantime, civil society should as far as possible avoid cooperation with Prevent.
  • Questioning at airports under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 targets Muslim communities and should be scrapped. In the meantime, its use by Police Scotland should be discontinued.
  • The existence of institutional Islamophobia, as a form of institutional racism, needs to be recognised and countered.
  • Society must become much more adept at recognising Islamophobia and acting to counter it. This should be a particular priority for schools.
  • The inter-relationship between Islamophobia and other oppressive power structures needs to be recognised. Scholarship and activism based around intersectionality and the domination hate model of intercultural relations provide different but valuable tools for this.
  • Islamophobia should be recognised as an important element of the discrimination faced by migrants and refugees.

1.    Terms of Reference of the Inquiry

1.1.    The Cross Party Group invites evidence to be submitted about:

1.2.    The current nature and extent of Islamophobia in Scotland (including gendered Islamophobia and intersections with other prejudices).

1.3.    The role of the media (print, broadcast and social media), the public sector and politicians.

1.4.    The impact of Islamophobia on children, young people and families.

1.5.    The steps you believe could be taken to challenge and overcome Islamophobia.

2.    About SACC

2.1.    SACC was set up in 2003 in response to the threat to civil liberties in the UK resulting from the so-called “war on terror” (in fact a war for resources and geo-political leverage) waged by the US, the UK and their allies.

2.2.    SACC opposes the use of excessive state powers to criminalise political activity through anti-terrorism legislation and other related policies.

2.3.    These laws and policies criminalise and marginalise whole communities. Muslim communities are the main, though not the only, communities affected. Recognising the intricate relationship between state Islamophobia and wider manifestations of Islamophobia, SACC works to counter Islamophobia as broadly as possible.

3.    About this submission

3.1.    This submission reflects SACC’s collective view at the time of writing.

3.2.    Our submission focuses particularly on the nature of Islamophobia in Scotland (terms of reference 1.2), Islamophobia in schools (terms of reference 1.2 and 1.4) and the steps needed to overcome Islamophobia (terms of reference 1.5)

4.    Defining Islamophobia

4.1.    Terms of reference: The question of how to define Islamophobia is implicit in para 1.2 (“current nature” of Islamophobia) and is engaged throughout the terms of reference.

4.2.    SACC’s views on defining Islamophobia were set out in our 2017 briefing Tackling Islamophobia in Scottish Schools (Haley 2017). Our position is summarised and updated below in the light of ongoing public debate.

4.3.    To be useful, a definition should help people unfamiliar with the term to understand those who use it. It should not unduly constrain the breadth and depth of people’s experience of Islamophobia. Insofar as it categorises experience, it should do so in a way that enriches our understanding and helps to dismantle prejudice and destructive power relations. It should be succinct enough to be quoted within discussions of Islamophobia. Such a definition will not necessarily be one that could or should be used in law.

4.4.    Debate about the relative importance of racism and religious prejudice in Islamophobia is unlikely to end. But any policy that fails to recognise both aspects of Islamophobia is flawed and is likely to become an impediment to progress.

4.5.    The part played by racism can be summarised as follows: "In sum, Islamophobia as a form of racism against Muslim people is not only manifested in the labor market, education, public sphere, global war against terrorism or the global economy, but also in the epistemological battleground about the definition of the priorities in the world today." - (Grosfoguel and Mielants 2006)

4.6.    The following statement from Islamophobia Defined: the Inquiry into a Working Definition of Islamophobia (APPG on British Muslims 2018) is a satisfactory definition: "Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness". This definition has wide support, including the Muslim Council of Scotland and the Muslim Council of Britain.

4.7.    Islamophobia Defined includes some useful background and analysis but has very serious flaws and should not be relied on for definitive guidance, except as set out above. It claims to find parallels between its approach to defining Islamophobia and the explanatory notes and examples included by the International Holocaust Memorial Alliance (IHRA) as part of its working definition of anti-semitism (IHRA 2016). In doing so it reproduces and amplifies the flaws in the IHRA approach.

