Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Norwich Evening News reports that the English Defence League are planning to hold their first demonstration in Norwich later this year. The demonstration, which is planned for November, has been organised in protest against a violation of ‘freedom of speech’ according to the EDL. It follows the decision by Norwich City Council to ban a local church from holding a bookstall in the town after complaints were raised about ‘”hate-motivated” Islamic leaflets being distributed.

From the local paper:

“The English Defence League will hold its first march in Norwich this November, citing a decision to ban a Christian bookstall as a reason for the demonstration.

“Police confirmed they had been approached by the EDL about the protest for Saturday November 10.

“The EDL, which has 81 members on its Norwich Facebook page, listed the banning of Reverend Alan Clifford of the Norwich Reformed Church from using a market stall on Hay Hill as a reason for the march.

“They believe the decision by Norwich City Council, following a complaint about anti-Islamic leaflets, violated freedom of speech.

“A campaign group called We are Norwich said it will hold a counter-protest to celebrate the city’s diversity.

“Green Party councillor Lucy Galvin added: “Communities in Norwich have a long tradition of religious acceptance and living together respectfully.”

A spokesperson from Norwich City Council spokesman said that “We understand the march relates to a decision we took earlier this year following a complaint from a member of the public about published material which was considered to be hate-motivated.”

In June this year the EDL were banned from meeting at a pub in Norwich after locals complained about their presence. The anti-Muslim leaflets referred to in this article were entitled ‘Why not Islam’ and began with the statement, “Too many churchmen as well as politicians are gripped by cowardice in the face the Muslim menace.” The Reverand responsible for the leaflet, Rev Alan Clifford, is notoriously Islamophobic, having in the past stated his agreement with the BNP that Islam is “evil”, and has commented amongst other things that Islam is a “monster in our midst”.

Meanwhile it has been reported that an operation involving 800 police officers will take place tomorrow in Walsall to manage a static demonstration being held by the EDL as well as a counter-demonstration which will be taking place at the same time.

The Guardian has reported on the results of a poll carried out by polling agency YouGov on voter perceptions of conflict and coexistence between ‘the West and the Muslim world’. The survey also questioned respondents about the anti-Islam film made in the US, ‘Innocence of Muslims’. According to the poll, ‘an overwhelming majority of Republican voters in the United States regard the west and Islam as being embroiled in “a fundamental conflict which only one side can win”.

The YouGov poll results are summarised below:

West-Muslim conflict or coexistence

The poll appears to indicate slightly higher levels of hostility to Islam in the UK than in the US with 43% of Britons agreeing with the statement – ‘There is a fundamental conflict [between the West and the Muslim world]; in the end one or other must prevail’, compared to 39% of Americans. Similarly, 41% of British respondents agreed that ‘It is possible for the West and Muslim world to co-exist in peace’ compared with 47% of Americans.

Opinions on West-Muslim world coexistence are divided along partisan lines both in the US and the UK. In the US, 64% of Republicans perceive a fundamental conflict between the West and the Muslim world, whilst a slightly higher percentage of Democrats, 68%, express the opposite view that the West and the Muslim world can coexist in peace.

Partisan divisions are less manifest in the UK. 40% of Conservatives, 48% of Labour voters and 58% of Lib Dems agree that the West and the Muslim world can coexist. On the other end of the scale, 49% of Conservatives, 39% of Labour voters and 26% of Lib Dems believe that there is a fundamental conflict between the West and the Muslim world.

Muslim support for anti-American violence

A higher percentage of Britons (55%) than Americans (53%) believe that the violence ensuing from the anti-Islam cartoon saga was supported by a minority rather than a majority of Muslims.

Again, opinion in both the UK and the US is divided along partisan lines. 59% of Republicans agreed that the attacks had the support of the majority of Muslims compared to 18% of Democrats. 69% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans took the opposite view that the violence was supported by a minority of Muslims.

Similarly, in the UK a left-right divide is apparent with 41% of Conservatives, 34% of Labour and 23% of Lib Dems perceiving the violent protests to have majority Muslim support and 55% of Conservatives, 57% of Labour and 70% of Lib Dem supporters holding the opposite view.

