Monthly Archives: July 2012

The US government has published its 2011 report on International Religious Freedom. The report states the US position on “speak[ing] against authoritarian governments that repressed forms of expression, including religious freedom.” The report purpose, in detailing the status of civil liberties across the world, is to help “shape policy; conduct diplomacy; and inform assistance, training, and other resource allocations.”

The executive summary of the report makes note of several key developments:

•  Religious minorities affected by political and demographic transitions have “tended to suffer the most in 2011”. Noting countries which have undergone political change in the Arab Spring, the report highlights the legislative changes which have been made towards greater freedom in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, but notes that Coptic Christians have particularly suffered from instability in Egypt. Burma is noted for its refusal to recognise its minority Muslim Rohingya community.

•  In Europe, the increasing ethnic, racial and religious diversity of the continent have sometimes been accompanied by “growing xenophobia, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, and intolerance toward people considered “the other.”” The restrictions on face veiling in countries such as France and Belgium are also noted.

•  Countries which are noted as places where conflict has had an effect on religious freedom include Bahrain, Iraq, Nigeria and Russia. In Russia, it is mentioned that anti-terror laws have had a negative impact on the country’s Muslims, such as arbitrary detention.

•  Countries which are classed as being chronic violators of religious freedom include China, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea “and other countries with authoritarian governments”.

•  The section on the United Kingdom notes that in 2010-11, the Home Office reported 188 instances of gross bodily harm with racial or religious aggravation, down from 224 instances in 2009-10. It adds that “There were 2,982 cases of racial or religiously aggravated actual bodily harm (less serious assault) in 2010-11, down from 3,521 in 2009-10”. Specific cases of Islamophobic attacks are cited in this section and include victims who have been abused, such as being “called “terrorist,” pushed, and spat on. One female Muslim student in Middlesbrough stopped wearing her hijab (headscarf) after someone tried to pull it off her head.” The disproportionate and negative impact of stop and search practices on Muslim communities is also mentioned.

The increase in racism and intolerance towards Muslims in Europe is something which has been progressively noted in successive reports over the last several months. In a report published earlier this year by Amnesty International, the mainstreaming of anti-Muslim prejudice in several European countries, translating into policy which discriminates against Muslims, including in moves to ban the veil, was highlighted. A further study carried out at the University of Leicester noted that even in the UK, where veil bans have been dismissed by government ministers, prohibitions abroad have had a negative impact on veiled Muslim women living in the UK. The growth of anti-Muslim sentiment expressed in mainstream debate led to the Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, Nils Muizenieks, to call for Europe to overcome racism and intolerance through its own “European Spring”.

Finally, it is worth noting that the report does not consider the status of religious freedom is the US. This is interesting given recent developments involving five Republican lawmakers who have accused Huma Abedin, a senior aide to the Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and other American Muslims prominent in politics and public life, of having links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Those same allegations have also been leveled at Keith Ellison, one of only two Muslims serving in the US Congress. The nature of these accusations, which have been decried as false and fearmongering, reveal the seriousness of the issue of religious freedom in relation to Muslims in the US. The Center for American Progress last year published a report, Fear Inc., in which is detailed some of the worst offenders in popularizing anti-Muslim prejudice and the impact their views and publications have had on popular perceptions of Muslims in America. Such considerations are further heightened by revelations on the spying of Muslims students by the NYPD, and claims of teaching material in US military colleges referring in derogatory terms to Islam.

It is only fitting that the American government should also look seriously at the issue of religious freedom in America.

The full report on International Religious Freedom is available to download here.

BBC Radio 4 recently broadcast the first in a two part series on Spain’s relationship with Islam and its Muslims, presented by journalist and former politician, Michael Portillo.

Portillo explores the situation of Muslims living in a country which for almost 800 years enjoyed an Islamic empire in the south and centre of the country. It was a period of rich cultural and scientific learning, with a strong tradition of ‘convivencia’, or coexistence between the three main Abrahamic religions.

