A proposed definition of Islamophobia has been rejected in a debate at Lancashire County Council.
Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali had called for the authority to adopt the wording put forward last year by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, as well as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.
But members of the ruling Conservative group expressed concern over the lack of “clarity” within the Islamophobia definition, which was also rejected by the government earlier this month after claims that it conflated race and religion.
The APPG drew up its definition after a wide-ranging consultation and concluded that: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
Cabinet member for cultural services, Peter Buckley, said the county council was already “bound by religious and race hate crime legislation” – and added that the anti-Semitism definition being proposed was clearer than that of Islamophobia.
“The accompanying eleven examples [in the IHRA definition] serve to provide a useful, working definition of anti-Semitism. However, the same clarity cannot be said of the APPG definition of Islamophobia.”
But Labour’s Lizzi Collinge called for councillors to move beyond “intellectual debates” and towards “concrete action”.
“If we don’t adopt this today, what are we saying to the Muslim woman who gets abused because she wants to stand for public office, to the Sikh man who has his turban ripped off and gets called the P-word or the Asian Christian who gets called a terrorist?
“These [things] are happening on our streets every day,” she added.
The meeting heard that several national political parties have adopted the Islamophobia definition – including the Scottish Conservatives.
Last year, the national Labour party was criticised for being too slow to fully adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism – and, when it did, then attaching an accompanying statement regarding free speech.
Cabinet member for adult services, Graham Gooch, said it was right to do away with "the evil" which the Islamophobia definition sought to tackle – but that he disagreed with the APPG’s conclusions.
“As any anthropologist will tell you, being a Muslim is obviously not a race any more than being a Christian is a race. Would the Aga Khan see himself as the same race as the Sultan of Brunei?
“Then we have the problem of defining Muslimness – what sort of Muslimness?” he asked.
However, County Cllr Mohamed Iqbal, who also leads Pendle Council, urged members to back the motion – and revealed that he had been the victim of racist abuse from a fellow politician when re-elected as district leader last week.
“This definition would reassure me as a British Muslim that this council is not anti-Semitic, it’s not racist and it’s not Isalamophobic.
“I’m getting very deeply concerned at some of the comments being made – unfortunately by Conservative colleagues in the chamber – that do not reassure me of those things,” he said.
Meanwhile, Green Party member, Gina Dowding, expressed her concern over the anti-Semitism definition under discussion.
“Jewishness is a religious identity and it’s essential that we recognise any attack on, offensive behaviour to or discrimination against Jewish people, as the ugly and dangerous anti-Semitism it is.
“Zionism and the Israeli state are political projects and as such are open to the support or criticism that any political entity is subject to,” she said.
The motion to adopt both definitions was defeated by 41 votes to 29, with seven abstentions.