Financial support for Arab Spring countries

On the question of whether voters think that governments should provide financial aid to the countries of the ‘Arab Spring’, 17% of Britons and 20% of Americans overall agreed that aid should be provided, whilst 69% of Britons and 58% of Americans believe it should not. In the US, this was marked by a significant divide along party lines with 81% of Republicans of the view that aid should not be provided compared to just 33% of Democrats.

The results give an interesting picture of perceptions of Muslims in the UK and the US and partisan variations on these opinions, particularly in light of a recent report by the Pew Research Centre which showed that religious intolerance has increased in both the US and the UK. The report by Pew also noted an increase in anti-Muslim sentiments in both countries. The partisan differences also correlate with divergent policies on immigration, security and foreign aid by parties on the left and right of the political spectrum. With regard to the US, a report on the Islamophobia network in America, Fear Inc. detailed a number of members and representatives of the Republican Party who have tried to peddle Islamophobia, as illustrated for example in the attempts several months ago by several Republicans to smear Hilary Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, as well as detailing Islamophobes who have tried to influence Republican Party policy.

Looking at the UK specifically, the results of the YouGov poll are sadly not surprising given the results of previous research such as the British Social Attitudes Survey (see here and here), which illustrates hostility to Islam in Britain. The indications that hostilities towards Islam are slightly higher in the UK than in the US are also interesting given that both countries have organised and allied anti-Islam movements and have seen attacks aimed at Muslim communities in recent years. Moreover, that there exist generally negative attitudes towards providing financial support for the Arab Spring countries comes as no surprise given that right-of-centre papers such as the Daily Mail, which also boasts being the most popular online news site in the world, cover so negatively Britain’s foreign aid contribution.

The results of the YouGov poll can be viewed here.

BBC News reports on the latest in a string of protests that have been held in Leicester against proposals to lease a former Scouts hut building to a Muslim group who want to turn it into a community centre.

From the BBC:

“A protest attended by about 100 people has been held at Leicester City Hall opposing a move to lease an empty Scout hut to a Muslim group.

“A 1,500-name petition opposing the move was also given to the city council.

“Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby met the group and assured them all views were being considered and a final proposal had not been drawn up.

“The authority is considering handing over the hut at Thurnby Lodge to the Muslim group As-Salaam.

“The protesters want the disused property to be developed for use by the wider community. Organisers said they were not anti-Islamic but they were upset with the city council.

“The As-Salaam Trust has said its community centre aimed to provide food sharing services, drug and alcohol advice and education to make community life better for everyone.

“Protesters predicted that the community centre would cause traffic problems, but the As-Salaam Trust said many users would walk to the facility.”

The leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin made an attempt to hijack a previous demonstration which was held against the As-Salaam centre acquiring the building. There have been a number of protests and petitions held in recent months against planning applications lodged by Muslims, some of which have been organised by the far right. They include protests in Sunderland, Chelmsford and a leaflet campaign against plans for a mosque in Cambridge which has now been approved.

A local paper, the Shields Gazette has reported on the trial of an EDL supporter who posted a comment threatening Muslims with violence ‘Oslo-style’ on Facebook. Kenneth Holden pleaded guilty to two charges of ‘sending an offensive message by a public communication network’.

From the local paper:

“A former soldier wrote anti-Islamic comments on his Facebook page he started supporting the English Defence League (EDL).

“Kenneth Holden, 30, was arrested after police were alerted to two updates he posted on his personal page on the social network site, abusing Muslims.

“Holden, of Winskell Road, South Shields, pleaded guilty to two counts of sending an offensive message by a public communication network at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court yesterday.

“He also admitted causing criminal damage to his grandfather’s home in a separate incident.
The prosecution said that after he was arrested, he “asked the police if it was because he didn’t like Muslims.

“In a second police interview, he posted the comments on his page and accepted that they could be seen as offensive to Muslims.”

In April this year, Holden posted on Facebook that he had ‘got a pipe bomb just 4 Ocean Road’ – an area of South Shields known for its curry houses.

He added, ‘GIVE ME A GUN AN AL DO YOU ALL OSLO STYLE’.

His defence lawyer told the court that, “He was in the Army, and has some fairly strong views about Muslims.

“He supports some of the beliefs of the English Defence League and believes that the group was started after some Muslims spat on soldiers who were returning from Afghanistan.

“The comments on Facebook were of a religious nature. Some people say it is part of free speech, but by his guilty plea Mr Holden accepts he crossed the line.

