Monthly Archives: October 2013

Local newspaper, Luton & Dunstable Express, reports that police investigating an attempted arson attack on the Al Hira Educational Centre in Luton have released CCTV footage of a man wanted for questioning.

The attempted arson took place in the early hours of Friday 4th October and was reported to Bedfordshire Police by a member of the public the following morning when a petrol can was found outside the mosque.

Video footage shows a man pouring engine oil along the pavement and trying to enter a building through an open window at around 1.50am.

As a car drives past and slows down, the man turns away to avoid being seen.

Detective Constable Gail Cotton, the officer in charge of the investigation, is keen to trace anyone who was in the area at the time or anyone who recognises the man.

Anyone with information can contact Bedfordshire Police on 101.

The BBC’s Inside Out West programme this week investigated anti-Muslim discrimination experienced in employment and housing in Bristol by comparing two men, one Muslim and one non-Muslim, and their relative success in applying for the same jobs and accommodation.

As part of the investigation the two undercover reporters posed as employees and letting tenants to ascertain whether Muslims face discrimination in their pursuit of employment and private rented accommodation.  During the two week investigation the two were secretly filmed as they applied for the same jobs and tried to let the same flats.

Both undercover reporters, Ian and Zoltan, were white, of similar age and with similar CVs and backgrounds. To distinguish between the two, Zoltan wore Islamic dress and went by the name Mohammed.

The two scoured Bristol for job vacancies advertised in shop windows as ‘apply within’. In one fast food outlet Ian is filmed being given an application form and told to fill it in straight away yet five minutes earlier Zoltan, who applies for the same job, is told to leave his CV.

At a city centre café, a similar thing happens. Zoltan is told that the employer is only collecting CVs while Ian is immediately offered a trial shift.

When the café manager spots Zoltan through the café’s window, he says to Ian: “See that guy in the hat. Do not tell him I’ve given you a trial shift on Saturday.  If you bump into him in the street and he wants to talk to you do not tell him because he’s just given me his CV and I told him that I won’t be making a decision until next week. So don’t tell him.”

The café manager later tells the programme, when confronted with evidence of apparent discrimination, that he was not discriminating against Zoltan just that he had more in common with Ian.

Further on in the programme, Ian and Zoltan are both told to apply online for vacancies with a well-known supermarket chain. But at another one of its stores, it is a different story.

The undercover reporters both speak to the same member of staff who consults the manager at the store about the jobs advertised. Ian walks away with an application form for a team leader role while Zoltan, who had asked only five minutes earlier after the same position, is told that there is nothing available until Christmas.

The supermarket, when contacted by the programme makers, said it would look into the incident.

In total, the pair applied for 40 jobs across Bristol ranging from delivering newspapers to managing shops. Overall, Ian was over four times more successful than Zoltan. Ian secured 13 interviews and was offered one job, whereas Zoltan was only offered three interviews.

When the two applied to rent flats in the city it was a similar story. In total they viewed 10 flats. Neither was successful for three of them but Ian was offered five flats despite Zoltan being promised them first.

In the film Zoltan is even called ‘strange’ by one prospective landlord and lied to by another. Reflecting on what he experienced during filming, Zoltan says:

“I feel it’s an important discussion that’s not really been had yet. Racism exists, it’s there, it’s a problem but it’s spoken about. This is not racism but it’s important and we need to start talking about this.

“Because of the way Muslims are portrayed in the media, unfortunately this has led to this undercurrent of discrimination and it needs to be opened up.

“We need to start speaking about it because if we keep quiet it’s just going to embed further and become worse.”

The Inside Out investigation is consistent with a similar trial run by BBC Radio 5 Live in 2004 which tested employer reactions to fictitious CVs comprising individuals of White European, Asian Muslim and Black African backgrounds. The test revealed that “while 23 per cent of the white candidates’ applications were invited for interview, only 13 and 9 per cent respectively were successful from the Black African and Muslim candidates.”

