Monthly Archives: May 2014

Mehdi Hasan in this week’s New Statesman reflects on the local and European election results which have brought far right parties to power across Europe.

Hasan mentions various politicians from the mainstream parties whose anti-Muslim conduct or utterings have given succour to the more explicit Islamophobia espoused by far right parties.

He echoes sentiments expressed by former Communities Minister, Shahid Malik, on Muslims being the ‘New Jews’ stating ‘anti-Semitism is now taboo in mainstream political discourse in a way which Islamophobia isn’t’.

Looking at the copious amount of disparaging media coverage in recent months, whether on halal meatniqabsegregated seating or Muslim schools, one is not at all at pains to understand how it is that the far right have been able to translate their anti-Muslim invectives into electoral gains.

Two years ago the New Statesman published a cover story featuring Anders Breivik arguing that it was time to put mainstream Islamophobia on trial. Two years on, how much has changed?

The GuardianThe IndependentDaily MirrorSky News and BBC Radio 4’s Today programme all report on new data from the British Social Attitudes Survey which shows that 1 in 3 people in the UK admit to being ‘very’ or ‘a little’ racially prejudiced.

The results vary by region, with the West and East Midlands showing the greatest level of prejudice, on 35% and 33% respectively, and Inner London and Outer London much lower levels, on 16 and 26% respectively, the latter taking third place behind Scotland on 25%.

The survey reveals that the highest level of racial prejudice is reported among older generations, those with low levels of education and those in less skilled occupations.

In an article, the co-director of the survey Alison Park emphasised that “these findings are not indicative of anything other than how many people describe themselves as racially prejudiced in an interview situation. They are not indicative of an increase in racially motivated crime, workplace discrimination or a nation catapulting to the far right. They are, nonetheless, significant and show that the fight against racism is no fait accompli.”

The BSA survey has been conducted annually since 1983. Up until 2000, the level of self-reported racial prejudice had been declining. In contrast, the latest survey in 2013, consisting of 3,244 interviews between June and October 2013 using a representative random sample of adults in Britain, reflects the continuous rise in the level of racial prejudice that people are prepared to admit since 2000.

Participants were initially asked a ‘warm up’ question about whether they think levels of racial prejudice have increased or not over the last five years. This was followed by a question attempting to record self-reported levels of racism. Participants were asked “How would you describe yourself… as prejudiced against people of other races, a little prejudiced, or not prejudiced at all?”

Though the term ‘prejudice’ is not defined in the question, the survey results are broken down by gender, age, education, occupation and political party.

According to the results, 32% of men described themselves as racially prejudiced in comparison to 29% women. However, the Guardian notes that the gap has closed significantly over the last 10 years as the number of men admitting prejudice decreased from 37% in 2002 to 32% in 2013 and the respective figures for women has risen from 25% to 29%.

Over a third of over 55s (36%) described themselves as racially prejudiced, in comparison to 25% of 17-34 year olds. This is consistent with research conducted by far right expert Matthew Goodwin, who has noted the discernable difference between older and younger generations in their attitudes toward multiculturalism.

The figures on Scotland are interesting given the findings of an earlier report by the British Council on Muslims in Scotland which presents some disturbing figures on the level of anti-Muslim prejudice in Scotland. For example, Almost twice as many respondents agree that the Christian religion is compatible with life in Scotland as agree that the Islamic religion is compatible (80% compared with 42%).

While 38% of those with no qualifications admitted to racial prejudice, only one in five (19%) of those with degrees did so. However, it is worth noting that those with lower levels of education such as GCSE (35%), CSE (40%), and higher education below degree level (32%) also identified themselves as having racial prejudice.

Manual workers (41% of unskilled manual workers and 38% of skilled manual) are more likely to admit racial prejudice than those in non-manual professions (26% professionals/managers, 26% intermediate non-manual and 32% junior non-manual).

