Police Chief: Accusations of Islamophobia 'Could Hinder Counter-Terror Efforts'
Martin Hewitt warns UK PM Theresa May about officially defining Islamophobia
A top police official has warned British Prime Minister Theresa May that, if the government formally defines Islamophobia, it "could hinder counter-terror-efforts."
Police Chief Martin Hewitt has claimed that giving an official definition could lead to accusations of Islamophobia against law enforcers which could "undermine many elements of counter-terrorism powers and policies."
The warning comes in response to the UK Government's proposed definition to call Islamophobia a "type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness."
The move has prompted concerns that questioning or criticizing Islam will be deemed a hate crime, and therefore, illegal.
In a letter to PM May, Hewitt warns the wording could prevent authorities from shutting down extremist groups or conducting searches at ports due to potential accusations that investigations could be considered Islamophobic.
Advocates of an official definition argue the move could help Muslims report crime against them and build relations between Islamic communities and the government.
Critics of the proposal, however, say it could restrict legitimate debate about Islam and confuses criticism of the religion with hatred of individual Muslims.
Mr. Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs' Council, said establishing an official wording could weaken terror laws and prevent stop-and-search at ports, The Times reported.
The term was "perhaps misleading in the context of hate crime... hate crime seeks to protect Muslims and not Islam," Hewitt warns the Prime Minister.
According to the Daily Mail, a group of opposition MPs led by Labour's Wes Streeting and Anna Soubry of Change UK has pushed for an official definition.
The group, chaired by Ms. Soubry, recently published a 72-page report arguing that "the lack of a widely adopted working definition... has led to an increase in Islamophobia in society to devastating effect."
A new official definition could allow victims of Islamophobia to challenge government decisions in the courts.
The report said the lack of a definition "would allow for the continued denial of Islamophobia as a real lived experience."
A definition would mean "British Muslims would be able to trust the government, which would assist in decreasing the disaffection British Muslims often experience in relation to the government," the authors claimed.
"Not recognizing that Islamophobia is a specifically racial and religious form of discrimination leaves Muslims vulnerable to abuse without recourse to legal or political remedy," they said.
The lack of a proper wording would also "prevent the analysis of incidents around the country, and continue to weaken the way in which Islamophobic incidents are addressed," the report argued.
Responding to criticism about free speech, it said: "The aim of establishing a working definition of Islamophobia has neither been motivated by nor is intended to curtail, free speech or criticism of Islam as a religion."
"Criticism of religion is a fundamental right in an open society and is enshrined in our commitment to freedom of speech."
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One Muslim man said he had been stopped at Heathrow airport because of the clothes he was wearing.
"I cannot report it because the police do not see this as Islamophobic behavior," he said.
In the most recent Home Office figures, more than 52 percent of religious hate crimes recorded by police were Islamophobic.
In a written parliamentary answer last month, the Government said it was considering adopting an official wording.
On Thursday MPs will hold a "general debate" in the Commons chamber to consider the matter.
The Muslim Council of Britain has backed calls for an official definition.
However, it suggested a different wording, emphasizing "the curtailment of the ability of Muslims to articulate their Muslimness."
The National Secular Society has opposed the change, saying last year that the terminology was "vague and unworkable."
"While we believe that in a liberal secular society individuals should be afforded respect and protection, we are clear that ideas should not," they said in a letter to Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
"We are concerned that the report's proposed definition of Islamophobia conflates hatred of, and discrimination against, Muslims with criticism of Islam.
"Expressions of Muslimness can effectively be translated to mean Islamic practices.
"In a society which is free and open, such practices must remain open to scrutiny and debate."
The debate echoes that over an official definition of anti-Semitism which engulfed the Labour party last year.
Labour was beset by a months-long row over whether to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.
Critics of the IHRA approach have claimed it could restrict their ability to criticize the Israeli government's actions.