To foster a fully inclusive community, Imperial College London wants to ensure that all staff, students and visitors can enjoy full freedom of thought, belief and religion.
To achieve that, Imperial is committed to meeting our responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010 to promote good relations and understanding between people from different backgrounds, and to prevent harassment of all kinds, including religious harassment or intolerance. We take a robust approach to harassment throughout our university, ensuring that all our students and staff feel safe on campus.
We combine these responsibilities with our duty to protect freedom of speech as defined by the Education Act 1986 and Human Rights Act 1998. This means that we strongly promote both tolerance of individuals’ religious belief and Imperial as a place where critical inquiry on all topics is encouraged.
The College recognises that legitimate questions and critical analysis demand care and consideration as well as an appropriate manner, but in themselves do not constitute harassment. The boundaries between legitimate critique, prejudicial speech or behaviour and harassment can be difficult to discern.
The guidance here aims to give our community a clearer understanding of what types of behaviours would be considered as unacceptable expressions of religious bigotry for the specific cases of antisemitism and Islamophobia. The guidance should also illuminate what might be considered unacceptable behaviour towards followers of other religions such as Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism. We commit to engaging further with our community to build a shared understanding of what religious tolerance means for us in practice.
A particular class of such harassment is antisemitism, which is hostility to, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism states:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.
“Manifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic. Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.
"Contemporary examples of antisemitism in public life, the media, schools, the workplace, and in the religious sphere could, taking into account the overall context, include, but are not limited to:
- Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
- Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
- Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed by non-Jews.
- Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust).
- Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
- Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
- Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.
- Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
- Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
- Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
"Antisemitic acts are criminal when they are so defined by law (for example, denial of the Holocaust or distribution of antisemitic materials in some countries).
"Criminal acts are antisemitic when the targets of attacks, whether they are people or property – such as buildings, schools, places of worship and cemeteries – are selected because they are, or are perceived to be, Jewish or linked to Jews.
"Antisemitic discrimination is the denial to Jews of opportunities or services available to others and is illegal in many countries."
The IHRA notes that its working definitions "help raise awareness of how these issues may, taking into account the overall context, manifest themselves." Such discussions are important for our community, and for society as a whole. Public discourses express a range of views on recognising antisemitism – and on how it should be defined. Such critical analysis strengthens our capacity to act against antisemitism.
It is important to recognise that our zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism does not prevent criticism of Israel or the actions of the Israeli government, just as all other nation states and government are open to critical discussion. For example, as set out by the Home Affairs Committee in 2016:
- It is not antisemitic to criticise the government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.
- It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli government to the same standards as other liberal democracies or to take a particular interest in the Israeli government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.
We will continue to actively engage our community to build awareness of antisemitism as a form of religious and racial intolerance.
As with antisemitism, there is no one agreed definition of Islamophobia, which is broadly construed as hostility to, prejudice, or discrimination against Muslims. In 2018 the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims (APPG) developed a definition which states:
"Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness."
At around the same time, the Runnymede Trust arrived at a longer-form definition:
“Islamophobia is any distinction, exclusion, or restriction towards, or preference against, Muslims (or those perceived to be Muslims) that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life.”
To help illustrate the meaning of these definitions, examples of Islamophobia include but are not limited to:
- Making mendacious, dehumanising, or demonising allegations about Muslims – such as propagating myths about Islam as a faith that supports terrorism and acts of violence against non-Muslims
- Assuming or making an accusation that a Muslim would support an act of terrorism or extremism
- Holding the Islamic faith or Muslims collectively responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Muslim person or group
- Suggesting that Muslims are a monolithic group with static views, beliefs, and practices
- Inferring directly or indirectly that Muslim citizens, by reason of their faith, are less loyal to Britain or that the Islamic faith is incompatible with British society and identity.
- Expressing the view that Muslims, collectively or individually, by reason of their Islamic faith are assumed to be inferior, uncivilised, irrational, barbaric, sexist or racist
- Bullying or aggression directed at individuals who pray at work or observe Islamic practices such as abstinence from alcohol or non-halal foods
- Verbal or physical abuse directed at individuals because they are Muslim and/or wearing distinctly Islamic garments, or garments which appear Islamic
- Having one’s hijab or headscarf forcibly pulled down or interfered with
We believe that public discourse on the definitions of Islamophobia will help us to identify it, and act against it to prevent occurrences at Imperial. We will continue to actively engage our community to build awareness of Islamophobia as a form of religious and racial intolerance.