Religious discrimination in Britain is a growing problem, specifically for Muslims, as a 2011 report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found. The report on “Religious Discrimination in Britain: A review of research evidence, 2000- 2010” noted that “Evidence across a wide range of research (some of which has already been noted in this report when discussing religious discrimination more generally) suggests that Muslims appear to experience religious discrimination with a frequency and seriousness that is proportionately greater than that experienced by those of other religions.”

Similar studies in this field, such as the ENAR country reports published earlier this year and the 2012 Amnesty International report, ‘Choice and Prejudice: Discrimination against Muslims in Europe,’ clearly document the effects of discrimination on Muslim communities across Europe.

Amnesty International in its report argued that widespread discrimination faced by Muslims, “blights their individual prospects, opportunities and self-esteem and can result in isolation, exclusion and stigmatization.

“Muslims are discriminated against on the ground of religion or belief in employment even in countries where such discrimination is prohibited under domestic legislation…Regrettably, public authorities have not put in place effective mechanisms to prevent private employers to discriminate on the ground of religion or belief.”

Following the sentencing last Friday of Pavlo Lapshyn for the murder of Birmingham pensioner, Mohammed Saleem, and a mosque bombing campaign in the West Midlands, the Muslim Council of Britain has issued a statement criticising the police for their apparent reluctance to classify the killing as ‘Islamophobic’, ITV News reports.

In the statement, the MCB also question the overall police investigation into the murder and the apparent lack of support shown to the Saleem family, who were left to “piece together the witness statements and CCTV footage to find a link.”

The MCB statement reads:

“There are many lessons to be drawn from this case: the response of the authorities, and our collective unwillingness to treat anti-Muslim hatred seriously.

“Lapshyn’s terrorist activities should not be seen on isolation. There will be some who will view his activities as those of a lone wolf. But in a summer that saw an unprecedented rise in attacks on mosques and Islamic institutions, it is important for all of us to challenge anti-Muslim hatred, just as we challenge those who wrongly use Islam to carry out acts of violence.

“Lapshyn’s murder of pensioner Muhammed Saleem Chaudhry is particularly worrying. It seems that the Police were reluctant to categorise this as an Islamophobic attack.  In his daughter’s view, the initial investigation was “evasive” and the family were forced to “put a lot of pressure to piece together the witness statements and CCTV footage to find a link”.

“In the summer, the Muslim Council of Britain wrote to the Home Secretary and the Communities Secretary highlighting the lacklustre response from those who protect us. While reports since suggest a greater response from our security agencies, there needs to be more action and reassurance in the community.”

In August, the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, wrote to the MCB to address its concerns over the lack of a “coordinated national effort” to tackle the rise in anti-Muslim hate crime in the weeks following Drummer Lee Rigby’s murder. Pickles wrote of the immediate action taken by the Coalition to “prevent and address anti-Muslim hatred” as well as “things we are doing in the longer term”.

The Herald Scotland reports that residents in East Renfrewshire are campaigning to stop a mosque being built “on the grounds of one of the top performing comprehensive schools in the country”.

Muslims in East Renfrewshire have been seeking a suitable site to establish a place of worship for the last decade. Plans to build on a council-owned site near the Eastwood High School campus have fallen foul of the parents’ council who claim the grounds were initially designated, in a local development plan, as a second playing field for the school.

Council leader Jim Fletcher, speaking to a local paper about the consultation last month, said:

“There has been pressure for a purpose-built mosque for some time and the Muslim community is entitled to a place of worship.

“We are conscious these things can be perceived as being controversial, which is why we are being as transparent as possible.

“The mosque would be a change to the local plan —so it would go to consultation.

“As the land at the school is council-owned, we would first need to agree to sell.”

East Renfrewshire Council have launched a consultation on the proposed changes to its Local Development Plan and a ticket-only meeting is scheduled to take place today. Places at the meeting are being restricted as organisers expect demand to be high.

Members of the parent council say the mosque should not be built on non-denominational school grounds and that the site was promised to Eastwood High as a second sports field.

The group are urging parents to attend the consultation and have organised a petition for Holyrood.

