Monthly Archives: February 2014

The Daily Mail, Daily Express and Mirror all report on Windsor’s Legoland’s cancellation of the private hire of the venue by the Muslim Research and Development Foundation. The MRDF had hired the venue for a Muslim Family Day Out but after an avalanche of threats by the far right English Defence League, the venue issued a statement yesterday to say that it had been forced to cancel because it could not guarantee the safety of staff and visitors.

The English Defence League’s bombardment of Legoland’s social media pages with anti-Muslim and racist comments forced the temporary closure of its Facebook page. The venue only last week confirmed to the Windsor Express that it would ‘stay firm’ on the private hire of the venue which was booked during the ‘off peak season’ and would not therefore have been open to the public.

A spokesperson for Windsor Legoland said in a statement that the volume of threatening messages, including the posting of an image of a Muslim member of staff onto social media pages, forced its decision. In a statement, the company said:

“Sadly it is our belief that deliberate misinformation fuelled by a small group with a clear agenda was designed expressly to achieve this outcome.

“We are appalled at what has occurred, and at the fact that the real losers in this are the many families and children who were looking forward to an enjoyable day out.

“We would like to apologise to them and to the organisers, and to thank them for their understanding.”

‘Deliberate misinformation’ is putting a rather mild gloss on the incendiary article written by Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail about the MRDF booking.

As for its being ‘fuelled by a small group’, the popularity of the Mail Online’s website, attracting an average of 10 million unique visitors daily, is hardly to be considered ‘small’. Littlejohn’s article itself was shared 12,449 times and the Mail Online site shows 285 comments appended to it.

The statement issued by Legoland is absolutely right on one thing: the deliberate campaign intended to force the cancellation of an event organised for the enjoyment of Muslims families and children. That Littlejohn should have contributed to such a campaign by authoring a vitriolic piece is a damning example in the irresponsible use of media platforms to foment anti-Muslim prejudice.

BBC News reports on the court appearance of a man arrested last month after members of the public alerted Police Scotland to racist and offensive tweets made about the missing boy, Mikaeel Kular.

Kular was reported missing from his home in Edinburgh last month before police discovered his body a day later.

Darren Shepstone, 26, admitted posting grossly offensive and racially aggravated content on Twitter during the police search sparked by the missing persons report.

Shepstone is due to be sentenced next month. His case follows a similar incident involving Grenadier Guardsman Warren Butler, 19, who wrote on Facebook “F****** LOL to that P*** found dead. One down many more to go,” after Kular’s body was found in Fife.

BBC News covers the sentencing of a man charged with criminal damage to a mosque and assault of two people in Tonna, South Wales.

Steven Davies, 22, was charged with religiously aggravated criminal damage and assault for the attack which took place last September.

The court heard how Davies smashed windows of the mosque in Tonna and then assaulted a man and a woman who were woken up by the noise.

BBC News reports Davies “smashed four windows at the St Anne’s Islamic centre, Tonna, and then head butted, kicked and stamped on the woman and punched her husband.”

Davies was sentenced to 22 months imprisonment.

There is considerable coverage in the newspapers and by broadcasters on the sentencing yesterday of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale at the Old Bailey for the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby last May (Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, The Independent, The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, The Mirror, The Times, BBC News, Sky News and ITV News).

The sentencing at court attracted a protest by far right groups, the BNP and English Defence League, who built a mock gallows and noose in the street while brandishing placards demanding Rigby’s murderers be handed the death penalty. The far right groups also chanted “hang them” outside the court.

All the papers relay the outburst by the men as Justice Sweeney declared their actions “a betrayal of Islam and of the peaceful Muslim communities who give so much to our country.”

Judge Sweeney said to the men “You each converted to Islam some years ago. Thereafter you were radicalised and each became an extremist, espousing views which, as has been said elsewhere, are a betrayal of Islam.”

He added, “I’m sure this was a murder done for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or racial cause”.

The Mirror’s coverage includes the remarks of Adebowale’s legal defence, Abbas Lakha QC, who drew comparisons with the sentence passed on Pavlo Lapshyn, a far right extremist convicted of the murder of Muslim pensioner, Muhammad Saleem Khan. Lapshyn escaped a life sentence last year when he was jailed for a minimum of 40 years.

Michael Adebolajo, 29, was sentenced to a whole-life jail term following senior British judges’ decision last week to disregard the European Court of Human Rights ruling that whole-life tariffs were unlawful.

Michael Adebowale, 22, was sentenced a minimum of 45 years in jail. Both were convicted unanimously by a jury in December last year.

BBC News and the Daily Mirror also draw attention to the three arrests outside the Old Bailey during the far right’s protest. Two men were arrested, one on suspicion of actual bodily harm and one for affray. A woman was also arrested on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly.

The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph today both cover the arrest of Moazzam Begg, Outreach Director of civil liberties advocacy group, Cage, and three other men in dawn raids in Birmingham.

