Monthly Archives: April 2014

West Country paper, Western Morning News, reports on £10,000 worth of damage done to a newly refurbished Islamic education centre in Plymouth in a suspected arson attack.

The local paper reports that Muslims arriving at the Plymouth Islamic Education Trust centre (Piety) on April 19 discovered “raw sewerage pouring into the street” after a fire damaged the building’s exterior wall and sewage pipes.

CCTV footage suggests that the damage was “caused by two individuals setting fire to wheelie bins beside the centre.”

Police have not classified the incident as a ‘hate crime’ with the paper reporting their position “currently no evidence [exists] to suggest there was any ulterior motive behind the arson attack.”

The Centre’s director, Mohamed Muganzi, told the paper, “I’d like to find out what’s going on in their minds and try to put it right.

“We work with all our community around us, we have open days, we have schoolchildren from the area come to visit, we work with government departments helping them understand about Islam, we host a number of community groups and have the Friends of Piety to ensure we’re working well with our community,” he added.

Hot on the heels of news reports last week of a UKIP member posting racist and anti-Muslim comments on his Twitter account comes further reports of other UKIP candidates and members accused of doing much the same.

The Guardian on Saturday reported on the remarks posted by a UKIP candidate for the London Borough elections in Enfield, William Henwood, who alongside racist comments about British comedian Lenny Henry, posted tweets saying “Islam reminds me of the 3rd Reich, strength through violence against the citizens”.

He also said Muslims “like us to fawn to them” and “young Muslim men remind me of young Afrikaners. They are taught at an early age they have the right to abuse”.

Another UKIP candidate,  Magnus Nielsen, who is standing in the London Borough elections for Camden council, posted this comment on his Facebook page: “70% of mosques in the UK have been taken over by Wahabbi fundamentalists. Islam is organised crime under religious camouflage. Any Muslim who is not involved in organised crime is not a ‘true believer’, practising Islam as Muhammad commanded”.

According to the Daily Mail, UKIP candidate for local council elections in Tamworth, Staffordshire, Robert Bilcliff, posted anti-Muslim comments on his Facebook page in July 2012 although the paper does not print the comments he is alleged to have made.

And Sky News reports on an advert taken out in the local paper, Exeter Express and Echo, by UKIP party activist, David Challice, in which he attacked the ‘lunacy of multiculturalism’ and advised “cash-strapped Moslems” to take multiple wives in order to claim welfare benefit.

With the European Parliament elections less than a month away, the proliferation of anti-Muslim and racist sentiments expressed by UKIP candidates, members and supporters is certainly cause for alarm given the party’s popularity in opinion polls and by elections to date. A YouGov poll for the Sunday Times put UKIP in the lead for the first time on 31% ahead of Labour and Tories at 28% and 19% respectively.

Nigel Farage has boasted that UKIP has done more than any other party to ‘destroy the racist BNP’ by listening to the policy concerns of disenfranchised voters ‘who vote for them out of frustration but don’t agree with their racist agenda’. Disclosures of recent months, following UKIP’s strong showing in local and by elections, would suggest that the party is much closer to the BNP’s ‘racist agenda’ than it is willing to concede.

The Daily Mail reports on further developments in the delay to the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry report into the lead up to war in Iraq.

According to the paper, the report is unlikely to be published until after the next election, in May 2015, to avoid any blowback to Labour in an election year. The paper notes, “Labour strategists are said to be alarmed at the prospect of voters being reminded of the Iraq war in the months before the election, since the conflict was blamed for driving many of its voters to the Liberal Democrats in 2005 and 2010.”

The paper also continues the speculation over the role of the former PM, Tony Blair, in the ongoing delay with news that former Labour attorney general, Lord Morris, has sought ‘clarification’ on who exactly is responsible for the delay.

MP Paul Flynn, who rebelled in parliamentary votes on the war in Iraq, said that Blair “dreads the publication of Chilcot”.

“The vote on the Iraq war was the foulest episode of the Blair government,’ he said. ‘The 139 Labour MPs who voted on a severe three-line whip against British involvement were not enough. There were 80 other Labour MPs who had indicated their worries by their support for amendments and early day motions.

“They were bribed, bullied and bamboozled into voting for war, or abstaining. I wonder if Tony and the whips ever dwell on the thought that 179 British lives would not have been lost if they had told the truth and desisted from bellicose bullying,” he added.