Nazir Ahmed, a trustee of the East Renfrewshire Mosque and Community Centre group, in details put forward for the building plan, pointed out that the East Renfrewshire Muslim community had been resident in the area for more than 40 years and is “one of the fastest growing communities…projected to make up the largest ethnic minority group in ERC in the near future”.

His submission adds: “A centrally-located and dedicated East Renfrewshire mosque, which will also serve multiple roles and functions as a community hub, is vital for East Renfrewshire and should be identified in the local plan.”

But Joanne Murphy, one of the parents protesting,  said: “Our local development plan offered three alternative sites to the Muslim community in East Renfrewshire to build a mosque, however a local Muslim group who is agreeable to accept one of the sites has requested an amendment to the local plan requesting a mosque, community centre, a halal butchers and soup kitchen is built on the school grounds, where the children’s outdoor learning space had been planned and agreed, as their preferred choice.

“Some of the East Renfrewshire councillors and our own community council were taken aback by this proposal. You can imagine the parents and community have a number of concerns.”

An online petition, to be presented to Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, has so far garnered 1000 signatures.

Needless to say, the Herald Scotland article, which in its subheading notes that “protests are expected to be aired over proposals to build a mosque on the grounds of one of Scotland’s best-performing comprehensive schools” is highly misleading. The grounds are owned by the local council and not the school.

Drawing on the recent controversies sparked by Muslim women’s dress and its adoption in marketing campaigns, journalist Elizabeth Day, in a feature article in Observer magazine last weekend, spoke to Muslim women who criticise the ‘”patronising” western attitude that assumes a woman must be incapable of acting assertively if she is wearing the abaya or the niqab’.

Read the feature article here.

Channel 4 News this week has broadcast a number of programmes on the niqab as part of a public debate on the subject sparked by the ban imposed and later revoked by Birmingham Metropolitan College a few weeks ago.

Last night, C4 News aired a debate between three niqab wearing Muslim women, Shalina Litt, activist, writer and molecular geneticist Sahar Al-Faifi and the director of Seeds of Change, Fatima Barakatullah, and three people who are opposed to the niqab, Douglas Murray, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Khola Hasan.

The debate prompted some heated exchanges between the participants. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, known for her disdain for veiling, said those who wore the veil wear it “to shut yourself off as if the rest of us are infections” and that women who wear it are taking Muslims “back to the dark ages”.

When a member of the audience quoted the Charter for Human Rights and said it was her human right to express herself in this way Douglas Murray replied “There is something ludicrous about women (wearing niqab) talking about human rights”.

C4 presenter, Jackie Long, revealed results from a specially commissioned ComRes poll which shows 56% of people surveyed disagree with the veil being worn in public. 55% support a ban on wearing it in public, 81% support a ban in schools, hospitals or courts and 76% of people said they are not sure how to relate to a woman wearing the veil.  

More than half of those surveyed think it is demeaning and although people feel unsure about the niqab rather than in any way threatened or nervous about it, 71 per cent disagree with the claim that wearing it can be empowering.

These views are unsurprising given the negative statements of politicians and sections of the media. Given the strength of public feeling on the issue, and the demands for its selective ban by certain newspapers, columnists and politicians, one would think the face veil was ubiquitous in all public buildings, including schools, hospitals and courts. Yet all the evidence points to the contrary.  

Channel 4 News FactCheck looked at the prevalence of the face veil and found that there was very little evidence to suggest it was commonplace at all.

FactCheck looked at the validity of a quote made by Anne Marie Waters, of the National Secular Society, who in August 2012 said “The number of women wearing the burka and niqab has exploded in Britain in recent decades”.

The only recorded information available was a study conducted by the internal security services in France in 2009 (prior to the French ban) which suggested that out of a population of 1.5 million to 2 milllion adult Muslim women, about 1,900 wore either burkas (defined here as a full-body and head covering) or niqabs (where the eyes can be seen).

However, the figure of 1,900 came because the “secret service initially came up with a figure of 367, which was deemed to be so low they were asked to count again”.

