Monthly Archives: March 2014

Local newspaper, Western Daily Press, reports on an interview in the Bristol Post with a white Muslim convert who says she has experienced assaults, insults, sly remarks and threats since she converted to Islam at the age of 18.

Kelly Ziane had approached the Bristol Post after it published an article on a racially motivated assault at a Poundstretcher in Bedminster. The article struck a chord with Ziane who contacted the paper to relay her own experiences of racial hatred. She said:

“I saw the news the other night, about the Muslim women attacked at Poundstretcher in East Street, and there was a police officer saying racist incidents are very rare in Bristol. In my experience, that’s not the case at all.

“I converted to Islam 19 years ago. I grew up in Bedminster and over the last ten years it’s got a lot worse. I don’t have enough fingers to count on my hands the number of incidents.

“It gets to the stage where you don’t see the point in reporting everything that happens to you.”

While her husband can only recall two incidents of being verbally abused, Kelly’s experience of abuse varied over the years: she was spat on by a man who tried to pull off her headscarf on her way home from work; she has been called a “Paki” and a “raghead” by women in shops; and been asked whether she speaks English.

In 2011, a man drove his car at Kelly and her children as they crossed a road in Bedminster. The man, whom she does not name, revved up his car and sped towards them before screeching to a halt and shouting abuse at them out of the window. Kelly told the local paper he was convicted of a driving offence and given penalty points.

After the incident, one of her daughters, 18 months old at the time, started repeating the “Paki” slur she heard.

Kelly also said she was forced to take her eldest two children out of their previous primary school after she was racially abused by another parent in the school grounds.

In response to the Bristol Post’s question as to why she feels she has been subjected to abuse, Kelly said: “I think it’s a combination of things – negative stories in the media about Muslims, incidents like the killing of the soldier in London (Lee Rigby) and international events like 9/11. After things like that, it can get really tense.

“To be honest, most of the time I don’t think it’s about the colour of my skin – I think it’s purely because I have my head- dress on.

“I often get asked if I’m Syrian, because I have very fair skin and I’m a Muslim. But I’ve also been called Somali and I’ve never seen a white Somali.

“But there are lots of Asian and African Muslims who get abuse too. I lived in North London for a couple of years and didn’t have any problems there – only when I moved back to Bristol.”

ITV News, The Daily Mail, Daily Mirror as well as local papers, Wirral Globe and Liverpool Echo, all report on a racist Neo-Nazi who has been convicted of planning to blow up mosques with home-made devices packed with nails and ball bearings.

Ian Forman, 42, expressed his racist attitudes to work colleagues at a glass recycling firm who later alerted the police after discovering he had been researching how to obtain dangerous chemicals on the internet during work hours.

Forman claimed to be researching how to make home-made fireworks but when officers raided his house in June last year they found more than a kilogram of gunpowder and a home-made explosive device in a briefcase hidden in his bedroom cupboard. Under his bed, he had stockpiled sulphur, potassium nitrate and charcoal in containers – the three components of gunpowder. In addition, the police found a replica Nazi SS uniform.

Upon arrest, he admitted in his interview with the police that he had extreme right wing views in his youth but claimed he no longer held such opinions.

Officers also later seized more incriminating evidence; an analysis of his computer and 16 mobile phones revealed video clips showing Forman experimenting with explosives, a shopping list with prices of bomb components following his research on the internet and research into mosques in his local area.

Kingston Crown Court heard that a list of targets found on his computer included the Penny Lane Mosque and the Wirral Islamic Centre. While local paper Liverpool Echo reports that Forman saved images of the two mosques as “target one” and “target two” respectively, The Daily Mail reports that Forman referred to a file he made containing a list mosques near his home in Merseyside as his “dreck ziel” – a German phrase meaning “dirt target”.

The defendant informed a friend by text that he was making an explosive with ball bearings and nails. He wrote: ‘It might be destined for the Muslim centre in Birkenhead.’

In another text, he said the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik was his ‘hero’, adding: ‘Time to start blowing them up.’

Police also found that he made an anti-Islam video on YouTube “Mosques lighting up the sky to keep us warm in the winter”. The Daily Mail reports that the racist video features pictures of people in Muslim dress and Forman also searched on Youtube for videos of ‘killing Muslims’.

Both the Daily Mail and Liverpool Echo note that Forman’s Facebook profile shows pictures of him on pilgrimage in 2012 to Hitler’s wartime headquarters in Germany.

Forman denied engaging in conduct in preparation of terrorist acts contrary to Terrorism Act 2006 but was found guilty.

