06 June 2019, The Tablet

When free speech is hijacked for hate


When free speech is hijacked for hate

Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge / Tory peer Baroness Warsi
Photo: PA

 

A reluctance to tackle racist language on both the Left and Right of today’s bizarre British politics is the one thing that the Labour and Conservative parties have in common

Both of the major British political parties are embroiled in a heated and long-running racism dispute. The Conservatives have in recent weeks rejected calls to adopt a widely accepted definition of Islamophobia. Proposed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, the definition says that Islamophobia is “rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.

Citing “consequences for free speech”, the government’s decision to reject the APPG’s proposed definition – which Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Conservatives have adopted, and is backed by 750 Muslim organisations and institutions – in some ways mirrors the Labour Party’s reluctance last year to accept in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

Labour, foreshadowing the Tories’ free speech worries, cited concerns that some of the examples of anti-Jewish prejudice given by the IHRA – such as one that says it is anti-Semitic to describe Israel as a “racist endeavour” – would restrict pro-Palestinian activism. The party has since accepted all of the IHRA examples, but not before compounding an already strained relationship with the Jewish community.
Both of these decisions – the Tories’ refusal to accept the APPG’s definition and Labour’s prevarication over the IHRA examples – can only be understood in the context of wider debates about bigotry and racism within the two parties. Both raise questions about where the divide falls between free speech and hate speech.

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