The Islamophobia index
While many in the UK debate over how to define Islamophobia, some are proposing an index to measure it instead.
Just before ‘Islamophobia Awareness Month’ in November 2022, there was news that the UK’s Conservative government was dropping plans to combat anti-Muslim hatred with an official definition of Islamophobia. The newly re-appointed Communities Secretary Michael Gove reportedly abandoned this effort over free-speech concerns. He felt such a definition would hinder legitimate criticisms of harmful religious ideology. He said: “I think there are dangers if a university or another organisation which should be the home of free debate uses a definition like that to police what people can say in order to penalise them for it.” Indeed, this was the very reason why the Conservative government refused to support the definition of Islamophobia proposed three years ago by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims.
But while the debate over how to define Islamophobia rages on, Islamophobia remains a concern for many. Labour MP and shadow minister for women and equalities Yasmin Qureshi have warned that the “scourge of Islamophobia is on the rise.” According to a recent House of Commons Library report, 42% of all religious hate crimes in the UK last year were against Muslims.
An alternative to defining Islamophobia
During ‘Islamophobia Awareness Month’, an alternative to the ‘definition agenda’ was proposed to combat Islamophobia: the Islamophobia Index. Published in the ‘Index of Islamophobia: Proposing an Enforcement and Prosecution Framework’ report, the Index was developed by Equality Act Review with the support of the Economy and Society Research Cluster at the School of Geography and Environment, University of Oxford. Launched in the UK Parliament on 21 November 2022, the Index has been described by its author, Dr Suriyah Bi of the University of Oxford, as an effort to move away from the discourse dominated by “the semantics of the word Islamophobia,” and to instead offer a tool that helps “real people and real lives” “through the legal system every day.”
The Islamophobia Index consists of two tools. The first tool is the index itself, which can be used by either the victim or a professional reporting a religious hate crime to calculate the severity of such a crime. This calculation would help the victim and law enforcement more accurately and actionably report a religious hate crime involving Muslims. The second tool is a more detailed framework that can help the victim and law enforcement determine which prosecution pathway would be most suitable for a religious hate crime against Muslims. An incident of Islamophobia may be relevant to multiple laws, and therefore, could be prosecuted in a number of ways. The framework allows an individual to more accurately identify which law may have been broken.
Measuring Islamophobia: Benefits and challenges
Given its practical value in classifying and prosecuting Islamophobia, Dr Suriyah Bi describes the Islamophobia Index as “a conduit for providing victims of Islamophobia with the justice they deserve.” The Index may well prove very useful. In order to access justice, it can also be used to educate communities, including British Muslims themselves, on what Islamophobia is and how to respond to it. It may also mobilise a wider network of professional help, such as teachers, social workers, nurses, and doctors, who can use the Index in the communities that they serve.
There still, however, remains uncertainty over whether the index will be accepted by policymakers, professionals, and communities. Just like in the case of ‘defining’ Islamophobia, ‘measuring’ it with an index will require national consensus as well as nationwide uptake. Both are easier said than done.