According to Liverpool Echo, Judge Dodson said: “The defendant had, in my judgement, very extreme and evil thoughts – I think the word evil is appropriate.

“There will be a lengthy custodial sentence.

“But I must make sure… that it reflects your danger to the public, your hitherto good character, and that you did not in fact carry out these acts.”

He is due to be sentenced in the week commencing 28 April.

The Chelmsford Weekly News reports on the pending court appearance next month of a man charged with criminal damage in relation to an attack on a mosque in Chelmsford.

Liam King, 22, a soldier, has been charged with one count of criminal damage and another of burglary and will appear before Chelmsford Magistrates’ Court on April 9. Essex Police released CCTV images of the man wanted in connection with the incident last December after they were alerted to damage done to the mosque’s front door by local Muslims arriving for the early morning prayers.

The Independent reports on the results of a Freedom of Information request showing a sharp increase in the number of under 18s who have been identified as being ‘at risk’ of radicalisation and referred to the controversial Channel programme. The number of young people identified as potential violent extremists has increased by more than 25 per cent in the past year.

Al Jazeera also reports on a study by researchers at Queen Mary University which finds that youth, wealth, and a full-time education are risk factors associated with violent radicalisation. In contrast, religious practice, mental health, social inequality and political engagement were not significant factors. 

Since last April, at least 940 people have been referred for assessment under the initiative. Although ACPO’s had published figures of the total number of referrals up to March last year, these new figures include a breakdown by age and provides an updated total to the end of January. 

According to the Independent, 153 children under 11, 690 children aged 12-15, and 554 aged 16-17 have been referred since 2007. A further 2,196 adults have also been assessed. 

The total of 940 so far in 2013-14 marks an increase of just over a quarter on 748 cases in 2012-13.

The Independent notes the sharp increase is likely to cause further concern in Muslim communities following London Mayor Boris Johnson’s suggestion that the state should intervene in Muslim family life to protect children from ‘child abuse’ by ‘radicalised’ parents

On the surface, the sharp increase seems to be supported by Queen Mary’s new research study. The study, led by a cultural psychology professor Kamaldeep Bhui, used 16 indicators to measure sympathy or condemnation of actions broadly defined as “terrorism”, including the use of bombs or suicide bombs. Using proportional quota sampling, the study included a survey of 608 people of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin men and women, aged 18-45, of Muslim heritage and living in East London and Bradford. 

It suggests that while religious practice, mental religious practice, mental health, social inequality and political engagement were not significant factors; youth, wealth, and a full-time education on the other hand were risk factors. 

While the study finds that there was a higher risk of having sympathies for radicalisation in the 18-20 age group compared to 26-35 and 41-45, it does not explain the sharp increase in the number of referrals of under-18s. 

However, the study’s finding that religious practice is not a significant factor seems to support ACPO’s figures that only 22 per cent of cases were assessed to be vulnerable to being drawn towards terrorism as well as receiving further support. It becomes deeply disconcerting considering that ACPO reports that the Channel programme primarily focus on Muslim communities because “Islamic inspired terrorists currently pose the greatest threat to the UK”. 

Jahangir Mohammed, co-author of Cage’s report “The Prevent Strategy: A Cradle to Grave Police-State” stated “: “These figures show that the net of those considered susceptible to radicalism and potentially terrorism is being cast to pick up more and more people. 

“The idea that there are 843 people under the age of 15 that are potential terrorists is simply ludicrous. The figures are a sign of a failed policy.” 

The Cage report highlights that the government’s guidance for staff include indicators of propensity to terrorism related activities. These indicators “are specific to a religious group and do not address extremism in all its forms, (such as the re-emergence of the far right and the ideology inspired Anders Breivik). They could potentially breach anti-discrimination legislation.” 

The Home Affairs select committee report in to the Roots of Violent Radicalisation, published February 2012, focused on ‘universities, prisons, religious institutions and the internet’, omitting the younger age bracket from its wider consideration. The report did nonetheless shed some light on the complex factors that lead to radicalisation beyond the stock criticism levelled at universities and prisons.

The Taskforce on Tackling Radicalisation report includes a section on schools with the report noting “The government must do more to address extremism in locations where it can exert control, such as prisons, and increase oversight where it is needed, such as some independent and religious schools.”

The growth in the number of young people brought under the purview of the Channel programme and the lack of any independent oversight on the assessment made of their ‘at risk’ status is cause for concern when one considers Arun Kundnani’s analysis of the factors used by law enforcement and intelligence agencies to determine which Muslims are to be regarded as ‘dangerous’.