FactCheck also looked at the number of Muslim women in the UK, which has increased from 748,000 in 2001 to 1.3m by 2011 – a 74 per cent increase. The notion that the number of women wearing the niqab has increased is consistent with an increase in the population size.

The statistics and evidence uncovered by FactCheck is similar to those found by the Guardian’s RealityCheck, which looked in to how many doctors, nurses, hospital workers and teachers wear the niqab.

Unsurprisingly the evidence suggests that few if any doctors, nurses or teachers wear the niqab. RealityCheck spoke to the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Women’s Network UK who both said they did not know.

The General Medical Council, the Royal College of Nursing and the National Union of Teachers all said that they didn’t collect numbers on niqab wearing professionals and that “to the best of their knowledge there had never been a case where niqab was mentioned as an issue.”

RealityCheck looked in to the figures for the female Muslim population in Britain but given that none of the representative bodies listed above have ever come across a woman who wears the veil in a school or hospital they conclude that the figure is “likely to be low – very low” and that “the debate is more about political philosophy than a practical problem.”

FactCheck assessed claims by MP Phillip Hollobone, that an overwhelming number of people support the banning of the face veil. Results from a YouGov survey earlier this year shows a small decrease in the number of people who agree with the statement ‘the burka should be banned in Britain’, down from 66% in 2011 to 61% in 2013.

The YouGov results reveal interesting variances by political party and age. Lib Dem voters are split on the idea of a ban, with 47% agreeing with it and 46% disagreeing, UKIP voters are almost unanimously in favour, 93% agree and 6% disagree. Conservative voters, 71% agree to 26% disagree, and Labour voters, 55% agree and 35% disagree.

Younger people (18 – 39 yrs) are more or less split on the issue (46% agree with a ban; 44% disagree), older people (40+) are decisively in favour (69% agree; 23% disagree).

FactCheck also looks at claims made by Dr Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, who earlier this year said: “The niqab … collude[s] with making women invisible.”

FactCheck notes figures collated by Tell MAMA, which reveal that the helpline “logged more than 630 incidents during the first 12 months of its existence, and Muslim women were targeted in 58 per cent of all incidents.”

This is consistent with empirical evidence and analysis by academics who have investigated the impact of the French niqab ban on Muslim women and the prevailing anti-veiling public discourse in the UK and Europe. Amnesty International in its report ‘Choice and Prejudice: Discrimination against Muslims in Europe’, argued that veiling bans had been introduced “without consulting women affected by such prohibition” and that such policies “are detrimental to women’s equality and autonomy”.

Far from making Muslim women ‘invisible’, veil bans and the resulting scr
utiny and negative attention has made such women patently visible and vulnerable to attack.

Last month, a 14-year-old girl told BBC Radio 4 World at One programme about a recent attack where a man came up to her in the street and tried to rip her veil off her face.

The teenager spoke of the impact of the assault saying it has “really really affected me”. She said she felt “horrified, really really upset and a feeling of anger…thinking why would you do that to me?”

The Independent and BBC News report on the court martial of three Royal Marines accused of murdering an Afghan in Helmand province two years ago.

The three marines, who cannot be named, are charged with murdering the unknown man while on duty in 2011.

Charges against two further marines were dropped in February but the anonymity order granted last year remains in place. Last November, Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett said the defendants would be at “real and immediate risk” from “organised terrorist activity and lone wolves”, if their names were made public. The men are simply referred to as Marine A, B, C, D and E.

Footage of the alleged “execution” of the Taliban fighter in Helmand two years ago was recorded by the helmet camera of one of the alleged killers and show one of the men leaning in to fire a bullet into the chest of the young Afghan covered in blood. The five men were arrested after the camera footage was discovered on another marine’s laptop.

In the recording the sergeant in charge of the group can be heard saying: “There you are, shuffle off this mortal coil you c**t, it’s nothing you wouldn’t have done to us.” Turning to the other marines, he added: “Obviously this don’t go anywhere fellas, I’ve just broken the Geneva Convention.”

Prosecutor David Perry said the murder took place on 15 September 2011 when the three defendants were on active service. Speaking to the board at the Military Court Centre in Bulford, Wiltshire, he said:

“The prosecution case is that Marine A used a pistol and deliberately shot and killed the unknown man.