One wonders how long the EDL can go insisting that it protests against ‘Islamist extremism’ when so many of its members and supporters like Holden, have expressed general contempt for Muslims and Islam on social networking sites (se for example here, here and here).

Islamophobia Watch alerts us to a new development in the far right British Freedom Party – it has appointed a English Defence League activist as its South West regional coordinator.

From IW:

“Earlier this week the English Defence League’s political wing, the British Freedom party, announced the appointment of their new South West regional organiser. She’s an EDL activist from Bristol named Chelsea Anne White.

“White’s explanation of her decision to join British Freedom features the usual anti-Muslim rhetoric – “mosques, we don’t want them and we don’t want burka-clad women on our beaches…. We don’t want animals sent for halal slaughter”.

“However, in a statement on her Facebook page outlining what motivates her longstanding support for the EDL, White makes it clear that her Islamophobia is part of a wider philosophy that differs little from the traditional skin-colour racism of the far right:

“WE LIVE IN A COUNTRY….OUR COUNTRY.. WHERE IF YOUR WHITE AND ENGLISH YOU DON’T COUNT FOR MUCH BECAUSE THE VOTE IS IN THE AREAS THEY HAVE FLOODED WITH IMMIGRANTS.”

The appointment of White should come as no surprise. Earlier this year, it was announced that the EDL and BFP were to enter into a political alliance, and despite insistence from both groups that they are only opposed to ‘extremist’ Islam, the leadership of both have expressed views that belie their claims. In April of this year, Stephen Lennon, leader of the EDL was forced to deny support for the Norwegian terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, and IW points to a blog piece written by the BFP leader, Paul Weston, in which he scaremongers about the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the ‘indigenous’ British population.

A local Scottish paper, the Paisley Daily Express, reports on the ‘I Speak for Myself’ campaign which aims to challenge negative stereotypes about Muslim women by featuring them carrying placards with descriptive, personal, aspirational and humorous messages about themselves. The campaign has the backing the MSP for Renfrewshire South, Hugh Henry.

From the local paper:

“A campaigning politician is backing a Muslim women’s group in their bid to change damaging perceptions of who they are.

“Renfrewshire South MSP Hugh Henry is getting behind the ‘I Speak for Myself’ project, being run by the Muslim women’s organisation Amina, in an attempt to challenge stereotypes through personal messages from the women.

“Their project – which features an exhibition of 300 Muslim women, from various ethnic backgrounds, displaying their messages – was launched after members of the group visited schools in Renfrewshire and across Scotland, and were shocked to find that some children associated words such as ‘terrorist,’ ‘oppressed’ and ‘uneducated’ to describe Muslim women.

“Far from projecting themselves as submissive and sedate, the messages talk about careers, motherhood, movies, high heels, lipstick and love.

“The exhibition has now been launched at the Scottish Parliament, where Mr Henry pledged his support to the women by signing a declaration aspiring for a Scotland where all people can flourish and be themselves.”

Samina Ansari from Amina, herself a victim of an anti-Muslim hate crime, said, “This was about Muslim women sharing their messages with fellow Scots. The messages talk about all the things that women talk about, regardless of their race and religion.”

The organisation behind the campaign, Amina, produced a documentary last year to educate people about the practice of veiling adopted by many Muslim women.

The ‘I Speak for Myself’ initiative comes at a critical time for the Muslim community in Scotland, the UK and Europe more widely, given the rising level of Islamophobia which pervades the public discourse and the way in which Muslim women in particular face hostility and prejudice.

The Guardian has reported on US President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly, made yesterday, in which he condemned the viral anti-Islam Youtube video ‘Innocence of Muslims’, and condemned the sometimes violent anti-American protests which the video sparked.

From the Guardian:

“President Barack Obama today sought to reset US relations with the Arab world in the wake of anti-American riots triggered by an amateur video insulting the prophet Mohamed, that led to the death of the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens.

“Obama used his speech to the UN general assembly, expected to be his last major foreign policy address before the November elections, to pay a personal tribute to Stevens, highlighting the murdered diplomat’s passion for Arab culture and support for democracy, and present it a model for American-Arab relations.

“Obama balanced condemnation of the “crude and disgusting” video, with a denunciation of the violence that it sparked and a demand for the new Arab governments to do more to defend American diplomats.