News of yet another delay to the Chilcot report comes as the Royal United Services Institute published an edited collection on British Military Operations since 1991 in which it describes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as ‘strategic failures’.

The RUSI report judges the interventions in Iraq to have increased the security threat to the UK noting:

“Far from reducing international terrorism… the 2003 invasion [of Iraq] had the effect of promoting it.

“The rise of Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was a reaction to this invasion, and to the consequent marginalisation of Iraq’s Sunni population.

“Today, AQAP and other radical jihadist groups stretching across the Iraqi-Syrian border, pose new terrorist threats to the UK and its allies that might not have existed, at least in this form, had Saddam remained in power.”

The report also notes the impact on regional and domestic security threats of the UK’s intervention in Afghanistan stating Taliban fighters are “motivated much more by opposition to foreign intervention than by global jihadism”.

The Daily Mail offers further evidence of the UK Independence Party’s failure to identify members known to hold reprehensible views despite a promise to introduce stricter vetting procedures by party leader, Nigel Farage.

Farage, who claimed he had introduced ‘stricter vetting procedures’ to root out ‘Walter Mitty’ type characters who display ‘real extremism and nastiness’ in order to prevent them from damaging UKIP’s image, has been forced to suspend a member of the party featured in one its recently launched European Parliament election campaign adverts after shocking Twitter messages were discovered.

Andre Lampitt, who is seen in one of the campaign ads, has been found to have posted racist remarks on Twitter including a disturbing post in which he describes Islam as  ‘an evil organisation respecting a prophet who was a pedo’.

A Ukip spokesman has confirmed that the party has acted saying Lampitt’s “membership of the party has been suspended immediately pending a full disciplinary process.”

The swift action will do little to assuage fears that the party is the new home of far right extremists. A number of reports published last year reveal some members to have formerly been involved with the National Front. Further scrutiny of the party, after its run of success in by-elections, discovered that its London MEP, Gerard Batten, supported a ban on halal meat and endorsed a Charter calling on Muslims to sign a ‘Code of Conduct’ rejecting terrorism. Other reports have outlined the far right parties with which UKIP is aligned in the European Parliament.

In a column in yesterday’s Independent, Farage dismissed criticisms of the party’s campaign adverts as ‘racist’ saying it was ‘a classic tactic by those who have sought to shut down this debate’. It would appear to be the case that the claim is less tactical and more real given Lampitt’s postings.

Bradford’s local paper, the Telegraph and Argus, reports on police efforts to trace a victim of an alleged racial assault as well as a man wanted to assist with inquiries in relation to the incident.

The inquiries relate to an Asian man in his 30’s who was verbally abused before being kicked in the back as he waited for a train at Leeds railway station. The assaulter was caught on CCTV and police have released images of a man they want to trace for questioning in connection with the attack. More in the local report here.

The Guardian this week reported on a lawsuit filed by four American Muslims who claim harassment by the FBI and the operation of a no-fly list used to intimidate Muslims to become informants for the agency. The no-fly list, maintained by the FBI and implemented by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), prevents those placed on it from flying to, from, or over US territory. The Muslims named in the lawsuit allege violation of their right to freedom of movement through harassment and detention at airports in the US, as well as denial of air travel.

One of the four Americans, Naveed Shinwari, in an interview with the Guardian claims he was detained and questioned twice by FBI agents on homebound travel to Omaha, Nebraska. He also alleges visits to his home by FBI agents. He goes on to suggest a possible link between the events saying a month later, he was unable to get a boarding pass after purchasing a plane ticket for a temporary job in Connecticut. The police notified him he had been placed on the US no-fly list despite having no history of being accused of breaking the law. Shinwari received another FBI visit in which agents asked him about “local Omaha community” and if he knew “anyone who’s a threat”.

In return, Shinwari asked “What can I do to clear my name?” He recalls being told “you help us, we help you. We know you don’t have a job; we’ll give you money.”

Despite his suspicions, Shinwari does not know for certain that the FBI placed him on the list as either a punitive measure or a pressure tactic. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the US government’s official policy is to neither confirm nor deny watch-list status.

