We have previously written about the threat to academic freedom posed by the International Holocaust Memorial Association’s definition of antisemitism, now used by 119 UK universities. A similar threat is posed by the definition of Islamophobia drawn up by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, which has been adopted by 21 UK universities including Edinburgh, Nottingham and Loughborough, as well as Imperial College London: see this new report by the National Secular Society here.
The Islamophobia definition is consciously modelled on the antisemitism definition, and shares its basic flaw: both seek to stigmatise as racist what are in fact legitimate if controversial factual and moral propositions. “Contemporary examples of Islamophobia”, runs the key paragraph in the All Party Parliamentary Group’s report, “include, but are not limited to
Using the symbols and images associated with classic Islamophobia (e.g. Muhammed being a paedophile, claims of Muslims spreading Islam by the sword or subjugating minority groups under their rule) to characterize Muslims as being ‘sex groomers’, inherently violent or incapable of living harmoniously in plural societies.
It is easy to see how this definition could be used to shut down legitimate lines of enquiry. That Muslims have spread Islam by force and subjugated minority groups living under their rule are historical claims, and should be open to assessment on the same basis as any other historical claim. Of course, they do not on their own establish that Muslims are “incapable of living harmoniously in plural societies”. However, serious scholars have argued, on the basis of facts similar to these, that there is a deep tension between Islam and Western liberal modernity. “Islam seems to sit uneasily with secularism” writes Larry Siedentop in Inventing the Individual (Harvard University Press, 2014, p. 350). Academic freedom requires that scholars are able to criticise Islam. Universities must not adopt the definition.