Portillo begins in the city of Badalona located in eastern Catalonia, where he encounters Muslims praying in the open air on a sports court. His discussions with local Muslims reveal the struggles which they face in holding congregational prayers. Badalona’s Muslims do not have a mosque and it took four years to get a license to pray on the sports ground. They argue that the funds are there, but finding land and getting permission to build is the biggest obstacle. Moreover in Badelona specifically, the city’s Mayor holds what are considered extreme policies on engagement with the Muslim community.  He believes that most Muslims interpret Islam is in a ‘restricted’ way that is contrary to Spanish values.

This struggle is iterated throughout the documentary, which is incredible given, as Portillo describes, that the “fabric of the country is interwoven with Islam”. Portillo illustrates how Islamic rule in Spain influenced its culture through architecture, language, science, mathematics inter alia. Nevertheless the Muslim presence in Spain is still seen through the prism of the Muslim conquest and the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula. Portillo notes that the terrorist attacks at the Atocha train station in Madrid on the 11th March 2004 have particularly inflamed tensions and made matters worse for a country which was already struggling to reach out its hand to different cultures and communities.

Portillo concludes that on the whole, Muslim culture is simply not visible in Spain in the same way that Muslims have a visible, albeit still often contentious presence in Britain. Spain’s rocky relationship with Islam can be seen in attempts to push through legislation on banning the face veil in some municipalities and the restrictions on building places of worship has been highlighted in a report by Amnesty International. All of this is a pity for a country which has such a rich and positive Islamic heritage and which has the potential to act as a bridge between Europe and Islam, two entities which are so often presented as dichotomous yet which arguably share so much.

Stepping Stones of Islamic Spain is available to listen on BBC iPlayer for another five days, see the link here. The second part of the series, in which Portillo travels to Granada and the Alhambra Palace will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Sunday the 5th August at 13.30, and will be available to listen online on BBC iPlayer shortly after.

The Daily Mail has once again confused religion and culture in a report on the sentencing of a man who threatened to kill his daughter after she had a romance with a student online and refused to marry her cousin.

The case involves what the DM describes as a ‘Muslim preacher’, and on several occasions the report alludes to the “Islamic tradition” of ‘betrothing’ one’s child to their cousin.

There is, as we are sure the DM is aware, absolutely nothing Islamic about ‘betrothing’ a woman to a cousin, or forcing marriage upon anyone, as several people commenting on the article note. The practice where it exists is entirely cultural and coincidental.

The references to ‘Islamic tradition’ are either intentional or deliberate oversight. ‘Islamic’ is often deliberately and repeatedly used by tabloid papers to link such horrific acts to Islam, as Leo McKinstry did in a column for the Daily Express earlier this year. The DM specifically, doesn’t seem to care much for factual accuracy, as it would appear from looking at previous reports on ‘forced marriage’, or any number of articles which concern Muslims, including a recent piece in which Olympic traffic issues were blamed on Muslims.

Some of the comments which the article attracts give an indication of the way that such misreporting is taken as fact by readers and perpetuates negative, false stereotypes and antipathy towards Muslims and Islam:

Ban ‘arranged’ marriages. If the couple meet and like each other it’s an introduction but these marriages are nothing but hell on earth.

– Yorkshire Pudding, Bradford, UK,

If he wants to follow Islamic Tradition then go live in a country that has one. I am fed up with these people who think their ‘traditions’ take precedence over British Law.

– duke, Yorkshire

The Liverpool Post has reported that a hotel in Merseyside has expressed regret after stating that it was deceived into hosting a conference which was attended by members of the British National Party as well as its European allies. The Hotel’s Facebook page has reportedly been “flooded with messages of protest.”

From the local paper:

“A Merseyside hotel claimed it was ‘duped’ into hosting a conference for far right activists.

“Around 50 members of the British National Party and allied European political parties are believed to have attended the event at four star Thornton Hall Hotel in Thornton Hough on Tuesday.

“The booking was made in the name of a European political research group and it is understood staff only realised who the delegates were when they arrived.

“The far right party’s leader Nick Griffin later posted a photo of the gathering on Twitter, calling it “delegates at our Alliance of National Movements conference near Chester”.

“Thornton Hall’s Facebook page could not be accessed yesterday after being flooded with messages of protest.

A spokesman for the hotel said that they “received a booking on behalf of the European Social Political and Economic Research Establishment.

“The identities of the delegates were not revealed to us until the guests arrived on the day, at which stage we were bound by a contractual arrangement.