ITV News, The Sunday Times, The Daily Mail, The Independent and Daily Express all report on The Sunday Telegraph front page story on the introduction by the Law Society of guidance in relation to preparing shari’ah compliant wills for clients requesting the service.

The Law Society has produced a practice note to “assist solicitors who have been instructed to prepare a valid will, which follows Sharia succession rules.”

The guidance outlines rules on Islamic inheritance, such as the differential share between men and women. Its guidance notes states that “they are not intended to be the only standard of good practice that solicitors can follow. You are not required to follow them… Practice notes are not legal advice”.

However, the Sunday Telegraph proclaims that “Islamic law is to be effectively enshrined in the British legal system for the first time”. It goes on to say it will “prevent children born out wedlock – and even those who have been adopted – from being counted as legitimate heirs”.

Some lawyers have expressed disquiet with the guidance saying the practice note is “astonishing”. The papers also report campaigners are warning the note could lead to a “parallel legal system” for Britain’s Muslim communities.

The Sunday Telegraph repeats the claims first made in a report by Denis MacEoin for Civitas, in which the number of Shari’ah councils operating in the UK was estimated to be 85. The paper further notes the call by Labour MP, Barry Sheerman, for a parliamentary inquiry into how widespread the use of the councils is in the UK.

The newspapers invite Baroness Caroline Cox to comment on the guidance notes, neglecting her biased view on matters. Cox has introduced a Bill, The Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill, under which anyone ‘falsely claiming or implying that sharia courts or councils have legal jurisdiction over family or criminal law’ could be faced with a five year jail term.

Cox said: “Everyone has freedom to make their own will and everyone has freedom to let those wills reflect their religious beliefs. But to have an organisation such as The Law Society seeming to promote or encourage a policy which is inherently gender discriminatory in a way which will have very serious implications for women and possibly for children is a matter of deep concern.”

What has unfortunately not been recognised is the opportunity for the state and religious bodies to co-operate. In Rowan William’s article in a three part series in Prospect magazine on the edited collection by Robin Griffith-Jones, the former Archbishop of Canterbury points out there is a history of partnership between the state and the Church of England in the provision of education where both parties have found ways to accommodate one other.

Elizabeth Cooke, Professor of Law at Reading University and member of the Law Commission, expands on the concept of “accommodation” in the second series, arguing that it does not necessarily mean legal pluralism in the sense that a person’s religious identity might force an individual into a particular system. She highlights Baroness Butler-Sloss and Mark Hill’s contribution in “Family Law: Current Conflicts and Their Resolution”:

“The religious and cultural traditions of the parties in an English court may, and often will, be relevant to their approach to the issues between them; but English law, and only English law, applies.

There is … no question of the jurisdiction of English secular courts being delegated or ceded to the courts or tribunals of religious organisations.”

Maleiha Malik, Professor of Law at King’s College, develops further on this in the third part of the series arguing that Islamic law can be reconciled with English law using cultural voluntarism, as has already been evidenced in legal cases.

The approach “assumes that minorities such as Muslims should have the freedom and the autonomy to be able to live according to their preferred social norms, legal rules and religious law, except that at all times judges and legislators have the right to intervene where there is incompatibility with an important principle of English law or, most crucially, a conflict with constitutional or human rights norms.”

Such an approach allows for individuals to develop their own “insider” response to injustice and discrimination while providing for constructive dialogue between mainstream state institutions and minorities.

Perhaps this is exactly what the Law Society was attempting – to create a constructive dialogue by seeking a common ground between English law and the Sharia law for Muslim clients. 

According to the Daily Telegraph, the President of the Law Society Nicholas Fluck said it was “inaccurate and ill informed” to see the guidance as “promoting” shari’ah law.

He emphasised “The Law Society responded to requests from its members for guidance on how to help clients asking for wills that distribute their assets in accordance with Sharia practice. Our practice note focuses on how to do that, where it is allowed under English law.

“The Law of England and Wales will give effect to wishes clearly expressed in a valid will in so far as those wishes are compliant with the law of England.”

None this this stops the Sunday Telegraph opining in its editorial that the Law Society guidance emboldens ‘the radicals’ anti-integration agenda’. Nor from asserting that ‘recently there has been a proliferation of sharia courts, which are potentially in conflict with English law. The Law Society’s guidelines would further legitimise those courts’.