The lawsuit accuses the US attorney general, Eric Holder; the FBI director, James Comey; the homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson; and two dozen FBI agents of using the no-fly list as a leverage to coerce Muslims to spy on their communities. The lawsuit seeks to remove the four Muslims from the no fly list as well as reform the legal mechanism to contest placement on the list.

The ACLU observes in a report published last month that the Associated Press reported a doubling of names on the list on the previous year with approximately 21,000 individuals of which roughly 500 are US citizens and lawful permanent residents.

According to the Guardian, the director of the Terrorist Screening Center (TSC) Christopher Piehota affirmed in a federal court filing in March 2011 that FBI agents could nominate candidates to the list.

However, he told the court that inclusion depends upon “whether there is reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is a known or suspected terrorist”. He also informed that audits and quality control measures were periodic because “Mere guesses or ‘hunches,’ or the reporting of suspicious activity alone is not enough to constitute a reasonable suspicion and are not sufficient bases to watchlist an individual.”

Diala Shamas, one of the lawyers engaged in the lawsuit said “This policy and set of practices by the FBI is part of a much broader set of policies that reflect over-policing in Muslim-American communities”.

As reported in the Guardian last week, New York’s Police Department declared it had disbanded its Muslim surveillance unit after legal challenges over its violation of civil rights. The unit collated databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed. It further carried out infiltrations and surveillance of Muslim student groups as well as mosques.

The US lawsuit and widespread surveillance of Muslim communities by law enforcement agencies resonates well with incidents in the UK where numerous allegations of a similar type have emerged. Cases of harassment, airport detention and home visits by MI5 and MI6 agents desperate to coerce Muslims into spying for the security forces have come to light in recent years.

The nature and scale of the problem of profiling Muslims since the ‘war on terror’ is well documented in Arun Kundnani’s new study on surveillance, law enforcement and counter-terrorism policies and their impact on Muslim communities in the UK and US.

There is much media coverage in The Independent on Sunday, The Daily and Sunday Express, The Daily Telegraph, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, and BBC News on the alleged ‘Trojan Horse plot’ following the Sunday Telegraph’s revelation of leaked reports into the schools in Birmingham.

According to The Sunday Telegraph, the leaked reports from Ofsted and the Department for Education (DfE) substantiate many of the allegations against the schools.

Of the 17 inspected by Ofsted, 5 are to be graded “inadequate” for leadership and management and to be placed in “special measures” while another school is already under such measures. The special measures give Ofsted powers to remove the schools’ leadership teams.

Nine other schools are expected to be graded “requiring improvement” because the “plot is deemed less advanced, or where secular head teachers are resisting,” the paper reports.

The Sunday Telegraph further notes that the DfE report into Park View, Golden Hillock secondary schools and Nansen primary school criticises them for “transgressing” principles of equality and secularism as inspectors found practices of gender segregation and the curriculum was “Islamised”.

The veracity of the claims to be published in the reports however, cannot be confirmed until the reports are placed in the public domain. Especially since the anonymous letter outlining the “Trojan Horse plot” that sparked the initial investigations has yet to be established as authentic.

As for claims to the reasons for placing the schools in special measures and grading them as ‘inadequate’, it is worth recalling the bluster and copious coverage of outlandish claims in relation to the Al Madinah school in Derby.

As documented in a Channel 4 News report, the Al-Madinah free school in Derby was put under “special measures” due to financial mismanagement by the governors and conflicts of interest rather than over allegations the school segregated students by gender and forced female staff members to wear the hijab.

What is even more striking are the remarks of the former Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, that Muslims need to accept “British values”, as media coverage on the alleged Trojan Horse plot unfolds.

According to the Daily Mail, Straw stated ‘We have to accept and the schools with a majority of Muslim parents have to accept – as they do if they are Hindu, Sikh, Jewish or Christian – that we also live within the United Kingdom. Alongside values which are religiously based, there has to understanding that this is the UK and there is a set of values – some of which I would say are Christian based – which permeate our sense of citizenship.’

It seems Straw is steeped in the illusion that Muslims face conflicting pressures between their faith and national identity despite the overwhelming evidence indicating otherwise.

The Gallup 2009 found that 77% of Muslims identify with the UK in comparison to 50% in the general population. Similarly, a Demos poll in 2011 found that 83% of Muslims agreed with the statement “I am proud to be a British citizen” compared to 79% of the general population.