“It was not a killing in the heat and exercise of any armed conflict. The prosecution case is that it amounted to an execution, a field execution.”

He added that even though Marine A used the pistol, Marines B and C “encouraged and assisted Marine A in carrying out the killing.”

Mr Perry said the three marines had been on a patrol in Helmand Province when they came under attack from small arms fire from two insurgents. Air support was called in and gunfire fired from an Apache helicopter left one of the Afghans badly injured.

The court heard how, as the prisoner lay dying, the marines moved him from an area where an air balloon was in use for observation.

“He knew full well what he was going to do,” Mr Perry said.

The court was told that the marines, instead of calling for medical assistance to treat the injured fighter, decided to execute the prisoner.

As the victim lay twitching and gasping for breath the British servicemen, apprehensive that they might have been spotted, pretended to give him first aid. They then called in their base, saying the man had died from the injuries he had already suffered in a helicopter strike, the court was told.

In the video, Marine A is heard to say “Get him close in, so the PGSS [observation balloon] can’t see what we’re doing to him”. He later asks: “Where’s the Ugly? He’s over there, he can f****** see us”. The prisoner, who is barely conscious, is taken to a mound. The sergeant then asks: “Anyone want to do first aid on this idiot?” One voice says “no”.

Marine C then says: “I’ll put one in the head if you want”. Marine B offers: “Take your pick how you shoot him.” But Marine A cautions: “Not on his head, that’ll be too obvious”. Marine B responds: “Yep, rog: If it ever comes to light, it’ll have been a warning shot.”

The three men then discuss whether to administer first aid to the prisoner, with Marine C saying: “Don’t do it, just pretend to do it”.

Police subsequently found a diary kept by Marine C in which he claims he witnessed Marine A carry out the killing. His only regret, he wrote, was that he felt “mugged off” that he had not been able to “pop off the Taliban shitbag” himself.

All three defendants pleaded not guilty from behind a blue screen shielding them from the view of the public.

Prosecutor David Perry QC, said: “The video speaks for itself. It clearly shows they killed an injured man; it shows they lied about the circumstances in which the injured man met his death. It was not a killing in the heat and exercise of any armed conflict. The prosecution case is that it amounted to an execution, a field execution. An execution of a man who was entitled to be treated with dignity and respect and entitled to be treated as any British serviceman or servicewoman would be entitled to be treated in a similar situation.”

They are accused of murdering the Afghan national contrary to Section 42 of the Armed Forces Act 2006.

French far right leader, Marine Le Pen, has set out her plans to unite the European far right with a common manifesto as they gear up to contest the European Parliament elections next year, the EU Observer reports.

At a press conference in the Strasbourg yesterday, Le Pen and Franz Obermayr, of the Austrian anti-immigration Freedom party, spoke of hopes to unite candidates from across the EU on the ticket of the European Alliance for Freedom (EAF).  

Le Pen said that people should vote for EAF parties “if they want to remain a free people“, adding that “we are the only parties who can return sovereignty.”

Le Pen added that the recent tragedy on the shores of Lampedusa, where a boat carrying over 300 asylum seekers sank killing over 50 people, was the responsibility of “people who encourage migrants to believe that they can claim asylum because they risk their lives to come to Europe.”

Her announcement comes a week on from meeting with fellow far right leader, Geert Wilders, of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) to discuss the creation of a pan-European Eurosceptic, anti-immigration movement.

There is a growing anxiety among senior figures in the European Parliament at the prospect of the far right winning more seats in the 2014 elections. Earlier this month, a poll by Ifop for French newspaper, Le Nouvel Observateur, put Le Pen’s National Front party on 24%, higher than the centre-right UMP (22%) and the governing Socialist party (19%).           

Although Le Pen has the support of a number of high profile parties she has yet to convince UKIP to join the EAF. Yesterday she took aim at UKIP leader, Nigel Farage, saying his party “lacked maturity” and were “afraid of their own image”.