4.8.    Islamophobia Defined asserts a right to self-determination of “Muslim populations” by analogy with the right to self-determination of the Jewish people referred to by the IHRA. The IHRA’s position implies equivalence between the recognised right to self-determination of peoples suffering occupation or colonial rule with the supposed right of Jewish people from Europe and America to determine that they will settle in the Middle East. TheAPPG develops this idea to infer a right to self-determination of “Muslim populations” that has no basis in international law. The right of self-determination belongs to whole peoples, broadly construed, not to religiously defined populations. The APPG’s position is confused and untenable, and risks negating the internationalist and de-colonial perspective implied by recognising Islamophobia as a form of racism.

4.9.    The Scottish Parliament’s CPG on Tackling Islamophobia has heard a presentation on the APPG report and has taken brief initial comments from CPG members (many of whom had not read the report beforehand), but has not so far held any substantive debate on the issue. A full and informed debate should in any case be held by the Scottish Parliament (perhaps with ground-work by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee) before any adoption of a definition by the Scottish Government.

4.10.    A definition will not, by itself, be enough to determine whether every potentially Islamophobic action should be categorised as such. A definition is better understood as a starting point, or catalyst, for a process that Salman Sayyid describes as “reading” human behaviour – a skill that involves interpretation and has to be learned. (Sayyid 2014).

5.    Islamophobia in Scotland

5.1.     Terms of reference: 1.2 (the current nature and extent of Islamophobia in Scotland).

5.2.     Contemporary Islamophobia in Britain (including Scotland) has been strongly shaped by the upshift in interventions in the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan by countries in the global north that followed the end of the Cold War.

5.2.1.    This includes the aggressive promotion of neo-liberal economic policies, the 1991 Gulf War, the subsequent bombing campaigns against Iraq, the sanctions against Iraq, the US-British assault on Afghanistan in October 2001 and the ongoing war there, the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, the various US bombing and drone assassination campaigns across the region, the intense bombing campaigns by the US and its allies in Syria, Iraq and Libya, the intense Russian bombing campaign in Syria, the various low intensity deployments of forces from the global north across the region, the continuing support given to Israel by Europe and the USA, the continuing tensions between the USA and its allies and Iran and the role of the US and its allies in the war in Yemen.

5.2.2.    Intertwined with these interventions and armed resistance to them there has been a terrorist backlash, especially from al-Qaeda and ISIS.

5.2.3.    The interventions have fuelled rivalries between countries of the global north both in the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan region and in the global north itself, with Muslim populations caught in the crossfire. In Bosnia and Syria this took place on a genocidal scale. Ineffective international responses to these genocides reflect and fuel Islamophobia.

5.2.4.    These interventions have a colonialist character in that they subordinate the interests of people and institutions in the global south to élite interests in countries of the global north, and do so to a greater degree and more destructively than is typical of relations between countries in the global north.
5.2.5.    Alongside these events some mainstream voices in the global north have developed a narrative of civilisational (Huntington 1996) conflict and generational war (Washington Times 2006), while far-right voices have developed more explicitly Islamophobic and racist narratives focussed around an equation of Islam with terrorism, the supposed "Islamisation" of Europe, "white replacement" and related ideas.

5.3.    Government sees domestic Muslim communities through the lens of militarised and exploitative foreign policy. Muslims are associated with foreignness against a background of long-term war. Policies towards them range from repression through paternalism and co-option to assimilationism.

5.4.     Scotland is engaged in the process set out in 5.1.2 both militarily (through the involvement of Scottish troops and aircraft) and in the civil sphere (through the Prevent programme and related trends, including pressures on Islamic scholarship and education).

5.5.    Muslims experience structural discrimination at the hands of the state in various ways, including the Prevent programme, Schedule 7 Stop and Question at ports/airports and greater police engagement with community activities than is usual in the majority community.

5.6.     Quantitative data on Islamophobia is Scotland is scarce. Much of the data - include police figures for hate crime - relates to broadly-defined racism, from which data on Islamophobia cannot be extracted. But various surveys, including work on Islamophobia in schools referenced below (6), suggest that Islamophobic abuse and discrimination is a commonplace experience for Scottish Muslims. This accords with the experiences of Muslims involved in SACC.

5.7.     No data is available on Schedule 7 Stop and Question rates in Scotland, or on the ethnicity/religious background of those questioned. Questioning at Scottish airports seems to be a fairly common experience for Muslim travellers and very rare for non-Muslims. In a study of people questioned at an English airport, 88% of respondents questioned on arrival were Muslim (Langley 2014). In a survey by campaigning group Cage, all but one out of 201 people questioned were Muslim (Cage 2019). Schedule 7 seems to be used as a tool to gather background intelligence on Muslim communities rather than as a way of keeping terrorists out of the country (convictions arising from Schedule 7 stops are extremely rare).