“Thornton Hall Hotel would never knowingly allow an event of this nature to take place and we regret any offence or distress caused or taken by the presence of this conference.”

Police officers were called to attend as a precautionary measure and “the conference passed without incident.”

Another local paper, the Wirral Globe adds that the meeting was also attended by members of the French National Front.

It is telling of the unpopularity of the BNP and the wider far right that they should feel the need to use a ‘cover’ name in order to hold a conference. Earlier this month members of the far right from several European countries held a meeting at the European Parliament, which was attended by amongst others, the leader of the English Defence League, Stephen Lennon. The meeting was reportedly hosted under the name of the ‘International Civil Liberties Alliance’, an organisations which fronts itself as a ‘human right organisation that aims to uphold democracy, freedom and individual liberties’. The ICLA website promotes literature by the likes of Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician notorious for his Islamophobic views who believes that the Qur’an should be banned.

The Guardian’s blog on the Olympic Games carries an article by feature writer, Homa Khalili on the way in which the relaxation of clothing rules in sports as well as changes in the design of sportswear, including hijabs made for sports, is increasing Muslim women’s access to sport.

From the Guardian:

“Amid the furore over the state of undress of one of the UK’s most successful female cyclists, the increasing aceptance [sic] of sportswear that allows Muslim women to compete has garnered little attention.”

Homa notes the decision by FIFA earlier this month to overturn a ban on headscarves after a campaing was led by Prince Ali Bin al Hussein of Jordan. It came to late for some, as Homa highlights that the womens Iranian football team had already been prevented “from playing in their 2012 Olympic qualifying match last year”.

Homa continues, “Fifa is just one of several international bodies to relax clothing rules and so allow more Muslim women to compete in the Games.” She adds that “It’s impossible to know how many women will be competing with their head covered this year, but they include judo player Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim and Saudi Arabian runner Sarah Attar, as well as footballers.”

She notes that regulations on clothing in sports has been a barrier for some women wanting to compete professionally, but that when regulations are relaxed or adjusted, it opens up opportunities for Muslim women to participate in sports. Rimla Akhtar from the Muslim Women in Sport Foundation tells her that “A way has been found of combining women’s passion for sport with their passion for their faith and the sports hijab will certainly aid women’s participation in sport at all levels.”

Dr Emma Tarlo, an Anthropologist at Goldsmiths University of London tells Homa about her research which illustrates that “women have been put off sport because of clothing – that’s part of the problem with swimming for instance. Others have been excluded from sport because of what they wear.”

“Sports clothing has lagged behind school uniforms and street style in terms of diversity.” Tarlo highlights in particular the way that designs for sports hijabs which placate fears for health and safety have been important to overturning bans on hijabs, as was the case with FIFA. She adds that the designs allow women to blend in, in a way that traditional scarves would not allow, “Because the new styles look sporty, the wearer is not highlighted as different in the same way.”

Most significantly, Tarlo speaks about the way that the opening up of sports to Muslim women can allow these women to be role models for others, “If you see sports people who share your values it can be a positive message. Especially as the Olympics is in east London, because this is a multicultural area with many Muslims, to have sportswomen the girls can relate to as role models is a positive thing.”

With such attention on the Muslim community in the Olympics this year due to its coinciding with Ramadhan, this article is refreshing and a world away from the scapegoating coverage Muslims received in the Daily Mail recently on Muslim worshippers ‘squeezing’ onto non-Games lanes.  The article highlights how when positive steps are taken to open access to sports, women are empowered to participate. Moreover, increasing the representation of Muslim women in sport is no doubt an important step in challenging negative stereotypes of Muslim women as oppressed and powerless. On the contrary, what is showcased here is that like any sportspersons, when given the opportunity Muslim women will show the resilience and determination that is required.

The Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, Nils Muiznieks has written an article in which he argues that European governments have allowed and in some cases worsened an environment which is increasingly hostile to Muslims and which hinders integration. He argues that the continent needs to have its own “European Spring” to overcome racism and intolerance.