Of course if there were evidence of shari’ah tribunals acting ultra vires, this would be a matter for the legal system to enforce the conditions established by the Arbitration Act. The idea, as suggested by the ST, that this is a problem snowballing into something greater, however, is unproven and unnecessarily alarmist.

The editorial introduces Baroness Cox as someone who ‘campaigns for the rights of Muslim women and is concerned that some women in Britain experience serious problems as a result of the application of sharia.’

It fails to address the obvious question, of how someone who is genuinely a campaigner for ‘the rights of Muslim women’ could invite someone like Geert Wilders to the House of Lords knowing his record of anti-Muslim diatribes.

But more interesting is the claim that the guidance will ‘disadvantage women, children involved in custody battles, illegitimate or adopted heirs, and a significant number of men who, for one reason or another, fall foul of its [shari’ah’s] precepts’ itself promulgates the idea of a ‘parallel legal system’.

As Neil Addison, a barrister and author of A Guide to Religious Freedom and Law, observes in his letter to the Sunday Telegraph:

“English Law permits people to draft wills according to their own desires.  If they want to give less to daughters than sons then they are allowed to do so.  If they only want to bequeath money to persons of a specific religion, whether Muslim, Mormon or Methodist then they are entitled to do so just in the same way that they are entitled to cut a child out of the will for any irrational reason they wish.  Many relatives disagree with how particular wills are written but that is the decision of the person making the will. 

“The job of a lawyer is to draft a will that reflects the clients wishes it is not the job of a lawyer to impose their views on the Client or to draft a will that would be “socially acceptable” to the Equality and Human Rights Commission; the Equality Act does not extend to the dead, yet.

“The critics of the Law Society have in fact got a lot in common with extremist supporters of Sharia.  Both want to impose their views on others rather than allowing individuals to make their own choices including choices as to how to dispose of their own property after their death.”

The Daily Mirror draws attention to the Sunday’s People’s revelation about recent Euromillions lottery winner, Neil Trotter, who has been linked to a string of abhorrent race hate messages online including some supporting the British National Party.

The comments were written under the username ‘Chameleon’, the name of Trotter’s car business – Chameleon Coachworks. According to the Daily Mirror, ‘Chameleon’ has also regularly signed off posts as “Neil”.

There have been nearly 400 messages posted under the Chameleon username since March 2009 with a good many of them littered with expletives, and racist remarks. All the offensive messages remain accessible.

In one race-hate rant, a user ‘col_cos1’, wrote in a thread “I’d love to slit everyone of them ear-to-ear”.

‘Col_cos1’ later posted another vile message directly to a Muslim forum user saying“your f*****g scumbags and the sooner this country trys to get powers to get yous all out the better.

“Your proud to be a P**i so why not f*****g stay there?…oops i forgot the british will give you a house for your 17 kids.”

‘Chameleon’ replied stating: “lower the uk’s carbon immission’s (sic) vote bnp and get rid of the s**t.”

‘Chameleon’ indignantly told fellow users of the website that: “Your not going to vote for the bnp because of what has been in the press telling you not to……..takes b*****ks to stand up and be counted.

“Just vote for the norm and let your kid’s enjoy the f****d country you have left them…just hope you can look them in the eye and tell them you did what you thought was right..”

‘Chameleon’ also wrote: “Think im going to vote bnp…grandad was tank commander ww2, nothing racist about wanting to protect britain against millions of people comming to live here. Look at the country bled dry…….. if ya names not down your not comming in!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

‘Chameleon’ appeared to support a far right and hate-filled message that said “Lets hope that one day the BNP will get the chance to sort this country out.

“There views and values are spot on and its about f*****g time they take over.

“It amazes me how people in this country get up in arms when a political party such as the BNP talk about getting rid of the immigrants and then the same people are disgusted when someone is stabbed to death on the streets of this country. WELL GUESS WHO’S CARRYING OUT THESE MURDERS!?!”

‘Chameleon’ responded by posting: “watch crimewatch”.

In yet another post, ‘Chameleon’ added: “i have seen a lot here because croydon has immagration office…have been guilty of sending a few to brighton instead lol.”

The Asian Image reports on Britain First’s (BF) ongoing campaign against ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ where the far right group’s supporters have been visiting mosques and handing out inflammatory, anti-Muslim literature.

On BF’s website, the group has posted a video of its most recent “Day in Action” in the North West of England. According to the website, BF members have visited ‘mega’ mosques in Bolton, Oldham, Rochdale and Burnley as “hundreds of items of literature were distributed to imams and residents of Muslim areas”.