5.8.      The language of Islamophobic/racist abuse is fluid and evolving. People who would have been abused as “Pakis” a generation ago are now likely to be abused with reference to terrorism or Islam, but “Paki” continues to be used as a term of abuse.

5.9.     For many Muslims, the psycho-social and spiritual impact of Islamophobia is felt through its religious aspect. The problem is not that Islamophobic remarks cause offence, but rather that they wound a collective sense of being and, because of the framework set out above, constitute a real threat to it.  

5.10.     The overwhelming bulk of intersectionality scholarship defines intersectionality not as an intersection of prejudices (terms of reference 1.2) but as an intersection of power structures. Kimberlé Crenshaw – arguably the inventor of intersectionality - says: “Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects.” (Columbia Law School 2017). Our use of the term is based on that perspective.

5.11.     Intersectionality generally presents the human subject experiencing oppressive power structures as an individual, rather than a collective. Some critics of intersectionality argue that it does not deal with oppression of communities and creates obstacles to community struggles against racism (Hira 2016). Others make a distinction between repressive and emancipatory uses of intersectionality (Bouteldja 2016). Kimberlé Crenshaw has commented: "Some people look to intersectionality as a grand theory of everything, but that’s not my intention … If it doesn’t work, it’s not like you have to use this concept." (Columbia Law School 2017).

5.12.     Another concept that we believe to be useful is the domination hate model of intercultural relations, which presents racialisation as arising through overlapping structural phenomena. It "puts hate crime in a wider context and explains which forces are in operation." (Ameli and Merali 2015).

5.13.    The intersection between Islamophobia and hostility to migrants and refugees is central to the way that racist and far-right attitudes and power structures are developing in the UK. A high proportion of refugees come from Muslim-majority countries impacted by the policies set out in 5.2. The detention and deportation of asylum-seekers can be seen as racist/islamophobic hate incidents perpetrated by the state. The civil disabilities imposed on asylum-seekers (lack of access to work, the normal welfare system, housing) amount to racist/islamophobic discrimination against a section of Scotland’s Muslim population.

5.14.     The intersection with class is also important. The processes outlined in 5.2 are driven by class interests. Strategies of counter-Islamophobic resistance and solidarity are intertwined with class struggle. Key contributions to the fight against Islamophobia in Scotland have been made by anti-war groups, pro-refugee groups, anti-fascist groups and trade unions, all built around working-class struggle.

5.15.    The intersection of Islamophobia and anti-black racism is personified by the death in police custody of Sheku Bayoh, a black non-practising Muslim, in Kirkcaldy in 2015.

5.16.    Islamophobia intersects with gender. Attacks, abuse and discrimination against Muslim women and girls often focus on their identity as women and girls (eg via abusive references to the hijab, or attempts to remove it), not just as Muslims. This is evident in the experiences of Muslim school children in Edinburgh (see 6.2) and in a recent survey of the experiences of Muslim women in Scotland (The Scotsman 2019).

5.17.    Many Muslim women live at multiple intersections. Their situations can be summarised as: "transnational spaces in which the modalities of race, class and gender intersect with hostile anti-immigrant British nationalism and globalized anti-Islamic discourses." (Mirza 2013)

5.18.    Muslim women are at the same time a particular target for state initiatives aimed at influencing and managing Muslims (Akhtar 2018).

6.    Islamophobia in Scottish Schools

6.1.    Terms of reference: para 1.3 (role of the public sector) and 1.4 (impact on children, young people and families)

6.2.    Background and evidence

6.2.1.     In 2016 Samena Dean carried out a survey into experiences of Islamophobia at school amongst Muslim children in Edinburgh. SACC published her resulting booklet Islamophobia in Edinburgh Schools in 2017 (Dean 2017).

6.2.2.     A summary of Dean’s findings was presented to the inquiry into Bullying and harassment of children and young people in schools by the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee (SACC 2017).

6.2.3.     Dean interviewed children at Muslim youth groups. Her survey necessarily omits experiences of Islamophobic abuse directed against non-Muslim BAME children.