Studies by the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity at Manchester University, the Open Society Institute, and Institute for Social and Economic Research have further reinforced research findings that Muslims are significantly more likely to identify with British national identity.

It is hard not to observe in the media’s coverage of the alleged ‘Trojan Horse’ plot a loss of perspective on faith schools in our education sector and insidious murmurs of a witch-hunt. Muslim faith schools have demonstrated considerable success in the comparatively fewer years they have enjoyed state support. Outstanding achievement in delivering education can be seen, for example, in Tauheedul Islamic Girls School’s which was awarded a prize for Excellence at the Muslim News Awards this year, having topped a league table of 3,000 state-funded schools based on more than 20 official Government indicators.

Indeed, the Muslim News reports that over half of Muslim schools in England have surpassed the national average of students achieving 5 or more GCSE’s or equivalent A*- C grades including English and Maths GCSEs.

Toby Young rightly points out in a blog on the Telegraph website that “The truth is that 99 per cent of faith schools in England, including Muslim faith schools, are scrupulously observant of all the rules…. By and large, they are islands of excellence in a sea of mediocrity, part of the solution not part of the problem, and we shouldn’t allow the “Trojan Horse” controversy to blind us to that fact.”

EU Observer reports on the publication of a report by the Council of Europe on the State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe.

The report, which documents Member States’ compliance with fundamental rights as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, notes serious violations with ‘corruption, immunity from prosecution, impunity, human trafficking, racism, hate speech and discrimination’ on the rise throughout Europe.

Ethnic discrimination and the situation of national minorities is regarded as the most serious problem affecting 39 of the CoE’s 47 Member States.

Acknowledging the progress made by Members on non-discrimination, the CoE notes that “immigrants, persons from a migration background, non- nationals, asylum seekers, refugees, stateless persons and members of national minorities still experience hate crime, hate speech, discrimination and other forms of intolerance.”

On the far right and the proliferation of xenophobia in mainstream discourse, the CoE report notes “The increasing influence of political parties with extreme-right agendas [and its] challenges [to] the principles of democracy. In some member States, such parties have won seats in parliament. Although in most cases their presence has not called into question democratic institutions, their influence can push governments into decisions that weaken rather than strengthen democracy.”

The report further notes, “Technology facilitates the dissemination of racist and xenophobic messages. Their authors have easy, anonymous access to virtually unsupervised online platforms. Hate crime remains underreported due to lack of victim assistance and victims’ negative perception of law enforcement. Most states have comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and good criminal laws punishing hate crime. However, these need to be applied properly, which is not always the case.”

The report observes tendencies to scapegoat minority communities in the prevailing economic climate stating, “National minorities are frequently used as scapegoats for unemployment and broader economic hardships. Moreover, new nationalistic and racist ideologies are emerging, further jeopardising minority rights.”

In a section on other forms of discrimination, the CoE notes particular concerns in relation to the rights of Muslim minorities in Europe. The report states:

“ECRI has noted a general increase in religious intolerance. Websites, such as those focusing on Muslim immigration and allegations of a worldwide “Jewish conspiracy”, amplify extremism and fuel tensions. Religion is increasingly used as a pretext for discrimination on other grounds.

“While many European countries have abolished blasphemy laws, publication of anti-Islam material has re-opened an international debate on the criminalisation of religious defamation.

“ECRI has also noted increasing discrimination affecting women and girls wearing the Islamic veil or headscarves. They often cannot find jobs, adequate housing or attend school.”

The report also notes the effect on minorities of an aggressive approach to border control stating: “The policing of migration flows has resulted in discussions that fuel the xenophobic debate. ECRI also noted that some member States use their anti-terrorism legislation to remove non-nationals who had obtained interim protection from the Court. As a result of the economic crisis, most member States prioritise restrictive immigration policies at the expense of integration policies, restricting family reunification while tightening citizenship laws.”

The report advances a number of recommendations to address what it details as serious violations of human rights and the standards expected of Member States as signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The publication of the report a month before the European Parliament elections is a stern reminder to political parties across the continent of their responsibilities to uphold minority rights and desist from engaging in exclusionary rhetoric while on the campaign trail.

The Council of Europe report can be read here.

The Guardian, BBC News, Sky News and ITV News all report on the Sunday Times’ front page story concerning remarks by the new Chairman of the Charities Commission, William Shawcross, on the ‘deadliest threat’ to charities arising from ‘Islamists’ and ‘extremism’.