The DT headline ‘Former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg arrested following compensation payout’ echoes similar sentiments published in the DM which asserts ‘Former Guantanamo inmate given £1m payout is among four arrested as homes are searched in Birmingham over Syria terror offences’.

The Daily Telegraph articles opens with the sentence:

“A former Guantanamo detainee who won a huge compensation payout from the British taxpayer after suing the government has been arrested on suspicion of Syria-related terrorism offences.”

 While the Daily Mail states in its opening sentence states:

 “A Guantanamo Bay inmate given £1million compensation by Britain for alleged complicity in his torture was arrested yesterday on suspicion of waging jihad in Syria.”

Further on in the article, the DM notes:

 “Yesterday the 45-year-old was arrested by police in the Hall Green area of Birmingham in a dawn raid on the £395,000 house he bought for cash with his compensation money.”

 What possible connection could link the compensation money paid to Begg by the British Government for his illegal detention at Guantanamo and his arrest on suspicion of terrorism-related activities yesterday cannot be fathomed.

The reference to Begg’s compensation claim is not too dissimilar to the trivialisation of torture and disregard for human rights violations evinced in the media’s treatment of another Guantanamo prisoner, Binyam Mohamed. An article in the Daily Mail on Mohamed stooped so slow as to cover a shopping trip accompanied with the headline ‘Going out shopping, the terror suspect who pocketed a million in compensation over torture claims’.

 The fact that these men received compensation from the Government in out of court settlements in cases alleging security officials’ complicity in their mistreatment at the hands of US government officials is conveniently glossed over. Another facet, one might argue, of the impact of the ‘war on terror’ and its “suspension and increasing retraction of human rights and civil liberties [influencing] public comment [on] who could be treated with complete impunity, or even on who might be considered human.”

Al Jazeera carries a feature article on the ever draconian tools used to monitor Muslim communities and intimidate innocent individuals under counter-terrorism measures.

Author Simon Hooper uses examples of Muslims who have been visited by Special Branch officers, whose homes have been raided, personal belongings confiscated, who have been harassed by security officials into spying on Muslims, and whose travel abroad has been routinely disrupted, even on travel to perform Hajj, on account of the Schedule 7 powers which grant officers the right to detain and question at ports and airports without reasonable suspicion.

The article illustrates the ever encroaching and arbitrary infringement of Muslim civil liberties under the Government’s counter terrorism strand, Prevent.

The Prevent policy, which was reviewed and reformed by the Coalition Government in 2011, was widely discredited for its wasteful nature and for allegations of spying, personal data collection and its contribution to the widespread perception of as a ‘suspect community’. The Coalition’s review of the policy has not, however, veered far from its predecessor and continues to demonstrate severe deficiencies in its respect of Muslim civil liberties and in the transparency and accountability of officials working on Prevent administered programmes.

The recent Taskforce on Tackling Radicalisation report reinforces fears of the ‘cradle to grave surveillance’ of Muslim communities with its introduction of a statutory requirement on local authorities, universities, schools, prisons and other authorities to implement the programme.

Cage, whose Schedule 7 Stories project, illustrates cases of rights abuse experienced by Muslim travellers, said in its review of the Taskforce report and the policies proposed therein:

“It is a policy to silence Muslims and pacify/de-politicise their faith. In short, it criminalises political dissent or alternative political thought.”

The engendering of political apathy among Muslim communities through the financial support of apolitical groups and the active promotion of an ideologically-driven interpretation of ‘Islamism’, the mainstay of the previous Prevent programme, looks to be repeated in the new proposals recently set forth, according to Cage.

Cage, in its analysis of the Taskforce report includes details of the operation of the controversial ‘Channel programme’ including the case of “a nine-year-old boy alleged to have shown signs of extremism who was referred to authorities for “deprogramming”. Police figures show a steady increase in referrals among young people, with 748 referred for assessment in 2012-2013, compared with 580 a year earlier and more than 2,600 in total since 2006.”

Jahangir Mohammad, co-author of the Cage report told Al Jazeera

“There has been nothing like the Prevent policy since the McCarthy era, but Prevent goes a lot further; it goes into every aspect of Muslim life.

“Prevent has created a climate of fear and alienation in the Muslim community. People feel they can’t challenge this stuff and they don’t have any rights.”

Shakur Rahman, an imam at the Redbridge Islamic Centre in east London, also spoke to Al Jazeera saying “We know, as every imam knows, that if you say something which they do not like you could be raided that night. They are creating that fear so that we are afraid to speak about fundamental issues that pertain to our community. If the whole strategy of Prevent is to minimise problems in the community then it is doing the exact opposite.”

With the second reading of Conservative MP Philip Hollobone’s Private Members’ Bill on ‘Face Coverings (Prohibition)’ on Friday 28 February it is likely the debate on niqab will resurface amidst clamouring for it to be banned in public places.