“”I have made it clear that the US government had nothing to do with this video, and I believe its message must be rejected by all who respect our common humanity,” Obama said. ” It is an insult not only to Muslims, but to America as well. We are home to Muslims who worship across our country.”

Obama also dismissed the idea that the video would be removed or banned, stating that, “[I]n 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion that we can control the flow of information is obsolete. The question, then, is how we respond. And on this we must agree: there is no speech that justifies mindless violence.”

The Guardian states that he “also criticised double standards in the protection of religion in the Middle East” and “made clear his dissatisfaction with the reaction of some Arab governments to the wave of anti-American riots.”

Obama’s comments at the UN come at a difficult time for US relations with Muslim majority countries and Muslim communities across the world. Though Obama proclaimed in a speech in Cairo in 2009 that he sought ‘a new beginning’ in relations with Muslims, affairs since then have been fraught with tension and controversies. Just this week, news reports confirmed the military trial of two US marines for urinating on Afghan corpses and a report by academics in the department of law at Stanford and New York universities researching US drone strikes in Pakistan found that “while civilian casualties are rarely acknowledged by the US government, there is significant evidence that US drone strikes have injured and killed civilians.”

You can read Obama’s speech in full here.

The Daily Mail has been running a series of extracts from the political memoirs of MP for Blackburn and Darwen and former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. In the final extract ahead of the book’s release tomorrow, Straw recounts his decision to publicly raise the issue of face veiling in 2006, when he described it as a mark of ‘separation and difference’, and the controversy that ensued.

Commenting on his appointment as Leader of the House of Commons in 2006, he writes:

“With more time on my hands in this new job, I reflected on some of the trickier issues I knew to be on people’s minds but which no one seemed to want to talk about. I decided to address the issue of the veil.

“I talked in private to my many Muslim friends about this, and in particular about the increasing use of the full veil by some women in town. It was only a small minority of women, I conceded, but enough for people to notice, and to worry about.

“I told them that I found it difficult properly to relate to people whose faces I could not see. Nor could I quite understand why this practice was increasing, since I could find no clear instruction in the Koran for it.

“I raised the subject in a column I have in a local newspaper.

“The veil, I argued, was hindering better relations between the communities because it was such a visible statement of separation and difference.

In his article which he published in the Lancashire Telegraph in 2006, as well as expressing an opinion about the potentially divisive nature of face veiling, Straw argued his case for asking women to remove their veils in his surgery.

He continues,

“My article provoked a massive reaction.

“It was clear that here was a subject people had been desperate to discuss openly. It was as though I’d unblocked a dam.

“My modest article generated great debate in Muslim countries. The Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo came out in my support, asserting that the full veil (the niqab) had never been obligatory.

“In this country, I spoke to a national group of Islamic scholars and established that the injunction to wear the veil was a much later interpretation of the message of the Koran by scholars of particular schools of thought, and had not come from the Prophet Muhammad.

“But when next I returned to Blackburn for my usual round of engagements, I got it in the neck. There were demonstrations by veiled women outside the advice centres, and delegations of veiled women inside.

“I spent days in meetings, in Blackburn and elsewhere, talking about what I had written in my original article. And what I had not written.

“The headline in the local paper had been Take Off Your Veils: but I had never proposed banning the veil, nor did I believe that it should be.

“Gradually the row died down, and many Asian women (and some Asian men) even thanked me for raising an issue which had previously been taboo.

“Some Asian women still wear the veil in Blackburn, including some who come to see me for advice. Some remove their veil; some don’t. But I’m glad that I raised the issue.

“What is the point of being in politics and not saying what you think about the difficult issues, as well as the easy ones?”

Following Straw’s comments in 2006, the face veil has become an increasingly salient topic in Europe with France banning face veiling in public and British far-right parties (UKIP and the BNP) and some Tories coming out in support of ‘burqa bans’ in Britain.

At an election hustings organised by ENGAGE during the 2010 general election, Straw apologised for his earlier comments on the veil stating that, in hindsight, “if I had realised the scale of publicity that they received in October 2006, I wouldn’t have made them and I am sorry that it has caused problems and I offer that apology.” He added that he regretted his comments had been “taken round the world and taken out of context”.