Members of the group have recorded themselves visiting the Jamia Madina Mosque in Bolton, the Jamiyat Tabligh-ul-Islam mosque in Oldham as well as the Golden Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre in Rochdale.

The video shows four far right supporters entering the Jamia Madina mosque. Paul Golding, BF’s Chairman and candidate in this year’s European Parliament elections, displays the group’s “Muslim grooming literature”. In the empty mosque, he states he has come to speak to the imams and demands “they take firm action against this problem all across the North of England because it has been going on for too long.”

He purports “There’s scandal after scandal after scandal. [There are] arrests and high profile trials happening all the time”.

The video also shows a clip of four far right supporters holding a banner with “no more mosques” imprinted on it outside the mosque.

The BF supporters then handed over inflammatory and anti-Muslim leaflets to an elderly worshipper during their visit to a mosque in Oldham. The worshipper was told to “give this to your imam. Tell him to read it and we need some action within the Muslim community in Oldham because the Muslim paedophile gangs are widespread”.

At the Golden Mosque and Islamic Cultural Centre in Rochdale, a far right supporter approached a man in his car regarding ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ in the area, urging that the imam should say it is not right.

Moreover, Britain First members also went to local MP Gordon Birtwistle’s home. They confronted him regarding his comments in the Lancashire Telegraph. He had previously told the paper that “This group [Britain First] is not welcome in East Lancashire… people should not be deceived by this group’s Christian façade.”

In the conversation with MP Birtwistle, Golding asserts that “[the police] deliberately ignored the Muslim paedophile grooming gang problem for ten years because of ‘community sensitivities’”.

The series of BF’s visits to mosques in the North West of England and to Gordon Birtwistle MP’s home follows their visit to the home of Councillor Salim Mulla’s where they pushed leaflets about ‘Muslim grooming’ through the letterbox.

Golding is standing in the upcoming European Elections in the South East region. The party’s website claims his election campaign “is gathering pace and surging forward”.

The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph this week both covered a report by the British Humanist Association on schools in receipt of public funding which it claims are cause for concern. Among Muslim schools singled out for criticism by the BHA is the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation (ISF).

An FOI by the BHA on state grants to schools revealed that the ISF had received public funding for nursery school places as part of the Government’s “free early education” scheme. The charity’s latest published accounts show it received a total of £300,472 in grants in 2011-12 including an “early years grant” amounting to £71,154.

In news coverage both papers highlight David Cameron’s allegations against the schools when Leader of the Opposition. In a botched Prime Minister’s Questions in 2009 Cameron claimed the charity was a ‘front’ for Hizb-ut-Tahrir and ridiculed the then Labour Government for providing funds under the Preventing Violent Extremism programme to a school which, he claimed, was part of the problem of Muslim extremism. Mr Gove, then Shadow Education Secretary, also accused the charity of having links to HT which “run deeper than personnel.”

The BHA on the back of its FOI has called on the Department of Education to “urgently” review the “appropriateness” of the funding saying “Two of the schools involved have been repeatedly dogged by accusations of extremism and five years ago Michael Gove and David Cameron made a big stand about how they should not be getting funding, yet nothing has changed since – despite four years of Coalition Government.”

The BHA’s intervention is about as accurate as the misinformation fed to Cameron in 2009 when the false claims about the ISF were first raised. The Charity Commission in 2010, which both the Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail acknowledge towards the end of their respective articles, cleared the ISF of any links to HT stating the ‘issues identified and considered [by the regulator] did not give rise to regulatory concerns.’  

Moreover, in a detailed rebuttal by former Education Secretary, Ed Balls, Cameron’s accusations were given short shrift with Balls noting that allegations on the teaching of extremism at the schools were utterly unfounded and that this had been verified by Ofsted inspectors. Balls said:

“The question is: were these schools promoting terrorism or extremism? We have sent in Ofsted advisers, who have gone in and said ‘No’. I looked across the curriculum and the evidence was ‘No’. In the last few weeks…Haringey and Slough looked at the facts and there was no evidence that extremism has been promoted.”

Balls further criticised Cameron’s misplaced and unfounded remarks, adding, “The issue here is that a very divisive allegation was made about two schools which splits communities, which divides our country, on the basis of false allegations.

“The responsible thing for David Cameron to do was to check the facts with me before he made smears and allegations which divide our communities.”

It is remarkable that allegations refuted in 2009 could be rehashed by the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph on the back of poor verification of factual evidence by the BHA. The BHA’s claim that ISF run schools “have been repeatedly dogged by accusations of extremism” is certainly true. That it is responsible for some of the misinformation is also true.