6.2.4.     Dean found that 55% of high school respondents and 53% of primary school respondents had encountered verbal Islamophobia. 15% of high school respondents and 26% of primary school respondents had encountered physical Islamophobia.

6.2.5.     57% of children who reported an incident to a teacher experienced a negative outcome.

6.2.6.     Girls were targeted, verbally and physically, for wearing a hijab. One girl said: "I got called a terrorist and people were asking me if I had a bomb under my hijab and if I was going to kill them."

6.2.7.     We think it very likely indeed that problems of a broadly similar nature would be found elsewhere in Scotland.

6.2.8.    Children’s comments to Dean bear witness to an earlier statement by CRER: "Racism is experienced not just as a personal attack on a young person, but as something deeper which undermines and degrades their family, their community and their culture." (CRER 2017).  

6.2.9.    In 2018 the EIS conducted a survey of experiences of racism amongst its BME members. 71% of respondents had experienced racism in their capacity as a teacher or lecturer. 40% of all respondents attributed any racism they had experienced to Islamophobia. Manifestations of racism included: learners using racist or Islamophobic language (56%) or showing racist or Islamophobic attitudes (46%), colleagues using racist or Islamophobic language (26%) or showing racist or Islamophobic attitudes (44%), curriculum content lacking ethnic diversity (41%) (Scottish Government 2018).

6.2.10.    Schools’ failure to respond positively to children experiencing Islamophobia (6.2.4) is a very clear expression of institutional racism as defined in the report of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry (Macpherson 1999). Other aspects of the experiences of Muslim children and BME staff might well also be seen as reflecting institutional racism.

6.2.11.     In failing to effectively counter Islamophobia, schools may be failing to meet their legal obligations under the Equality Act, the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights. These obligations are enforceable under UK domestic law.

6.2.12.    We suspect that schools may sometimes feel that a softly-softly approach is best and may be concerned that none-BAME parents may respond negatively to a more pro-active approach. Schools cannot by themselves solve the wider problem of Islamophobia in society, but that does not excuse schools’ failure to meet their legal obligations. Countering Islamophobia is an immediate necessity, not a luxury or a blue-sky goal.

6.3.    Recommendations

6.3.1.    SACC’s recommendations to the Scottish Government on tackling Islamophobia in schools were presented to the Cabinet Secretary for Education in 2017 (Haley 2017) following consultation and discussion of Samena Dean’s findings with interested members of Edinburgh’s Muslim communities. Our recommendations are summarised and updated below. We would like the CPG to consider all of these recommendations

6.3.2.     Our recommendations were initially directed towards the Scottish Government, but many of them could be wholly or partly implemented by schools without specific direction or authorisation by government. Some of our recommendations have been slightly re-worded to reflect this.

6.3.3.     In responding to any Islamophobic incident in a school, the welfare of Muslim children impacted by the incident should be paramount.

6.3.4.     Much greater alertness is needed in recognising Islamophobia and Islamophobic incidents in schools. The Scottish Government should prioritise this in its policies (including its   anti-bullying policy), as should Head Teachers.

6.3.5.     Islamophobia should be understood, for policy purposes, as a form of anti-Muslim racism.

6.3.6.    The Scottish Government should work towards developing and adopting a concise, easily understood working definition of Islamophobia that incorporates an understanding of Islamophobia as a form of racism.

6.3.7.    The existence of institutional Islamophobia, operating as a form of institutional racism within the school system, needs to be recognised.

6.3.8.    The Scottish Government should halt the implementation of ‘Prevent’ in schools. Failing this, care should be taken to separate PREVENT from work to promote equalities and inclusivity and counter hate incidents.

6.3.9.    Education Scotland’s How Good is Our School (Education Scotland 2015) self-evaluation document should be revised to reflect more thoroughly the public sector equality duty created by the Equality Act 2010, to reflect the growing social problem of Islamophobia, and to remove its reference (in Section 2.1) to the ill-defined and racially-charged term “radicalisation”.

6.3.10.    Training of school staff should be improved to raise awareness of Islamophobia and racism, to improve understanding of Islam and Muslim community life, and to give staff the confidence to challenge Islamophobia and racism.