From the article:

“Muslims in Europe want to interact with other Europeans and participate as full and equal members of society, but regularly face various forms of prejudice, discrimination and violence that reinforce their social exclusion.  This is the conclusion of recent research by various international organisations and NGOs. Unfortunately, commentators on the Arab Spring missed the historic opportunity to deconstruct harmful stereotypes about the alleged incompatibility of Islam and democracy, instead exaggerating the risk of migration to Europe.

Muiznieks argues that “Muslims have become the primary “other” in right-wing populist discourse in Europe.” He notes the rise in anti-Muslim populist discourse, which has also been adopted by established mainstream parties who have suggested that multiculturalism has failed in their respective countries. He also noted how “Since the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and thereafter, Muslims have become inextricably linked in the public mind with terrorism.” This discourse has arguably become so naturalised that societies often fail to comprehend terrorism in other guises, jumping to the gun that any act of terrorism is carried out by a ‘jihadist’, as was the case at the time of Ander’s Breivik’s attack in Norway.

Muiznieks also comments on the way in which Muslims have been targeted by restrictive legislation impinging on their freedom of religion; notably veil bans which have swept Europe, as well as a ban on minarets in Switzerland and calls for banning Muslims from praying on streets in France. On discrimination against Muslims, he notes that “A recent study by the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) found that 1 in 3 Muslims in the EU had experienced discrimination in the past 12 months”, as well as citing a report by Amnesty International on Discrimination against Muslims in Europe, which found amongst other things that “many Muslim women feel discouraged from seeking employment because of policies restricting the wearing of religious and cultural symbols and dress.”

One of the most significant points of contention, he argues is racial profiling by police and at border controls, “The aforementioned FRA study found that 1 in 4 Muslim respondents were stopped by the police in the previous year, while more than a third had been stopped by customs or border control. Ethnic or religious profiling is not only discriminatory, it is counterproductive, as it misdirects attention from suspicious behaviour to appearance and alienates the communities with whom law enforcement agencies need to cooperate.” The reviewer of terrorism legislation in the UK, David Anderson echoed these points in a recent report in which he decried the “excessive enthusiasm” with which terrorism legislation, including legislation on stop and search at borders, had been applied.

Muiznieks concludes that “Governments should stop targetting Muslims through legislation or policy, and instead enshrine the ground of religion or belief as a prohibited ground of discrimination in all realms.” He concurs with the recommendations of a report by Amnesty International that “Monitoring discrimination against Muslims should involve collecting data disaggregated by ethnicity, religion and gender.”

“It is time to accept Muslims as an integral part of European societies, entitled to equality and dignity. Prejudice, discrimination and violence only hinder integration. We need our own “European Spring” to overcome old and emerging forms of racism and intolerance.”

The article serves as a welcome reminder that Islamophobia has been mainstreamed into European public discourse and policy. The increase in far-right populism and its exploitation of anti-Muslim discourse is also ever-evident, with the far-right attempting to ‘go global’ with their ‘anti-Islamisation’ message. All the while, politicians have stoked such aggressive anti-Muslim sentiment, exemplified in for example by Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech on the ‘failure’ of multiculturalism, or in France by the way in which religious slaughter- and specifically halal slaughter in Muslim communities, was made an election issue.

Moreover, Muizneks’ claims that since 9/11, European governments have had a blind-spot with regards to terrorism carried that is not carried out by those claiming to be Muslim, was iterated in a recent article by Robert Lambert on Open Democracy. Lambert argues that the threat of terrorism from the far-right and other forms of political violence must be taken as seriously as ‘radical Islamic’ terrorism. The extent to which this is an issue is clear when one learns that 50% of Europe’s counter-terrorism resources have been dedicated to the 0.5% of terrorism we call ‘Islamic’. In light of the many worrying developments which are noted here, Muizneks’ call for a “European Spring” is a welcome invitation to Europe and particularly to its political leaders, to rethink dominant attitudes which have had a negative effect on European Muslims, and demonstrate the solidarity against anti-Muslim bigotry that should have been shown long ago.

Islamophobia Watch draws our attention to a report in the Star on Sunday which states that the Ministry of Defence are investigating evidence presented by the paper that serving soldiers are involved with the far right English Defence League.

From the Star on Sunday:

“Last night the Ministry of ¬Defence launched an inquiry ¬after we presented them with ¬evidence of two serving ¬soldiers who openly support the racist group and who have attended ¬violent marches.

