Sajid Javid's Islamophobia clarification is 'a moment of common sense'

(Photo: Unsplash/Adli Wahid)

Christians have welcomed comments from Sajid Javid clarifying his views on Islamophobia following concerns over a proposed definition. 

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 Today on Monday, the Chancellor said there would be an inquiry into defining Islamophobia. 

"I call it 'anti-Muslim hate crime', rather than Islamophobia," he said during the programme.

"Sometimes when some people talk about 'Islamophobia', sometimes some people mean that you shouldn't criticise or shouldn't have the ability to criticise a religion – not people, but a religion.

"And I think in our free society anyone should be able to talk about any religion...respectfully, but to say I don't agree with that religion. That's up to them.

"But attacking someone if they are a Muslim is completely, utterly unacceptable. So, it's 'anti-Muslim hate crime'."

Welcoming his clarification, Tim Dieppe, Head of Public Policy at Christian Concern, said it was a "moment of common sense". 

"'Anti-Muslim' is much clearer language than 'Islamophobia'," he said, adding that he was equally opposed to the term 'Christophobia'.

"It is high time that we as a society abandoned irrational 'phobia' language," he said. 

"We also object to the term 'Christophobia' for similar reasons, but mainly because of the ambiguity of the term. 'Anti-Christian' is much clearer and requires no special definition." 

He continued: "A phobia is an irrational fear. This is not what we are talking about when we discuss anti-Muslim hatred, discrimination or attacks. It is certainly not what criticism of Islamic teaching should be described as.

"The same logic applies to anti-Christian discrimination. Allegations of 'X-phobia' are often used to silence legitimate criticism of 'X'. Society should not be encouraging this kind of abuse of language and restriction of free speech." 

Dieppe was one of the signatories to a letter to Javid when he was Home Secretary expressing concern over a proposed definition of Islamophobia by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims.

In an unusual alliance, signatories of the letter included faith leaders, the head of the National Secular Society, atheist professor Richard Dawkins, and gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell. 

In the letter, they expressed fears that the proposed definition would infringe upon free speech. 

"No religion should be given special protection against criticism. Like anti-Sikh, anti-Christian, or anti-Hindu hatred, we believe the term anti-Muslim hatred is more appropriate and less likely to infringe on free speech," they said.

"A proliferation of 'phobias' is not desirable, as already stated by Sikh and Christian organisations who recognise the importance of free discussion about their beliefs."

Mr Dieppe added, however, that what constitutes a hate crime is "disturbingly vague" and said that more discussion was needed to ensure that freedom of speech is protected.

"I hope that other government ministers and parliamentarians will pay attention to Sajid Javid's objection to the use of 'Islamophobia', and to the open letter objecting to a proposed definition of Islamophobia," he said.

"We could all do with more clarity of language rather than increasingly irrational use of 'phobias' to silence debate."