Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Burton Mail and the Derby Telegraph draw attention to a violent assault on an imam in Burton last Thursday.  Imam Hafiz Ramzan was on his way home from the local mosque when he was attacked.

A Staffordshire Police spokesman confirmed that Imam Ramzan was approached outside his home by a man who engaged him in a brief conversation before violently assaulting him between 2pm and 2.30pm.

According to the Burton Mail, the attacker made threats before getting into a vehicle and fleeing the scene.

The victim, who was identified by the Burton Central Mosque Committee, suffered head and facial injuries including having two teeth being knocked out and a broken nose. He was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Medical Centre in Birmingham for treatment and was released the same day.

Burton Central Mosque Committee in a statement to the Burton Mail said: “Thursday was a deeply shocking day for the Burton Community.

“We do not know why this callous attack took place and are working with the police to bring the attacker to justice.”

Chief Inspector Steve Maskrey, commander of Burton Local Policing Team, speculated that that the incident appeared to be “an unprovoked violent attack”.

He added, “We will have high-visibility patrols in the area to offer reassurance to the community.”

Inspector Maskrey further confirmed that a police investigation had been launched to find the offender who has been described as Asian, tall, stocky, aged 35-45 years and wearing a black baseball cap.

Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian reports that the Chilcot Inquiry report is unlikely to be published this year despite criticism by the Prime Minister that further delays to it were ‘unreasonable’.

According to The Guardian, “Whitehall sources suggest the latest delay in the long-awaited report is the result of continuing disputes over criticisms the Chilcot panel plan to make of Blair and other ministers and advisers involved in the decision to invade Iraq.”

Former PM Tony Blair only recently wrote of current events in Iraq, ‘We have to liberate ourselves from the notion that ‘we’ have caused this. We haven’t.’ Comments which London mayor, Boris Johnson, argues are indicative of Blair’s need for ‘professional psychiatric help’.

In response to claims of his fear of what ‘point[ing] the finger of blame squarely at him’ could mean for his lucrative career since departing Number 10, Blair has denied that he lies behind the protracted delay to the publication of the Chilcot report.

News first published in the Independent on the likely 2015 publication of the report, has been met with some concern in Labour ranks with the Daily Mail reporting last month that “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.”

BBC News covers the re-opening of the first registered mosque in the UK established by English convert Abdullah Quilliam in Toxteth, Liverpool in 1889.

The BBC article explores Quilliam’s work at the Liverpool Muslim Institute which he founded and from where he preached Islam converting ‘200 locals and 600 people across the UK’.

The mosque, which has been refurbished and re-opened for use by Liverpool’s Muslim community bears a plaque in his memory on its wall.

The BBC article notes the claim of Quilliam to be ‘the first native Englishman to embrace the religion’, though this overlooks the case of the 2nd Baron of Alderley, Edward John Stanley, who converted to Islam in 1862 and was the first Muslim member of the House of Lords.

Read the BBC feature on Abdullah Quilliam here.

The Daily Mail reports on the court appearance of Theodora Sayn-Wittgenstein, a German princess who spoke of ‘killing Muslims’ during a drunken foray at the annual Oktoberfest party at St Andrews in Scotland in March of this year.

Sayn-Wittgenstein was accused of telling Muslim first aider, Farah Jasmin Hussain: “I was doing my nails this morning – I wondered how many Muslims I could kill.” She also assaulted a security guard at the event and injured another first aider.

Sayn-Wittgenstein pleaded guilty to two charges of assault, one of breach of the peace aggravated by religious prejudice and one breach of the peace under the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act. She was fined £1,000 at Dundee Sherriff Court. 

ITV News covers the statement issued by religious leaders, Welsh MPs and members of the Welsh Assembly to ‘reject the words’ and ‘twisted version of Islam’ of militants attempting to recruit British Muslims to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). 

The statement, organised by Cardiff South MP Stephen Doughty and Saleem Kidwai, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Wales, states:

“As community and religious leaders, and elected representatives in Cardiff, we are determined to work together to build a strong, cohesive and tolerant city, based on mutual respect. We reject extremism and together we will challenge those who want to destabilize and damage our communities and our young people.