Along political party lines, the survey suggests that Conservative supporters are more likely to describe themselves as racially prejudiced (39) though this is narrowly beaten by “Other” party supporters at 41. Liberal Democrat supporters are the least likely to admit to racial prejudice (18) while 30 of those without a political affiliation claim to have racial prejudice. The figures for ‘other’ and ‘none’ do present challenges for mainstream parties given the attraction to those bearing racial prejudice of either fringe parties or no party at all.

The Guardian notes that the sharp rise in self-reported racial prejudice since 2000 follows the 9/11 attacks in New York and the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Tariq Modood, from Bristol University, states that the findings suggest that many people were conflating anti-Muslim sentiment and racial hatred saying “I don’t think there is any doubt that hostility to Muslims and suspicion of Muslims has increased since 9/11, and that is having a knock-on effect on levels of racial prejudice.”

Such would certainly be consistent with the results of other BSA surveys which reveal an overall negative attitude towards Muslim migrants and a 2009 survey which revealed deep antipathy towards Islam. For example:

  • 52 per cent think of people interviewed think Britain is deeply divided along religious lines
  • 55 per cent of people said they would be ‘bothered’ if a large mosque was built in their locality while only 15 per cent said they would have similar concerns about a church being built locally
  • Only one in four people in Britain feel positively about Islam
  • And less than half of those questioned in the BSA 2009 survey, 45 per cent, felt that diversity had brought benefits to the UK.

The BSA results on racial prejudice come as the agency also publishes findings on whether adults in Britain are proud to be British. The results from a self-completion survey of 904 people found that 19% of people felt ‘very proud’ and 48% ‘somewhat proud’ of Britain for “its fair and equal treatment of all groups in society”. The figures on the self-declared levels of racial prejudice suggest some disparity in the appraisal of Britain’s treatment of groups in society and social attitudes towards them.

As predicted in polls in the run up to the elections, UKIP did indeed triumph in the European elections last week having received the largest share of the national vote at 27.5%. UKIP was closely followed by Labour (25.4%) and the Conservatives (24%). The Liberal Democrats lost all but one of their MEPs falling behind both the Green Party and the Scottish National Party in seats won. In some regions, the Lib Dem candidate dropped into sixth position.

UKIP’s dramatic rise in the UK is illustrated by its achievement to become the first non-mainstream party to win a national election in a 100 years. While UKIP gained popularity in the European elections, other far right parties have not met a similar success.

The British National Party, which had previously won two seats in the 2009 elections, lost its seat in Yorkshire and Humber following the defection of Andrew Brons in October 2012 and the seat occupied by party leader, Nick Griffin, in the North West region. The BNP won 179,694 votes or 1.14%.

Britain First polled 20,272 votes, Liberty GB only received 2,494 of the votes.

The allocation of seats in the new European Parliament by political party is presented below:

UKIP:   24
Labour:   20
Conservatives:   19
Green Party:   3
SNP:   2
LD:   1
Plaid Cymru:   1

Of the 73 MEPs elected, 4 are Muslims with 2 from the Conservatives, 1 from Labour and 1 representing UKIP.

Overall UK voter turnout was 34.19%, remaining at a similar level as the 2009 elections at 34.8%. 

In the local elections which took place on the same day, UKIP made record gains taking more than 150 seats from Labour and Conservative parties. The turnout for the elections was not much greater than for the European elections at 36%.

Overall, Labour gained 338 seats, the Conservatives lost 230 seats and the Liberal Democrats lost over 300 seats. The table below summaries local elections results:

 

Councils controlled

Number of Seats

Conservatives

41 (-11)

1360 (-230)

Labour

82 (+6)

2101 (+338)

Liberal Democrats

6 (-2)

427 (-310)

Green

0 (0)

37 (+15)

UKIP

0 (0)

163 (+128)

No Overall Control

31 (+7)

131 (-64)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mayoral elections which took place in various London boroughs show party gains as illustrated in the table below. In those regions where the candidate did not win a majority on first preference votes, second preference ballots were taken into consideration.

