Britain’s most senior Asian police officer says he grew up being racially abused on a “daily basis”.
Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, who is of Indian heritage, told MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee he had spent his life “dealing with racism” so he understood the experiences of ethnic minority communities who were affected.
He was giving evidence about a controversial proposal from a cross-party group of MPs, which defines Islamophobia as a “type of racism”.
The government has already rejected the definition from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims.
Mr Basu, the national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism, said the definition was too broad and would “close down” legitimate debate and criticism of historical or theological aspects of Islam.
It would also potentially allow terror suspects to mount legal challenges against police investigations and operations on the basis that they were Islamophobic, he said.
But he said he had spent his life “dealing with racism”, mainly from people who wrongly targeted him for being Muslim, and so he felt “conflicted” about the issue.
“This is a definition that was designed to protect people like me,” the Scotland Yard officer said.
“I’ve spent 51 years dealing with racism and the vast amount of racism I’ve had in my life has been the perception that I might be Muslim – and I’m not.
“So, I look at that and I feel kind of personally conflicted about saying I can’t accept this definition, but professionally, for me, it’s about community confidence.”
The full proposed definition from the cross-party group of MPs says: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”
Mr Basu said although he did not accept the proposal, he agreed that a definition was required by communities, partly to demonstrate that the authorities were taking their concerns seriously.
“I grew up in an era where people didn’t talk about racism and there was a lot of casual racism around,” he said, adding: “I understand what it feels like to be abused on a daily basis. I understand what they feel like.”
The select committee is taking evidence from a range of people on the issue.
In a House of Commons debate last week, Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said this “complex issue” needed urgent attention from government.
“I am in no doubt that racism forms a part of the bigotry that we need to confront,” he said, “but combining race and religion within the definition causes legal and practical issues.
“As a starting point, it is not in line with the Equality Act 2010, which defines race as comprising colour, nationality and national or ethnic origins, none of which would necessarily encompass a Muslim or Islamic practice.”
Mr Brokenshire added: “Our priority is to arrive swiftly at a collective position that strengthens our resolve when tackling anti-Muslim hatred and challenging the false narratives that underpin it.”
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