Though Straw says in his memoirs that he is glad he raised the issue, his admission on the impact his comments has been acknowledged by others. For example, in 2009 prior to a much publicised edition of Newsnight in which the leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, was invited to appear, Guardian columnist Gary Younge argued that Griffin’s participation, and the BBC’s invitation, was the outcome of the ‘logical, lamentable path’ trodden by politicians since Straw ‘started a debate’ by asking Muslim women to remove their veils when attending his constituency surgeries.

The issue of face veiling has, since Straw’s comments mutated into something much bigger, visible not only in efforts to ban the practice in Europe, but also in the way in which veiled Muslim women have increasingly become the target of hostility and Islamophobia as the public discourse in the UK and Europe gravitates towards misrepresenting their personal choices and freedoms.

BBC News, the Guardian, Independent, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star and Sun have all reported on the outcome of a lengthy legal battle involving five men, including Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan and Abu Hamza, fighting extradition to the US to stand trial on terrorism charges.

From the Guardian:

“The European court of human rights has cleared the way for the extradition to the United States of five terrorism suspects, including Abu Hamza al-Masri and Babar Ahmad, after legal battles dating back to 2004.

“The decision was immediately welcomed by the home secretary, Theresa May, who said the Home Office would work to hand over the five to the US authorities as quickly as possible.

“The suspects involved include the radical cleric Abu Hamza, 54, who is wanted by the US in connection with plans to establish a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon, as well as allegations that he provided material support to the Taliban. He is also wanted in connection with allegations that he was involved in hostage-taking in Yemen in 1998.

All defendants have argued that extradition to the US and the prospect of life in a ‘supermax’ prison would contravene their human rights. The ECHR ruling, agreeing with a previous judgment, decided that “their human rights would not be violated by the prospect of life sentences and solitary confinement in an American “supermax” prison.”

Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan have fought long campaigns to stand trial in the UK.  Ahmad’s case has received significant public and media attention with an e-petition calling for a Westminster debate on his case exceeding the 100,000 signatures needed. Ahmad has been detained without trial in the UK for eight years – the longest detention period of any British citizen. During this time, he has not been charged with any criminal offence. The BBC also broadcast an interview with Ahmad earlier this year given the extraordinary nature of his case.

The article cites a statement from the family of Babar Ahmad: “The CPS is now in possession of all that material which forms the basis of the US indictment and should immediately prosecute Babar for conduct allegedly committed in the UK.

The article continues that “There is enormous public interest in Babar being prosecuted in the UK, as reflected by the fact that almost 150,000 members of the British public signed a government e-petition to this effect last year. A British businessman, Karl Watkins, has recently commenced his own private prosecution of Babar based on the principle of the matter.”

The UK-US extradition treaty upon which these cases rest has courted significant controversy and the Home Affairs select committee in April this year called for it to be ‘overhauled’. It is notable that coverage in the tabloid papers – Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star and Sun – focuses predominantly on the case of ‘radical Muslim cleric’ Abu Hamza, whilst paying far less attention to the cases of Ahmad and Ahsan, whose extradition to the US is far more controversial.

The campaign group, British Justice for British Citizens, are asking people to support the private prosecution launched by Karl Watkins on public interest grounds by writing to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, and to their local MP. Details on what you can do to support the campaign can be found here.

In light of the recent controversy courted by the Youtube video ‘Innocence of Muslims’ and the subsequent caricatures printed in the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, the Scottish paper, The Herald recently published an article by Abdel Bari Atwan exposing the inconsistency with which legislation on hate speech and the principle of free speech is applied.

Atwan writes:

“Many Muslims are deeply concerned by a rising tide of “Islamophobia” – a prejudice which focuses on our religion. The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims frame themselves in terms of their religion first and race or nationality second; this is why any insult to the Prophet is considered an insult to each individual in the Muslim nation, or umma.

“Cartoons and films have long been used to demonise minorities. In the West, most minorities are, rightly, protected by legislation from vilification. Muslims feel they do not, sometimes, benefit from the same protection.

“In France, the law prohibiting “public insults based on origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity” was used to prosecute John Galliano when he made anti-Semitic remarks in his local café. Why is this unambiguous statute not applied to the cartoons in Charlie Hebdo?”

The article points to the question of whether, when it comes to hate speech and free speech, if there exists one rule for Muslims and another rule for others. As a blog recently published on Counterpunch explains, many of the tropes used to promote anti-Semitism are now regularly invoked to promote Islamophobia.