 

Election Turnout (%)

Election Candidate

Party

Votes (1stPref)

 %

Votes (2ndPref)

 %

Total

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hackney

41.5

Jules Pipe

Labour

40,858

60.4

 

 

 

Lewisham

37.2

Steve Bullock

Labour

​36,659

50.8

 

 

 

Newham 

40.62

Sir Robin Wales

 

Labour

 

47095

 

61

 

 

 

Tower Hamlets

47.58

 

Lutfur Rahman

Tower Hamlets First

 

36539

 

43.4

 

856

 

11.6

 

37395

John Biggs

Labour

27643

32.8

6500

88.4

34143

Watford 

 

36.95

Dorothy Thornhill

Liberal Democrat

 

11,741

 

45.9

 

14,193

 

65.4

 

25934

Jagtar Singh Dhindsa

 

Labour

 

6,577

 

25.7

 

7,504

 

34.6

 

14081

 

The Independent, in an article profiling some of the UKIP candidates who are to enter the European Parliament following last week’s elections, notes the controversial views expressed on Islam, homosexuality, women and Romanians that has dogged its campaign. UKIP’s new MEPs include members who have expressed anti-Muslim views such as:

  • Gerard Batten (London) – who expressed support for a ban on halal slaughter and called for Muslims to sign a “Charter of Muslim Understanding” which demanded some parts of the Qur’an be rendered “inapplicable” until scholars find a solution making them compatible with “today’s world”.
  • Julia Reid (South West England) – a screenshot of an Islamophobic message on Twitter stating Islam “has no place in the UK [and] needs banning” was shared on an account associated with her name. While she denies the allegations of sharing the message and questions the accuracy of the screenshot, Reid later suspended her Twitter account.
  • Jane Collins (Yorkshire and the Humber), who replaced Godfrey Bloom after his repeat blunders, said she had always felt Bloom had been “talking a lot of common sense”.
  • Patrick O’Flynn (East of England) – During his time as the Daily Express’ chief political commentator, O’Flynn wrote that “Muslim urban ghettos have reintroduced electoral fraud as a regular feature of British political life” under the headline “The time has come for Muslims to fully adopt the British way of life”.

The Times and the Scottish Daily Record both profile the former BNP member and founder of Britain First, Jim Dowson, the ‘religious zealot’ and ‘race hate fanatic’ who is heading Britain First’s ‘Christian crusade’ campaign against mosques.

Dowson, who has a criminal record for violence including convictions for weapon possession, was one of six candidates standing for Britain First (BF) in the European Parliament elections in Scotland. 

According to the Times, five police forces have launched investigations into the party over allegations of public disorder and inciting racial hatred. This follows their most recent ‘invasion’ of East London Mosque last week with the reporting that the mosque is expected to request an antisocial behaviour order against the group.

The Times describes the far right group as ‘explicitly Christian’ saying it recruits angry young men from the English Defence League, teaches its followers boxing and martial arts, bans drinking and swearing and introduces them to the Bible.

It further notes the group’s green-jacketed uniform. The chosen attire is not surprising considering the Daily Record revelation that Dowson has links to “loyalist paramilitary heavies”. This may also explain how BF has been able to distribute Army issued Bibles alongside their leaflets about so-called ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ in their campaigns at ‘mega-mosques’.

The Daily Record further observes BF’s use of pictures of murder victim Kriss Donald alongside Stephen Lawrence to raise their profile. A tactic not dissimilar to the phrase ‘Remember Lee Rigby’ used on ballot sheets for the European elections.

Despite such anti-Muslim rhetoric and videos of mosque ‘invasions’ being posted on Facebook days before the European elections took place, BF won only 20,272 votes (0.13%), far less than the BNP’s 179,694 (1.14%).

The East London Advertiser reports on the latest antics of the far right group, Britain First.

The group, which has already been referred to the police for its ‘invasion’ of mosques in Bradford and Glasgow and its door stopping of local Muslim councillors, engaged in more provocative behaviour in east London last night with another ‘Christian patrol’ on Brick Lane.