“Recent reports about young men from Cardiff who appear to have joined extremists fighting with ISIS in Syria and Iraq are of grave concern to all of us in this city.

“We reject the words of these individuals, and we condemn those who have recruited these young and impressionable individuals with false promises and a twisted version of Islam.

“Here in Cardiff we have a long history of respect and interaction between our diverse communities, among them some of the oldest Muslim communities in Britain. Only last week a publication was launched which spells out the true message of Islam with a clear message of peace and social justice – messages supported by Imams and welcomed by local and national leaders.

“We all stand together to challenge those who preach hate – from whatever community, faith or denomination they come. And we are committed to redouble our efforts to act together to tackle those who seek to exploit and mislead our young people, and expose them to the siren words of manipulative extremists.

“These people and their ideologies have no place in Cardiff – and they are not welcome here. We call upon all members of our community to be vigilant against any suspicious behaviour or actions that might threaten the security and peace of our Cardiff community.”

The Daily Star yesterday covered the story in Tuesday’s Times with the headline ‘Brits groomed by the ‘music haters’’.

The story repeats content published in The Times yesterday, about British Muslims ‘flocking to join Salafi’ (sic), a sect who are ‘on course to control half of all Britain’s mosques’.

The paper binds together the two men, Rayeed Khan and Nasser Muthana, who appeared in an online recruitment video for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), with Salafism by referring to the men as ‘followers’ of the movement and labelling the Al Manar Centre in Cardiff which the men are said to have frequented, as ‘Salafi-controlled’. The Centre has already issued a statement denying any culpability in the radicalisation of the two men stating:

“It is worth mentioning that ACT’s [Al Manar Centre] stance is well known, that we are opposed to going to Syria or any other country, to participate in an armed struggle and have always made this clear.

“We have on many occasions tackled the issues of extreme ideologies. Indeed, feeling the responsibilities towards our local community, especially those concerning the youth, we have engaged with parents warning against such dangers.”

The allusion to the use of the centre by the two men for worship is akin to the smearing of the East London mosque some years ago on the basis that Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab visited on three occasions.

The Daily Star goes on to elaborate that Salafis ‘hate music and TV and impose severe restrictions on women, including making them wear head-to-toe robes. They want to ban alcohol, segregate men and women and shut beaches where girls wear bikinis’.

The Daily Star repeats the misrepresentation in The Times on the issue of women by neglecting the context in which the ‘severe restrictions on women’ is mentioned, ie, in Saudi Arabia. The paper goes further by suggesting that Salafis make women ‘wear head-to-toe robes’ (again, the context of Saudi Arabia is neglected) and adds that Salafis want ‘to ban alcohol, segregate men and women and shut beaches where girls wear bikinis’.

An editorial in the Daily Star continues the theme claiming “Extremists are infiltrating UK mosques and grooming youngsters with a chilling brand of anti-British scorn.”

It goes on, “These fanatics live in Britain but they are against some of the best aspects of life in the UK: freedom, fun, trips to the seaside and enjoying our favourite tipple in the pub”.

It is noteworthy that the Daily Star’s coverage is premised on the Times’ publication of material drawn from Innes Bowen’s new book. But Bowen doesn’t speak of Salafis as ‘music-haters’, merely as people who ‘avoid music and television’. And nowhere in her book is there mention of them wanting to ban alcohol or shut beaches where girls wear bikinis’.

 

The Times front page story yesterday claimed British Muslims are flocking to a ‘jihadists’ hardline sect’ and that ‘half of [British] mosques will be run by Islamists hostile to western values’.

The cover story repeats claims made in a recently published book by Innes Bowen about the conservative tendencies of Salafis, such as their ‘hostile’ attitudes to ‘music, television and even birthdays’, a tendency to ‘impose severe restrictions on the lives of women’, and the growth in their numbers with the assertion that many British Somalis as ‘turning to Salafism’.

In Bowen’s book, the reference to the ‘severe restrictions on the lives of women’ is preceded by the context, so she writes: ‘In Saudi Arabia the birthplace of Wahhabi Salafism’, there are severe restrictions on the lives of women’.

