TREVOR PHILLIPS has said he’s surprised by the Labour Party’s decision to suspend him over allegations of Islamophobia.
Phillips, former head of the UK’s equalities watchdog, is being investigated by the opposition party over several comments he made about Muslims.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning, Phillips said: “I’m kind of surprised that what is and always has been an open and democratic party decides that its members cannot have a healthy debate about how we address differences of values and outlook.”
He added: “They say I am accusing Muslims of being different. Well actually, that’s true. The point is Muslims are different. And in many ways I think that’s admirable.”
Comments made by Phillips about some Muslims not wearing poppies for Remembrance Day and Pakistani Muslim men sexually abusing children in northern towns are among those being investigated, The Times reported.
Phillips, one of 24 public figures who wrote in the Guardian last year about refusing to vote Labour because of the anti-Semitism scandal, disagrees with the how the party has defined Islamophobia.
Labour adopted the definition after it was agreed on by an all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims.
“My objection is very simple. That definition said…that Islamophobia is rooted in a kind of racism – expressions of hostility towards Muslimness,” Phillips told the Today Programme.
He added: “First of all, Muslims are not a race. My personal hero was Muhammad Ali, before that Malcolm X.
“They became Muslims largely because it is a pan-racial faith. This is not a racial grouping, so describing hostility to them as racial is nonsense.”
London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey described the Labour Party’s decision as “utter nonsense”.
In a tweet Bailey wrote: “I’ve known [Trevor Phillips] for years. He has spent his entire career fighting discrimination. This is utter nonsense.”
“There’s nothing he said that could be described as anti-Muslim hatred at all,” Spectator editor Fraser Nelson told BBC Politics.
Responding to those criticising the party’s decision, Ash Sarkar, contributing editor Novara Media, said: “His suspension pending investigation for racism is the exact process people were demanding Labour adopt regarding antisemitism. You can’t have one process for one minority, and not for the others.”
A Labour spokeswoman said Phillips’ complaints were being “fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken”.