The group, which is contesting seats in the European parliament elections in the Wales and Scotland regions, took to the streets of Brick Lane in an armoured vehicle stating “Major disturbances follow Britain First Christian patrol in East London. Crowds of Muslims rampage through Brick Lane. Muslim vigilante gangs lock horns with Britain First teams.”

The group, who wore ‘activist jackets’ according to leader, Paul Golding, denied their actions were provocative saying they were not like the ‘riff-raff’ of the English Defence League who behave like ‘drunken hooligans’.

Golding, a former BNP councillor, said his group were confronted by a “baying mob of around 150 Muslims” as they handed out leaflets to passersby.

The group have also made significant use of social media tools, shooting short films of members handing out leaflets and Bibles and uploading them onto their Facebook page. A message posted on the group’s Facebook page after its ‘invasion’ of mosques in Bradford stated:

“It’s as simple as this: take action or we will continue our Christian Crusade.”

“Our intelligence team is at present compiling lists of home address’s of Bradford MPs, councillors, newspaper editors and Muslim community leaders/imams, and we will be visiting them all over the next couple of weeks.”

“We will also continue our invasions of Bradford mosques, madrassas and community centres – we are only getting warmed up!”

“We appeal to moderate Muslims to act against the ‘enemy within’ or we will!”

The Star and West Sussex County Times cover the remarks of South Yorkshire Chief Constable, David Crompton, who in an interview with the Yorkshire Post expressed concerns at the cost to the taxpayer of far right protests and the opportunity cost to police forces of policing static demonstrations at a time of budget cuts.

Crompton told the YP that it was time the Government revised the Public Order Act in order to subject static demonstrations to tighter restrictions freeing up resources for police forces to deploy elsewhere.

Crompton is quoted in the paper as saying:

“I do think that is a touchy subject, because we are getting very close to what is people’s freedom of speech. But by the same token there has to be a sense of proportion about this.

“These events cost us about half a million pounds every time and that is half a million pounds we would rather be spending on something else.

“Either somebody changes the law so that it’s less easy to do this or alternatively there are some funds available that we can tap into. As it stands, we have a lot of power over marches but we don’t have in any way the same control over assemblies. I do think that perhaps the time has come to look at some of that legislation.”

Rotherham has seen three English Defence League demonstrations in the town in the last 18 months with the most recent one requiring 1,000 police officers, some drawn from neighbouring forces. Cost of policing the demonstrations, according to Crompton, have totalled £500,000 each time and diverting £1.5million from the force’s budget.

A freedom of information request submitted by the Yorkshire Post last year found that West Yorkshire has spent £3million on policing EDL demonstrations since October 2009. Tower Hamlets council disclosed that an EDL protest in the borough last summer had cost the local force £2million after 3,000 police officers had to be drafted in.  And it is not the first time that questions have been raised about rethinking legislation on static protests and the huge diversion of police budgets to man static protests. Jonathan Reynolds MP raised the question of “whether such protests – which caused inevitable disruption for shoppers and prompting a significant policing operation – are really appropriate” after the EDL targeted his constituency of Stalybridge and Hyde in 2012.

The Yorkshire Post in an editorial throws its weight behind Crompton’s proposal of a legislative rethink stating:

“There is nothing undemocratic or illiberal about banning gatherings likely to provoke violence and which have little popular support in any case. And if the EDL disagrees with this, then let it participate in democracy by actually standing in elections and showing the nation exactly how much popularity it has.”

The Belfast Telegraph follows up reports of a police investigation into the remarks of a Northern Irish pastor who described Islam as ‘a doctrine spawned in hell’, with news that a fellow evangelical pastor has expressed support for the views as well as adding disparaging comments of his own.

Pastor James McConnell, addressing his congregation at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle Church last Sunday, said in relation to Islam that “a new evil had arisen”. He went on to elaborate by saying, “Islam is heathen, Islam is satanic, Islam is a doctrine spawned in hell.”

