I feel as though I have some personal stake in the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Islamophobia. It first began two years ago when I submitted a report to it, examining the very public fallout that ensued following the appointment of iENGAGE as the Group's secretariat.
I had been approached to compile the report by the APPG's co-chairs who believed I would be able to offer an "objective view". Noting the complex and contentious nature of doing so, I accepted the approach on the basis that I believed that the fallout was damaging the very real opportunity the APPG presented to finally have Islamophobia taken seriously at the political level.
With tongue placed firmly in cheek, I gave the report the title, "a momentous occasion", a direct quote from the speech made by Kris Hopkins (Conservative MP for Keighley and Ilkley) at the APPG's launch in November 2010. Using it to describe the formation of the APPG, Hopkins spoke of being "hugely committed to the task in hand". Two months later, Hopkins had resigned.
With the Secretariat changing, the APPG was relaunched in November 2011. Having been invited to speak at its second launch, I also submitted written evidence. Shortly after, Simon Hughes (MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark) noted in a press release how I:
"spoke to the group about the importance of keeping Islamophobia on the national agenda so that the UK can continue to improve its efforts at countering prejudice against Muslims"
The press release added that the APPG would meet on a monthly basis in order to take this necessary work forward.
Sadly, regular meetings failed to materialise with no more than five meetings taking place in the year following the relaunch. The last in October 2012 focused on the timely issue of the media in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry. For this, I again submitted written evidence and arranged for a colleague to present oral evidence on my behalf. Hopefully the same is not true of the other meetings held. If it is then is it unlikely that any of the evidence already submitted will feature in any future outputs, that is if any ever emerge.
This week (16 July 2013), the APPG on Islamophobia will again being relaunched. Hoping for third time lucky, the APPG will launch with a meeting considering events post-Woolwich. Whilst this presents much food for thought, I am slightly concerned by the potential connotations some will conclude by naming the meeting 'A Tribute to Drummer Lee Rigby: Lessons from Woolwich'.
Once again, I will be offering support by presenting further written and oral evidence. But just how much longer can I realistically support the APPG if it continues to achieve little?
As I put in my report two years ago:
"On all of [the APPG's] aims it has - to date - categorically and overwhelmingly failed. More so than anything else, it has to be recognised that the credibility of the APPG has been damaged and that the focus on Islamophobia lost".
In my opinion, very little has changed since.
The APPG has a unique opportunity to take Islamophobia seriously: to consider it objectively, collect evidence, scrutinise what we know as also what we don't, raise questions, counter objections and where necessary, make recommendations. Yet to date, the APPG has failed to do any of these. In doing so it has offered little more than a cursory nod to those campaigning to tackle this phenomenon whilst even less to those ordinary people who continue to be victims of anti-Muslim prejudice, discrimination, bigotry and hate.
Far from being 'a momentous occasion', the APPG on Islamophobia has so far been an insignificant irrelevance, a toothless entity whose (lack of) actions have spoken far more loudly than its, at times, somewhat overblown words.
In the wake of the nail bomb explosion at the mosque in Tipton, now is the perfect opportunity for the APPG on Islamophobia to finally find its teeth, to overcome its relative impotence and finally live up to the expectation many of us had when it was first launched.
For now, I'm hanging in there with my support. But having said that, I'm definitely not holding my breath nor can I keep quiet about my disappointment. It really is time for the APPG to find its teeth.
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