Twenty years after publishing their report, Islamophobia – A Challenge for Us All, which helped popularise the term ‘Islamophobia’, the Runnymede Trust has published a follow-up report to mark its anniversary entitled Islamophobia – Still a challenge for us all.
The defining feature of this report is its assertion that Islamophobia should be thought of as anti-Muslim racism. This understanding of Islamophobia thus takes into account its nature as a phenomenon embedded structurally within institutions on both a local and national level (in line with the UN’s definition of racism), instead of seeing it simply as an attitude, as the original report did. The motivation for this redefinition is the recent rapid increase in Islamophobia; a 2016 Pew Research Center report stated that 28% of those in the UK view Muslims unfavourably.
Runnymede’s report has been met with both praise and criticism from intellectuals on the subject. It is praised for understanding how Islamophobia is a form of “race-making”; its nature as discrimination against Muslim minorities “on the basis of supposedly discernible characteristics” (which distinguish them from the rest of the population) has led to a greater political and social emphasis on integration within the UK because it has created an understanding of conflict between Islam and British culture. Thus, this emphasis on integration has led to an increase in Islamophobia.
It has been argued that the report’s updated definition of racism accounts for criticism of the old definition, which presented a ‘monolithic’ concept of Islam and Muslims, and which incorrectly understood the nature of the phenomenon of Islamophobia. However, it is also argued that the 2017 report essentialises Muslim identity by failing to deconstruct and question the categories of religion and race, and still fails to grasp fully the way in which Islamophobia permeates society. This criticism is part of a wider critique of the report by Sayyid and Vakil (https://www.criticalmuslimstudies.co.uk/reports_of_islamophobia_1997_and_2017/), who state that it is riddled by an “absence of connection and engagement” with the growing body of literature on Islamophobia and with the Muslim community itself.
The report has also been criticised for examining Islamophobia within the context of the UK only, ignoring how Islamophobia is embedded within the international system. The Runnymede Trust is a UK organisation, and therefore its focus on the UK is understandable, yet it is argued that Islamophobia’s global presence (also demonstrated in the 2016 Pew Research Center report) means its global context cannot be analysed in only a parochial context.