Hollobone, whose bill received its first reading last September, is seeking measures which, if enacted, would entail criminalising the wearing of niqab as:

“a person wearing a garment or other object intended by the wearer as its primary purpose to obscure the face in a public place shall be guilty of an offence”.

“a person providing a public service in person to a member of the public or receiving a public service in person from a public official shall remove any garment or other object intended by the wearer as its primary purpose to obscure the face unless such garment or other object is reasonably required for reasons of health or safety”.

We’ve witnessed much media coverage on the niqab in recent months with the Sun newspaper publishing its ‘four point proposal’ on banning it in public places and various columnists weighing in on the issue in favour of a ban.

It is worth recalling the Government’s dismissal of any such ban with Home Secretary, Theresa May, stating in a parliamentary debate last year:

“I will repeat my position, which is one that I have made clear on previous occasions. First, I believe it is the right of a woman to choose how she dresses. We should allow women to be free to make that choice for themselves. There will be circumstances when it is right to ask for a veil to be removed, for example, at border security or perhaps in courts, and individual institutions, like schools, will make their own policies on dress. However, I fundamentally believe it is the right of a woman to be free to decide how to dress.”

It is a view echoed by Number 10, as evinced by this letter sent to an individual seeking the PM’s assurances on Conservative policy on face veils:

“The Government sees no need to tell people what they are allowed to wear in public places. Rather, we aim to restore the rights of individuals in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness. I hope you find this reassuring of the Government’s approach.”

Conservative party policy on this, and other issues like stop and search reform, will be closely monitored as the party makes overtures to ethnic minorities in elections due this year and next. In a short comment piece in The Mirror today MP Sadiq Khan argues that the party has ‘failed to challenge’ the country’s ‘racist establishment’. It is certainly food for thought for the party as it grapples with Hollobone’s Bill as well as the tussle over reforms to stop and search powers.

And while assurances on party policy to private individuals is one thing, issuing a public statement repudiating efforts to marginalise Muslims in our public sphere is quite another.

Roy Greenslade in his blog for The Guardian on the media draws attention to a letter sent to the editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, by a group of Muslims urging him to retract Richard Littlejohn’s atrocious comment piece and apologise “not just to British Muslims, but to your readers and the great British public at large” for publishing a piece of blatant anti-Muslim bigotry.

Though Greenslade is usually astute to the media’s misrepresentation of Muslims, his piece is titled, ‘Muslim groups demand apology from Daily Mail over Littlejohn article’. The letter itself doesn’t mention a ‘demand’ at all with the Muslims stating “We urge you [Dacre] in the interests of decency and fairplay, to retract Mr Littlejohn’s article and to issue an apology not just to British Muslims, but to your readers and the great British public at large”.

Given the media’s penchant to refer to ‘demands by Muslims’ as indicative of their intolerant and aggressive nature, it is a shame The Guardian sub-editor responsible for the heading of the piece should inadvertently repeat a costly mistake.

The local paper, Windsor Express, returns to the subject of the Muslim Research and Development Foundation’s private hire of Legoland with a story proclaiming that the theme park “has confirmed it has no intention to cancel plans to privately hire the park to a Muslim foundation led by one of the top 25 hate preachers in Britain.”

The newspaper claims that Haitham al-Haddad, of the MRDF, “was identified by the government last year as being one of Britain’s top 25 hate preachers.”

It is quite remarkable how the notion of Haddad being “one of Britain’s top 25 hate preachers” has begun circulating with no regard for the provenance and accuracy of the claim.

The Sunday Times in an article published last December stated: “Security officials have identified a network of 25 hate clerics who face being silenced under anti-extremism “Asbos” demanded by Downing Street.

“One of those said by Whitehall sources to be the subject of scrutiny is Haitham al-Haddad, a controversial London-based Islamic scholar of Palestinian origin.”

There is no identification of the ‘Whitehall sources’ behind the claims. As for Haddad’s being a ‘subject of scrutiny’, what merit there is in the exercise will be determined when (if?) greater transparency by the Communities and Local Government and Home Office departments is forthcoming as to the basis of identifying and classifying the said 25 as ‘hate preachers’. From past experiences of seeking transparency on aspects of the Government’s counter-terrorism efforts, the outlook is not good.

The lack of transparency goes some way to explaining how the concept of ‘hate preacher’ gains currency at the expense of those Muslims, like Haddad, who find themselves the victims of illiberal campaigns aimed at intimidation and character assassination.

The Leicester Mercury reports on the praise levelled by Leicestershire Police on worshippers at a mosque in Berners Street who apprehended a man as he fled from a shop he had just robbed.

Members of the mosque detained the man, who was armed with a knife, until the police arrived on the scene.

The paper notes the remarks of Detective Constable James Willoughby who said:

“This incident also demonstrates how the community came together and assisted the police by apprehending the suspect.

“Members of the local mosque were in the street when the offender ran by and they grabbed hold of him until police officers arrived.

“We would like to thank the local community for their assistance and we hope this conviction reassures people that we take these offences extremely seriously.”