“Yorkshire Regiment squaddie ¬Cavan Langfield, 18, of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, began -training as a soldier aged 16.

“But the MoD was shocked to learn Langfield has become a dedicated supporter of the EDL, travelling across the country to attend ¬marches and boasting online of his violent activities.

“On his Facebook account he has pictures of himself posing with ¬automatic weapons in full uniform next to images of EDL demonstrations. He names his political views as “English Defence League”.

“His online pal Brandon Neal, 18, is a British infantry soldier training in Canada before being deployed to Afghanistan. He openly promotes his links to the far-right group.

“Neal, from Devon, uses social ¬networks to keep in touch with EDL members and posts pictures of his Army kit and weapons alongside ¬images of their protests, listing his interests as “football hooliganism” and being an “Islamophobe”.

“On one picture of Neal’s ¬rifle, a friend suggests he should take the weapon to an EDL march in Dewsbury, West Yorks, which was held recently. His chilling reply was “We’ll need em”.

“The organisation’s hate-filled ¬message has made it all the way to Afghanistan, where one masked ¬soldier posed in front of an EDL flag with a rifle.

“The MoD said the matter had been “dealt with internally”.

“A spokesman said: ‘The Army is clear that racism of any kind is ¬unacceptable.

“‘Instances of such behaviour brought to our attention are investigated and appropriate action taken, up to and including dismissal.

“‘While personnel are free to join political parties, they are expected to abide by our values and standards in all they do.’ ”

News of support amongst armed servicemen for far right organisation such as the English Defence League, and engagement in racist and often violent activities is not new. A recent report published by the Institute for Race Relations noted how organisations such as the BNP and EDL have exploited the bitterness that taints soldiers returning home to societies where opinions on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are divided and often negative. The EDL even has an ‘Armed Forces Division’. Moreover, there have been notable incidents of former servicemen’s involvement in anti-Muslim hate crimes, including a case last year in which an ex-soldier was sentenced to ten years in prison for attempting to blow up a mosque. In a more recent case a former soldier was fined for racially abusing an Asian female police officer.

Reports of far right, Islamophobic tendencies in the army are all the more worrying when one learns of the involvement of Islamophobic personalities in the training of the armed forces, as ENGAGE covered last week. Some institutions have taken explicit steps to ban involvement with far right organisations. Notably, the General Synod of the Church of England recently voted in support of a motion to draw up a policy similar to that adopted by the police, which bans any member of the police service from being a member of an organisation whose constitution, aims, objectives or pronouncements contradict the “general duty” to promote race equality, with a specific ban on membership of the BNP.

It is also worth noting that although the Daily Star may be standing up against Islamophobia in presenting such information to the MoD, the paper has arguably been one of the foremost culprits in British newspapers’ tendencies to report on Muslims and Islam in a biased and Islamophobic manner, thus fomenting those prejudices which it appears to seek to challenge. The issue was pointed out to the Daily Star’s editor, Dawn Neesom at the Leveson Inquiry, and ENGAGE also raised the issue in its evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, which you can access here.

The blog The Commentator recently carried an article in which the author, Shlomie Liberow, President of Goldsmiths University Jewish Society, accuses the BBC of anti-Israel bias.

Liberow writes:

“It appears the BBC has taken upon itself the unholy crusade of deeming parties in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict it fancies as either inherently “good” or “evil” and acting accordingly as if it was a truism.

“A report last week relating to a plot to target members of the English Defence League (EDL) was accompanied with an image of an arbitrary EDL rally with a strikingly focused Israeli flag at its centre.

“There have been marginal attempts by the EDL to align itself with Israeli supporters, when in attendance of rallies relating to Middle East. They have been publicly rebuffed and at protests where the two camps are present, there is two distinctly separated protest pens.

“The BBC did not find it necessary to make that distinction and after having raised the problem with the BBC, the reply I received completely dismissed the issue with the following response:

“If the EDL wish to protest waving the Israeli flag, that is their right. It is not for the BBC to censor such images in the same way that we would resist attempts to restrict coverage of the EDL because some people did not agree with their views.

We understand there may be concerns about the motivation behind the use of this flag, but with respect that is not an issue which should have any impact on how the BBC reports on the EDL.”

