Islamophobia still passes “the dinner-table test”

the dinner table test, islamophobia
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Baroness Sayeeda Warsi said that Islamophobia passed “the dinner-table test” – now ten years later, Islamophobia accounts for 45% of religious hate crimes

Currently, the UK Cabinet is beginning an investigation into claims of Islamophobia by former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Department of Transport, Nusrat Ghani MP.

Fired in 2020 during a Cabinet reshuffle, Ms Ghani said over the weekend that her “Muslimness” was explained as a reason for her dismissal.

Chief Conservative Whip, Mark Spencer, tweeted that the claims were untrue.

What exactly is Islamophobia?

Islamophobia cuts across race and religion, which means a complex definition is needed to properly explain it. For instance, Sikh people who are targeted for perceived connection to Islam, or people who appear Arab are treated as Muslim.

In 2021, 45% of recorded religious hate crime in the UK was directed towards Muslims. That accounts for nearly half of the figures, followed by 22% of religious hate crime being committed against the Jewish community.

In 2018, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims proposed the adoption of a definition of Islamophobia – to make hate crime more prosecutable: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

However, this definition was not adopted. The Government rejected it in 2019, with the National Police Chiefs’ Council suggesting that it could “cause confusion among officers and hamper the fight against terrorism.” 

Others supported the absence of an official explanation, suggesting that a non-legally binding definition would limit philosophical criticism and free speech.

Chris Allen, Associate Professor in Hate Studies at Leicester University, bridges the gap between race and religion.

He defines Islamophobia as: “when discrimination, bigotry and/or hate is directed at Muslims (or those thought to be Muslim), their material property (including mosques), or organisations where there exists evidence that the motivation, content or perpetrator focused on a perceived Muslim identity or other symbol of Muslims or Islam.”

Back to “the dinner-table test”

In 2011, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi said that Islamophobia passed “the dinner-table test.”

Writing in a 2017 report by The Runnymede Trust, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi said: “I was speaking about those who display their bigotry overtly, but also those who do so more subtly in the most respectable of settings – middle-class dinner tables.

“It is this more covert form of Islamophobia, couched in intellectual arguments and espoused by thinktanks, commentators and even politicians, that I have spent the last decade trying to reason with.”

Essentially, framing discussion of Muslims and the homogenous mass of “Muslim culture” around “intellectual arguments” makes it still seem okay for people to express bigotry. While racism or homophobia might now be considered untenable at the middle-class dinner-table, Islamophobia can still find an audience.


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