Conservative Party warned that debate over religion must be respectful to all

Sajid Javid said he preferred the term anti-Muslim hate crime rather than Islamophobia

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid is seen outside the venue for the Conservative Party annual conference in Manchester, Britain, September 30, 2019. REUTERS/Phil Noble/File Photo
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A senior member of the UK government has suggested people should be allowed to criticise religion as long as it is done respectfully.

But finance minister and Conservative MP Sajid Javid, whose party is embroiled in accusations it is institutionally Islamophobic, said attacking someone for simply being Muslim was deplorable.

“I call it anti-Muslim hate crime, rather than Islamophobia. The reason is because all people, no matter what their faith, should be absolutely protected against anyone that has anything wrong or nasty or any attack against them. It doesn’t matter who they are, what their faith is,” said Mr Javid, who was a key national gatekeeper on hate crimes in the role of Home Secretary, or interior minister.

"Sometimes when people talk about Islamophobia sometimes some people mean that you shouldn't criticise or shouldn't have the ability to criticise a religion. Not people, but a religion," he told the BBC.

“I think in our free society anyone should be able to talk about any religion respectfully but to say ‘I don’t agree with that religion,’ that’s up to them. But attacking someone if their a Muslim is completely, utterly unacceptable. So it’s anti-Muslim hate crime.”

Over the weekend, a number of party members were suspended for posting Islamophobic content online.

Mr Javid insisted a long-awaited inquiry into allegations members were Islamophobic would happen.

“There will be one… I’m sure. The party chairman, James Cleverly, is looking at what best form that inquiry should take.”

Earlier this year, the government rejected a definition of Islamophobia because they said it was too vague and could hamper efforts to fight extremism.

"Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness,” the definition, agreed by a group of cross-party MPs, read.

The party’s attitude to the definition of Islamophobia triggered controversy following a fringe event on the sidelines of the Conservative party conference in Manchester.

Trevor Philips, a member of the Labour Party, was slammed for his comments at a Policy Exchange panel that was supposed to focus on challenging Islamophobia.

He was reported to have said “I’m the only one here who has been nominated as Islamophobe of the Year.” Another panellist, Peter Tatchell, responded “I’m jealous.”

A freedom of speech campaigner, Mr Philips has previously slammed the suggested definition of Islamophobia and argued its vagueness undermined Muslims. His comments in Manchester appeared to reiterate that he does not subscribe to the Islamophobia definition.

Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani said the party had a “zero tolerance” approach towards anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Mr Javid said people at fringe events would say whatever they wanted and had nothing to do with the party.

In dissent, one senior Muslim Conservative said she was “ashamed” of the party.

“I feel sick to my stomach tonight to see the Party I chaired sink to such depths,” tweeted Baroness Warsi.

“Where British Muslims have become a convenient scapegoat for populism, a butt of insulting language to increase poll ratings [and) an event on Islamophobia is an opportunity to demonise Muslims,” she said.