‘Outlawing’ Islamophobia misses the point: it’s about hate crimes.

The criticism directed at Ed Miliband’s pledge to tackle Islamophobia misses a crucial point: he was talking in the context of hate crimes. Miliband told Muslim News: “We are going to make it an aggravated crime. We are going to make sure it is marked on people’s records with the police to make sure they root out Islamophobia as a hate crime.” [My emphasis]

Instead, others turned it into an episode of free speech martyrdom with a promise to test ‘the law straight away’. But Douglas Murray’s proposed event would need to pass a stringent threshold to break any law.

Incitement to religious hatred only “covers threatening words or behaviour (not insults or abuse) and only covers such words or behaviour that is intended to stir up religious hatred (not that likely to stir hatred)”.

Abusive, threating and insulting statements intended (or likely) to stir up religious hatred do not fall foul of present legislation. A freedom of speech caveat is a bedrock to this law. Religious aggravation is not entirely dismissed if an individual is not charged with a religiously aggravated crime.

Labour’s stance is not favouring Muslim communities – it simply reflects a consistent desire to clamp down on all forms of hate crime. As their manifesto made clear:

“We will take a zero-tolerance approach to hate crime, such as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. We will challenge prejudice before it grows, whether in schools, universities or on social media. And we will strengthen the law on disability, homophobic, and transphobic hate crime.”

The Conservative Party promises an equally tough stance on all forms of hate crime – including Islamophobia. In her keynote counter-extremism speech, Theresa May stated ‘We will require police forces to record anti-Muslim crimes as well as anti-Semitic crimes’.

On the other hand, the Liberal Democrats took a similar (if vague) manifesto pledge: “We are determined to combat antisemitism and anti-Muslim hate in the UK and internationally.”

Few police forces (including Greater Manchester and the Met Police) record Islamophobic hate crimes under a separate crime flag. Mandating all forces in Britain to follow suit will bring clarity to a national problem.

Richard Dawkins’s angry and polemical tweets also missed the point (suggesting he did not read Miliband’s actual quote).

A semantical and polarising debate around the validity of the term Islamophobia swallows the middle ground. A middle ground where genuine victims of Islamophobia find their voices marginalised against this polarising backdrop.

Perhaps the political tide is shifting in recognising very real hatreds against minorities in our society. Islamophobia already exists as a hate crime. It’s time to acknowledge that truth and move forward.