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A casual Monday night in the House of Commons
- Eleanor Luxton, Undergraduate Geographer at Mansfield College and Access Officer for the University of Oxford Geography Society
On Monday 21st November, Geography Society members had the privilege of joining Dr Suriyah Bi – Cultural Geography lecturer and fellow Mansfield College-er to launch her new report “The Index of Islamophobia” in the House of Commons. Crying out the now-famous meme, “WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE HOUSE OF COMMONS?!” as we walked down its hallowed corridors, Geog Soc committee members Emily, Habiba and Eleanor found themselves sat next to none other than Lord Wajid Khan and Baroness Glenys Thornton!
Safe to say it was a little bit different from our normal Monday nights, which are usually spent locked in our rooms reading for essays (and maybe watching a bit of ‘I’m a celeb’ too). Dr Bi delivered a short talk, outlining the report, which moves away from focusing on definitions of Islamophobia towards implementing an inter-organisational framework to support victims of Islamophobia and ensure prosecution. The index revolves around 4 key markers – intensity, impact, intention and recklessness – and therefore is amongst the first of its kind to recognise the subjective, but immensely damaging, impacts of Islamophobic attacks on members of the Muslim community. The Index also provides a table which can be filled in to outline which law/s have been broken – for example, Bi tests this against the all too common experience of Muslim women being called ‘Shamima Begum’, noting how for one person this may be experienced as banter and therefore score a 5 in terms of intensity, whilst others may perceive it as a serious, racially/religiously motivated offence, scoring it a 9. The vital element of context in what our justice system views as ‘hate crimes’ is therefore acknowledged, with the report resisting tendencies to homogenise Islamophobia victims by drawing on Dr Bi’s personal experiences.
Following the talk, we heard the reflections of Afzal Khan MP and SNP MP Deidre Brock, as well as Zaid Belbagi of the Conservative Muslim Forum. Safe to say that the attendance of members of both the House of Lords and Commons signalled cross-party agreement that more must be done to tackle Islamophobia. For us, the standout comments were from Hauwa Shehu, a barrister for CPS. She spoke with immense poise and elegance about the issue from a legal perspective, breaking it down in way which we could understand. We also loved hearing from Baroness Uddin – in 1998, she became the became the youngest life peer in the House of Lords and the only Muslim and Asian woman to be appointed. Ever since, she’s been tackling the issue of Islamophobia in Parliament and it was incredible to see her passion shine through.
With an incredible turnout and what has to have been one of the most diverse gatherings Parliament has ever seen, all that remains to say is a massive thank you to Dr Bi. Upon entering the event, we could see how nervous she was, but she spoke calmly and clearly – it was evident just how much work had gone into producing the report. She made us feel like we deserved to belong in, as she put it, the corridors of power, and that our voices needed to be heard for real change to happen. We’re also proud to say that the Economy & Society Research Cluster at the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford co-sponsored the report, paying for printing costs, and hope that they will continue to support such endeavours in the future.
The Geography Society are committed to publicising the report and supporting Dr Bi in any way possible. If you have ideas on how we can do this, then please contact us via socials (@oxgeogsoc) – we always love to hear your thoughts!
You can read the report here: https://www.equalityactreview.co.uk/index-of-islamophobia and please direct any correspondence or questions about it to email@example.com
Thanks again Suriyah! It certainly made for a night we’ll never forget.
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