Liberow concludes by commenting on the BBC’s refusal to publicly disclose the findings of a report into its coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict, after accusations were levelled at the BBC of bias in its coverage.

Incidentally, ENGAGE is unable to find the article at which Liberow levels his accusations of bias. It may well be that the BBC changed the image following the complaint, or other complaints that were levelled against the BBC on this particular issue. However, if his initial finding holds- that a report relating to the EDL featured an image of the EDL brandishing an Israeli flag, then why indeed should the BBC censor such an image? The EDL’s support for Israel is no secret- the EDL hosts a Jewish Division, whose logo strongly resembles the Israeli flag and which has expressed support for the Zionist cause. The EDL has also worked with people who express strong pro-Israel sentiment, such as the openly Islamophobic Dutch politician, Geert Wilders, who has been influenced by Zionism as well as having financial relationships with Zionists. The far-right’s relationship with Zionism has also been documented by the Institute for Race Relations, who in a recent report illustrated the support of some of Europe’s far-right groups for Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories.

Moreover, the issue of the BBC’s impartiality on the Israel-Palestine conflict is far from one-sided. The BBC has on numerous occasions been accused of unfairly reporting on the conflict, as was documented in detail in a book by Greg Philo and Mike Berry. Philo and Berry found numerous examples of the BBC reporting in a manner that favours Israel, including for example having a spokesperson to defend the Israeli viewpoint more often that the Palestinian viewpoint, an issue which ENGAGE has complained to the BBC about in the past. Past points of contention also include a BBC Panorama programme of Israel’s storming of the Mavi Marmara aid boat, as well as the BBC’s censoring of lyrics mentioning ‘free Palestine’.

The BBC’s balance on the Israel Palestine conflict is all the more important given that the BBC are their own ‘judge and jury’ on the impartiality and accuracy of their broadcasting, an issue which the BBC failed to address in their most recent annual report. Perhaps if a more independent authority, such as Ofcom were to supervise this aspect of the BBC’s work, Liberow and others with concerns for bias in the coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict would feel more at peace when consuming the BBC’s coverage.

The blog Political Scrapbook has posted an article on a report in the Daily Mail on Saturday, which appears to blame the predicted traffic chaos that will hit London during the Olympics, on Muslims. The DM article headlines, ‘Ramadan ‘will cause even more transport chaos during the Olympics as worshippers squeeze onto non-Games lanes’.

Much of the article actually addresses Olympic travel-chaos more broadly, however it begins with the issue of Muslims squeezing “into non-Games lanes to worship at the many mosques that surround the Olympic Park.”

As Political Scrapbook notes, “The section attacking Muslims contains no comment from Transport for London or games organisers LOCOG, instead relying on a single quote from a local Asian councillor.” It adds that no mention is made in the article of a single “Ramadan road closure which will impact on the Olympics.”

The poor and seemingly lazy report appears to be another example of the DM finding any excuse to make Muslims a scapegoat. For a much more informative report on the predicted travel chaos during the Olympics and its coinciding with Ramadhan, see an article on East London Lines here, which carries quotes from the East London Mosque as well as Transport for London on the measures taken to manage travelers and the volume of visitors to the area.

The Guardian Comment is Free carries an article today by assistant comment editor at the Guardian, Joseph Harker on the way that ‘racism takes root’ in society. Giving the example of the reporting on the conviction of a sex-grooming gang in May, where the men were of Pakistani and Afghan origin, and the under-reporting of another similar case where the men were overwhelmingly white, Harker argues that “the unreported story is of how politicians and the media have created a new racial scapegoat.”

From the Guardian:

“By now surely everyone knows the case of the eight men convicted of picking vulnerable underage girls off the streets, then plying them with drink and drugs before having sex with them. A shocking story. But maybe you haven’t heard. Because these sex assaults did not take place in Rochdale, where a similar story led the news for days in May, but in Derby earlier this month. Fifteen girls aged 13 to 15, many of them in care, were preyed on by the men. And though they were not working as a gang, their methods were similar – often targeting children in care and luring them with, among other things, cuddly toys. But this time, of the eight predators, seven were white, not Asian. And the story made barely a ripple in the national media.