McConnell praised the former minister Enoch Powell, calling him ‘a prophet’ adding, “he [Powell] called it that blood would flow on the streets and it has happened.”

“Fifteen years ago Britain was concerned of IRA cells right throughout the nation. They done a deal with the IRA because they were frightened of being bombed.

“Today a new evil has arisen. There are cells of Muslims right throughout Britain, can I hear an Amen, right throughout Britain, and this nation is going to enter into a great tribulation, a great trial,” he said.

McConnell is being investigated by Northern Ireland police for ‘a hate crime motive’ according to BBC News while the Belfast Telegraph reports that a fellow Pastor, Paul Burns, called the paper to express support for McConnell saying he was “not building up hatred against Muslim people” but merely reflecting the “teaching of Islam”.

Burns told the local paper: “The Koran teaches that all infidels who do not convert to Islamic teaching, then it is correct to be able to kill all those who oppose the teaching of the Koran.

“When Pastor McConnell is talking about it as a direct teaching of Satan – it is.

“Hitler murdered over six-and-a-half million Jewish people. I would class him as Satanic. The people who are blowing up buses are told in the teaching of the Koran they are going to have 75 virgins who are going to wait upon them, whom he would have total control over.”

Burns also weighed in with comments about the easy availability of halal meat saying “Halal meat had been coming across into the UK, into our schools where Muslim clerics have prayed over the food that is actually being given to our children, who are of a Christian nation”.

The Independent reveals fresh allegations of MI5’s complicity in the torture of a young Somali man held in an Egyptian prison in an exclusive report this week.

Following previous reports by the same paper which has unearthed a number of cases in recent years, the paper covers claims by Ahmed Diini, a 25 year old grandson of deposed Somalian President Mohamed Siad Barre, who alleges he was questioned by an MI5 officer while being tortured in prison in Cairo. In his eight months’ imprisonment in Cairo, Diini claims he was shackled, hooded, repeatedly beaten, stripped naked and threatened with electrocution, whipped and faced threats his wife would be raped. Diini claims he was offered his freedom in return for working for the security services, an offer he declined.

Diini, a Dutch national who has two daughters living in the UK left Britain in 2011 to marry a German woman but was made subject of an exclusion order while out of the country with the Home Secretary accusing him of being involved in Islamic extremism. He took his family to live in Egypt where he was incarcerated though later released without charge. Travelling out of Egypt, to Holland via Turkey, Diini was apprehended again on a US arrest warrant after accusations from America that he was a member of the Somali-based terrorist organisation, al Shabaab.

The Independent discloses that Diini wrote a letter that was smuggled out through his lawyer in which he claims he was visited by a British security agent during his incarceration. Diini wrote “I am now 100 per cent sure that the British secret service are part of this trouble, because I met one of their secret service agents who tried to induce me to work with them in exchange for my freedom. He visited me here in prison, a white Brit with a Londonish accent. He told me my Dutch government is not capable of doing anything for me.”

He claims the British agent ended their half an hour interview with a warning that “I will be back so make your decision wisely, it’s your freedom.”

Diini claims to have been targeted by MI5 as early as 2006 and over the five years he lived in Birmingham, until 2011, before he went abroad.

His younger brother told the Independent that “I saw how my brother’s life was made miserable by MI5 when he lived in the UK and how they continued to make life difficult for him while he was in Egypt. My brother has never had anything to do with al Shabaab.”

According to Cage, Dinni’s testimonial is the first new evidence of British complicity in torture since 2008.

Asim Qureshi, Research Director at Cage, points out that “The case of Ahmed Diini raises serious questions over the Government’s treatment of the Somali community. The MI5 harassment he was subjected over here echoes the testimonies of many other Somali youngsters.”

The Independent first published reports of the harassment faced by Somali men and their targeting by security officials eager to enlist their services into spying on their communities in 2009. Sharhabeel Lone, chairman of the Kentish Town Community Centre, where some of the Somali men affected used to gather, wrote then to his local MP concerning the claims of harassment stating:

“Threatening British citizens, harassing them in their own country, alienating young people who have committed no crime other than practising a particular faith and being a different colour is a recipe for disaster.