Farage has rejected offers of joining a pan-European movement of the far right saying “Ukip is not right wing but a libertarian party which believes in small government, low taxes, personal freedom and responsibility under a democratic national government, not under Brussels rule. Ukip are not involved in this initiative by Geert Wilders.”

The EAF, which was set up in 2010, received over €750,000 from the European Parliament in 2011 and 2012. However, unlike other pan-EU parties it is composed of individual members rather than national parties.

A Muslim nurse has spoken of her shock at being subjected to a religiously-motivated attack in the grounds of a Newcastle hospital, SKY Tyne and Wear reports.

Khadija Mohamed, 22, said the incident happened in May 2013, just two days after the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich south London, but at the time she didn’t report it to the police or hospital authorities.

Her reason for speaking out now, she says, is “…so that people understand that Muslims are just regular people. We’re just regular human beings like everyone else.”

Speaking about the assault, she said: “I felt a tug on the back of my scarf and noticed I was on the floor.

“A middle aged man was standing over me saying ‘You’re one of them, you’re one of them,’ really aggressively.”

Khadija fought to free herself as passersby shouted at the man to leave her alone.

She added: “I remember just being so scared, crying, shaking.

“It’s saddening that not even a Muslim, but a woman, can be attacked so vigorously in broad daylight.

“But I find it quite overwhelming that people thought to help me.”

Khadija ran to the bus stop and caught her bus home. She didn’t report the attack to anyone saying “At the time I didn’t really feel the need to because I’ve always felt so safe at the hospital.

“But the main purpose of speaking out now is so that people understand that Muslims are just regular people. We’re just regular human beings like everyone else.”

This latest attack on a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf comes a week after a similar attack on the Newcastle Metro.

Last week, Yasmin Bint Shafiq, 22, told SKY Tyne and Wear how a man tried to pull off her veil and headscarf as she travelled home on the metro.

There is widespread coverage in today’s media on the trial of Pavlo Lapshyn, the Ukrainian student charged with the murder of Mohammed Saleem and terrorist offences for bomb attacks in the West Midlands: BBC News, ITV News, Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, Daily Mirror, The Independent, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, The Scotsman, Metro and Birmingham Mail.

Lapshyn, who appeared at the Old Bailey yesterday, admitted charges of murder, causing an explosion on July 12 near the Kanzal Iman mosque in Tipton and engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts between April 24 and July 18 this year. The period covers the bomb attacks in Walsall and Wolverhampton.

Lapshyn admitted biased motivation saying, “I have a racial hatred, so I have a motivation. I have a racial motivation and a hatred.”

Lapshyn admitted planting the bombs at mosques in the West Midlands. When asked why, he said, “I wanted to increase racist conflict.”

When asked why he targeted mosques in the West Midlands he added: “Because they are not white and I am white. My purpose was to commit a terrorist act.”

ITV News features an interview with Detective Superintendent Shaun Edwards, from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, in which he explains the impact of the Tipton bomb on Muslims had it gone off as planned during the Friday prayer.

Detective Superintendent Shaun Edwards, from the West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit, said: “We found part-made devices in Lapshyn’s room, plus chemicals and bomb-making equipment, so it is clear he planned to place further devices with the intention of killing or maiming innocent members of the public.

“All three of the devices he detonated were powerful, but his final attack in Tipton was the first to feature shrapnel and nails. He placed this near the mosque’s car park with the intention of hitting worshippers as they arrived for prayers.

“Thankfully the service had been put back an hour, so the mosque was largely deserted when the bomb went off.”

The Daily Telegraph notes far right literature found among Lapshyn’s possessions including “the 1978 novel The Turner Diaries, in which a violent revolution evolves into a race war in the US and leads to the extermination of all non-white, gay and Jewish people.”

The Guardian notes that police “found no material belonging to British racist groups such as the British National party or the English Defence League. Nor was there material suggesting his [Lapshyn’s] bombing campaign was incited by the terrorist murder of Lee Rigby on 22 May, which occurred a month before Lapshyn’s first bomb attack.”