“Of the daily papers, only the Guardian and the Times reported it. There was no commentary anywhere on how these crimes shine a light on British culture, or how middle-aged white men have to confront the deep flaws in their religious and ethnic identity. Yet that’s exactly what played out following the conviction in May of the “Asian sex gang” in Rochdale, which made the front page of every national newspaper. Though analysis of the case focused on how big a factor was race, religion and culture, the unreported story is of how politicians and the media have created a new racial scapegoat. In fact, if anyone wants to study how racism begins, and creeps into the consciousness of an entire nation, they need look no further.”

Harker asks for arguments sake, if whether a resident of Penzance was convicted of a sex crime, it would be “reasonable to say that the whole town had a cultural problem… that anyone not doing so was part of a “conspiracy of silence”. Illustrating a number of examples of criminal gangs where all of the members were white, he asks “Would we have articles examining what it is about Britishness or Christianity or Europeanness, that makes people so capable of such things?

Commenting on the Rochdale case, he questions “where, amid all the commentary, was the evidence that this is a racial issue; that there’s something inherently perverted about Muslim or Asian culture?” He argues that the Rochdale case illustrates “how shockingly easy it is to demonise a community. Before long, the wider public will believe the problem is endemic within that race/religion, and that anyone within that group who rebuts the claims is denying this basic truth.”

Harker also comments on the microscope to which minority communities are often subjected, remarking that “if the tables were turned and the victims were Asian or Muslim, we would have been subjected to equally skewed “expert” commentary asking: what is wrong with how Muslims raise girls? Why are so many of them on the streets at night? Shouldn’t the community face up to its shocking moral breakdown?

“While our media continue to exclude minority voices in general, such lazy racial generalisations are likely to continue. Even the story of a single Asian man acting alone in a sex case made the headlines. As in Derby this month, countless similar cases involving white men go unreported.

He also argues that the “normal behaviour of a significant section” often don’t weigh in on issues of deviance and criminality that do take place in some communities. He compares the reporting on grooming in Asian communities to post-9/11 reporting on Muslims and terrorism, “when the actions of a tiny number of fanatics were used to cast aspersions against a 1.5 billion-strong community worldwide.” He reverses the scenario, reflecting on the way in which the ‘Christian world’ was not interrogated following the terrorist attacks carried out by Anders Behring Breivik in Norway last year.

Harker concludes, “Ultimately, the urge to vilify groups of whom we know little may be very human, and helps us bond with those we feel are “like us”. But if we are going to deal with the world as it is, and not as a cosy fantasyland where our group is racially and culturally supreme, we have to recognise when sweeping statements are false.”

The article gets to the crux of the way in which Muslims are often treated as an ‘exceptional’ community by some elements of the media, who will arguably latch onto any opportunity to put the spotlight on Muslims in a way that few other communities are subjected to. The reporting on the sex-grooming gang in Rochdale as a ‘Muslim’ issue, and the continued focus on sexual abuse in Asian and Muslim is not an isolated incident of the media exceptionalising Muslims. As Harker argues, in the post 9/11 era terrorism has by and large been reported in relation to Muslims, despite the facts illustrating that Muslims are responsible for a minute proportion of terrorist acts. In the same way, we can see from the reporting of Breivik’s attacks in Norway that the media and the public were quick to assume the background and the motives of the killer before any real facts were obtained, with the Sun newspaper for example, reporting the killing as an ‘Al-Qaeda massacre’.  A recent article in the Mail on Sunday on standing up to the ECHR on the Qatada ruling reflects once again the exceptionalist way in which Muslims are often treated- that they are not entitled to the same rights that others are due.

Creating a scapegoat of the Muslim community has very real consequences for Muslims living in the UK and Europe more widely. The far right was quick to capitalise on the Rochdale grooming case, conducting several protests on ‘Muslim’ paedophiles and sex criminals, and have been quick to capitalise on other issues apparently pertaining to the Muslim community (see here, here, here and here). That is not to mention hate attacks which Muslims have been subjected to, where Muslims are targeted due to prejudices which dominate understandings of the Muslim community and Islam. The role of the media in fomenting such prejudice must be questioned and challenged- it remains to be seen whether a reformed press regulator will take on this challenge with the attention that is necessary.