6.3.11.    Schools should emphasise prevention and should focus on creating a whole-school culture which is inclusive.

6.3.12.    Guidance to staff should clarify when bullying constitutes a hate crime or a sexual offence. All those working in schools should be trained regarding when to report bullying to the police.

6.3.13.    Schools should be encouraged to see educating against Islamophobia as the responsibility of teachers, not of police.

6.3.14.    As an addition to our 2017 recommendations, we note that non-Muslim BAME children also experience Islamophobia. This is sometimes called “misidentification.” The term is problematic and arguably Islamophobic. Racist abuse often involves misidentification – Muslims as “terrorists”, South Asians not from Pakistan as “Pakis” – but is not usually described that way. Racist language is fluid and associative. “Misidentification” is not the problem. Islamophobia and racism are the problems, however expressed and whoever they target.

7.    Overcoming Islamophobia

7.1.    Terms of reference: 1.5 (steps to challenge and overcome Islamophobia)

7.2.    We would like the CPG to consider all of the following recommendations.

7.3.    Islamophobia in the UK cannot be dismantled without also dismantling the militarised, exploitative and colonialist character of the UK’s relations with many Muslim-majority countries (loosely speaking, the “war on terror”) and related domestic policies (Prevent etc) aimed at repressing and managing the political activity of Muslims. Civil society must campaign for an end to the “war on terror”, must integrate this into counter-Islamophobia activities and must reject strategies that involve turning a blind eye to the “war on terror” at home and abroad or legitimising it.

7.4.    Muslim as well as non-Muslim sectors of civil society need to work in this way. Muslim organisations risk Islamophobic demonization if they do so, but if they fail to do so they fatally undermine the struggle against Islamophobia.

7.5.    Activities to counter Islamophobia should incorporate an understanding of Islamophobia as a form of racism, recognising its inter-relationship with other racisms and oppressive power structures.

7.6.    Society needs to develop a greater ability and willingness to identify the various tendencies that contribute to Islamophobia and to recognise and name their aggregate effect as Islamophobic. At present there is a widespread and sometimes institutional reluctance to do so.

7.7.    Police Scotland must develop a method for reporting Islamophobic hate crime statistics. One approach might be to record all hate crimes with a race or religion aggravator where the victim identifies as Muslim and, separately, all hate crimes with a race or religion aggravator where the victim is not Muslim, but involving abuse clearly targeting Muslims.

7.8.    Adoption of a formal definition of Islamophobia by the Scottish Government and other organisations would be helpful. We urge political parties, trade unions and other organisations to initiate open and democratic discussions about their internal policies on this matter. We urge the Scottish Government to initiate a parliamentary process to agree a definition for the purpose of Scottish Government policy.

7.9.     We support the use of the following definition proposed in Islamophobia Defined (APPG on British Muslims 2018): “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. We do not support adoption of Islamophobia Defined as a whole, as it includes confused and untenable positions arising from its attempt to draw on the IHRA definition of anti-semitism.

7.10.    The existence of institutional Islamophobia, as a form of institutional racism, needs to be recognised. This applies particularly to Police Scotland, but also to other institutions such as schools.

7.11.    The Prevent strategy is Islamophobic and must be scrapped. To this end, and to mitigate the damaging effect of Prevent, civil society should as far as possible avoid cooperation with Prevent programmes.

7.12.    The power to stop and question travellers at UK ports and airports under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 embodies Islamophobic discrimination and is intimidating for whole communities as well as for the individuals questioned. It must be scrapped. In the meantime, its use by Police Scotland must be discontinued.

7.13.    Islamophobia must be recognised as an aspect of the discrimination facing migrants and refugees. "Reading" and dismantling Islamophobia must be integrated into support for Muslim migrants and refugees, and support for migrants and refugees must be integrated into wider strategies for tackling Islamophobia.

7.14.    Young people are crucial to the struggle against Islamophobia. Schools must be pro-active in tackling Islamophobia so that instead of reflecting the level of Islamophobia in wider society, they are in the lead in reducing it. They must ensure that all students or staff who experience specific Islamophobic incidents feel well supported by their school and feel that their problem has either been resolved or very substantially ameliorated. To this end, the Scottish Government and schools should implement the recommendations set out in 6.3.


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Photo: Meeting of the Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Ggroup on Tacking Islamophobia © Muslim Council of Scotland