Shawcross in an interview with the Sunday Times said that his first 18 months as the new Chairman, has been a “rollercoaster” ride “with IEDs going off”.

Shawcross stated that “The problem of Islamist extremism and charities… is not the most widespread problem we face in terms of abuse of charities, but is potentially the most deadly. And it is, alas, growing.”

Having drafted the former head of anti-terrorism at Scotland Yard, Sir Peter Clarke, onto the Commission’s board, Shawcross added that the commission was taking tough measures against any charity “sending cash to extremist groups in Syria” or “dispatching young Britons for training in Syria by al-Qaeda or other extremist groups”.

Shawcross tells the paper he is pressing the Prime Minster to introduce measures to prevent those convicted of terrorism offences or money laundering to be barred from setting up charities or becoming trustees.

The Sunday Times further reports that the Commission is investigating three charities on raising funds for Syria and monitoring seven others. It also notes that the regulator is currently conducting 48 inquiries into terrorism – related groups though there is no information on the type of terrorism in question; far right, sectarian or al-Qaida inspired.

It is worth taking note that in the Taskforce on Tackling Radicalisation report, published last December, the need to address the problem of extremist groups targeting charities was highlighted although there was scant evidence based analysis to support concerns that it was a major problem. The Charity Commission’s consultation launched the same day also included details of cases where the regulator was forced to intervene but none of the cases suggest a problem with extremist groups targeting charities.

The warning from Shawcross follows the recent launch of a statutory inquiry into a British Muslim charity, Al Fatiha Global, last month.

The disproportionate focus on the securitisation of the charity sector through counter-terrorism laws on terrorist financing is apparent even in the Charity Commission’s own experience that “proven instances of terrorist involvement or association in the charitable sector are low in comparison to the size of the sector”.

Indeed, such focus is unwarranted given that counter-terrorism laws have been inadequately developed particularly in relation to civil society. The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, has criticised anti-terrorism legislation as ‘untidy’ with some aspects of it administered with “excessive enthusiasm”.

A 2009 report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) “Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity” demonstrates the impact of anti-terrorism financing laws in the US have had on the faith sector and particularly Muslim charities.

In exploring its concern that US counter-terrorism laws are “overly broad and lack procedural safeguards” to protect American charities against government abuse, the ACLU conducted 120 interviews, including with Muslim community leaders and American Muslim charitable donors. Its findings reveal that America’s counter-terrorism practices have been counter-productive undermining American Muslims’ civil rights including the right to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination. The ACLU concluded that the US government’s policies have “created a climate of fear that chills American Muslims’ free and full exercise of their religion through charitable giving”. It also found that the operation of Muslim charities have been substantially disrupted by raids which have the net result of “scaring off donors in the absence of indictable evidence of wrongdoing”.

The situation in the US seems to reverberate in the UK with both Interpal and Muslim Aid having wrongfully faced allegations of having links with terrorism groups. Both charities were investigated and cleared by the Charity Commission. Concerns regarding the hindrance of the work of Muslim charities in the UK due to terrorism legislation on charity activities was also raised by Islamic Relief in a discussion with charity regulators in 2012.

Details that are not entirely unrelated to the articles published in the Sunday Times are the political views of Shawcross and his association with the Henry Jackson Society. Shawcross’s staunch support for the Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq is documented in his book on the subject. Support that perhaps led him to view Guantanamo as ‘model justice’ having “probably the best-run detention centre in the world and with more habeas corpus rights for detainees than anywhere else”. Moreover, as Marko Atilla Hoare, a former staffer at HJS writes, Shawcross’s political views were scrutinised at a meeting of the Public Administration select committee where his affiliation with HJS was flagged up as undermining claims to political independence, a requirement for the chairmanship post.

In its report on the ‘State of Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe’, the Council of Europe notes the impact of the securitisation of civil society on the sector’s ability to perform essential duties on preserving human rights and challenging abuse. It notes that “Member States must not claim the protection of public order or prevention of extremism, terrorism or money laundering to control NGOs or restrict their ability function”.

As the Taskforce on Tackling Radicalisation moves to implement policy proposals contained in its report and the Charity Commission concludes it consultation on extending powers to tackle abuse in the charitable sector, the Council of Europe’s warning should ring loud and clear.