“These disgraceful incidents have undermined 10 years of hard work and severely impacted social cohesion in Camden. Targeting young people that are role models for all young people in our country in such a disparaging way demonstrates a total lack of understanding of on-the-ground reality and can only be counter-productive.

“When people are terrorised by the very same body that is meant to protect them, sowing fear, suspicion and division, we are on a slippery slope to an Orwellian society.”

Diini’s case is being investigated by the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

The Guardian and The Times this week covered news of the Education Secretary’s mooted plans to introduce a ‘code of conduct’ for madrassahs to regulate practices and curricula in Islamic supplementary schools across the UK.

The Guardian quotes a policy official who said the code “…will make sure that all teachers are CRB [Criminal Records Bureau] checked, and that no corporal punishment is dealt out. 

“The schools may also be required to teach a standard syllabus, because right now they can teach whatever they want. The syllabus will be supportive of the government’s preventing-extremism strategy, so there will be no fundamentalist teaching.”

The Times observes that the new measures are based on the recommendations made in the Taskforce on Tackling Extremism 2013 report. The Taskforce agreed to “improve oversight of religious supplementary schools” through “a voluntary code of practice which will depend on schools implementing robust policies to protect children and young people from harm, including exposure to intolerant or extremist views.”

However, the Guardian takes note that the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, which has over 600 members, already promotes good governance in mosques and imam training institutions through a process of voluntary self-regulation. In addition, staff at the 2,000 madrassahs known to local authorities have undergone the necessary checks to create a safe and secure teaching environment.

Similarly, a 2011 report by IPPR, based on a survey of 179 Islamic supplementary schools, found that the majority did operate a child protection policy, including carrying out CRB checks on staff.

It is particularly interesting that the plans to introduce new regulations have emerged following the Ofsted inquiry into the alleged ‘Trojan Horse plot’ involving several Birmingham schools. Ofsted is expected to publish its inspection reports next month although it would seem from the announcement concerning the code of conduct that policies are being devised before the conclusion of Ofsted inspections as well as the results of current investigations into the provenance and authenticity of the letter which sparked off the ‘Trojan Horse’ furore.

The Guardian takes stock of the views of former Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton, who criticised the proposed regulations as inviting undue focus on madrassahs which could appear as discriminatory and reinforce existing negative stereotypes.

The apprehension around discrimination seems fair when one considers other reports in the press about Ofsted inspectors inquiring about attitudes toward homosexuality on their visits to certain schools. The Times notes the proposal in the Taskforce report on Tackling Radicalisation concerning extremism, with the reports stating: “All schools in England [. . .] must expect that they will be inspected and assessed on their measures to protect their pupils from extremist material.”

How ‘extremist material’ may come to be defined will cause justifiable anxiety following news of Ofsted’s visit to Olive Tree Primary School in Luton where inspectors, in the absence of teachers and parents, asked a group of 9-10 year old students about their knowledge and attitudes towards homosexuality such as if they had been taught about it “in a good or bad way”.

The Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, defended the inspectors’ behaviour and line of questioning stating:

The Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, stated “I am satisfied that the conduct of the inspection team was entirely appropriate throughout the visit. They handled the discussion with a group of pupils sensitively, taking proper account of the age of the children involved. I utterly reject the suggestion that the inspectors’ questions could in any way be construed as advocating a particular lifestyle or risked ‘sexualising young children’.”

ITV News and the Birmingham Mail report on a suspected racially motivated arson attack on a Muslim arts centre in Birmingham.

The Ulfah Arts and Media centre which is used by a Muslim women’s group had received anti Muslim hate mail in the weeks preceding the attack, according to the news report. The centre, which has been destroyed in the fire bears echoes of the arson attack on the Bravanese Somali centre in Muswell Hill which was burnt to the ground last summer, days after the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.

West Midlands police have confirmed the incident as an arson attack and are investigating racial motives for the attack.