Salafis are portrayed as people who ‘tend to avoid music, television and photographs of living things’ and whose ‘strict discipline’ means that ‘many adherents live a life where contact with mainstream society is kept to a minimum’.

Various references follow to individuals who have flirted with Salafism including Abu Hamza, Abu Qatada and Omar Bakri Mohammed.

Whatever one may make of the conservative leanings of Salafis, the claim in The Times that it is a ‘jihadists’ hardline sect’ which represents ‘Islamists hostile to western values’ is not only wide of the mark but nothing in the ‘evidence’ presented in the quotes taken from Bowen’s book substantiate it. Bowen herself writes in her concluding chapter on Salafis: ‘Whatever the growth rate of Salafism in Britain turns out to be, it looks set to remain a dynamic and diverse movement, and one which is ultimately far more complex than its caricature as the source of modern jihadism’.

The Independent, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail report on the concerns raised following Education Secretary Michael Gove’s decision to introduce new rules on ‘’British values’ to be taught in schools following the fallout from the alleged ‘Trojan Horse’ plot in Birmingham.

Michael Gove has listed a set of ‘British values’ which all schools will need to promote to combat extremism. The values, listed in a document seen by the Guardian, include “respect for the law, democracy, equality and tolerance of different faiths, religions and other beliefs”.

The values cohere with the definition of extremism in the revised Prevent strategy which was published in 2011 and defined extremism thus:

“…vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas.”

The newspapers note that the Department of Education (DfE) has also inserted further clauses into the model funding agreement between academies and the DfE stipulating that school governors should demonstrate “fundamental British values” while additionally giving the Secretary of State the power to close schools if they do not comply with the requirement. The new clauses would apply to all free schools and academies opening or schools converting to academy status.

Previously, the Education Secretary had powers to hamper school funding if there had been “a serious breakdown in the way the academy is managed or governed” or if a governor was not deemed “suitable”.

The new rules allow the Education Secretary to close schools or dismiss governors if he believes any member of the academy trust is “unsuitable” based on “relevant conduct” that is “aimed at undermining the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.”

The present moves outline a greater concentration of powers in the office of the Education Secretary with no clear delineation of oversight in the exercise of these powers. They have, furthermore, attracted criticism from the Muslim Council of Britain as well as the Deputy Prime Minister with the former arguing that the rules could see conservative Muslims disqualified from the education sector.

The Daily Telegraph notes concerns aired by the MCB to the Guardian concerning the new rules and their likely unintended consequences if conservative beliefs were deemed incompatible with “British values”.  

Talha Ahmad, a senior member of the MCB, stated: “People may have different views, and those views might be informed by faith. But does that mean the secretary of state should have the power to arbitrate these ideas, so much so that they should not be part of an educational establishment?

“This whole idea of giving the secretary of state the power to decide which views fall foul of British values, on matters such as school governors, seems to be draconian.

“As a matter of principle, to have so much power vested in one hand is wrong. But then to have powers over an area over which there is no consensus is, frankly speaking, quite dangerous.”

The Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, voiced similar concerns saying media reporting on the alleged takeover of Birmingham schools by ‘extremists’ may have resulted in a “deeply regrettable” increase in Islamophobia.

In a letter to the MCB’s Secretary General Shuja Shafi, Clegg wrote “I would like to place clearly on the record that there is absolutely no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the UK are patriotic citizens who hold values that entirely accord with the traditions and values of our nation, not least through the rejection of all forms of intolerant extremism. Indeed for generations many British Muslims have helped protect, defend and enhance these values through their voluntary, civic and military service to our country.

“It would be fundamentally wrong for British citizens who hold the Islamic faith to be held to a different, or indeed, higher standard from other citizens. Being Muslim does not contradict being British, nor is it in tension with it. A person can uphold their religious and cultural identity as well as British identity.”

Clegg’s statement certainly reflects the evidence pertaining to British Muslim identity as shown in numerous surveys and studies. A study by the Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity found that Muslims are more likely to identify with a ‘British only’ national identity than Christians and Jews. Similarly, a large scale longitudinal study carried out by the Institute for Social and Economic Research found that Britons with an ethnic minority background were more likely to identify with ‘Britishness’ than their white peers and that of all groups, Muslims were the most likely to identify with ‘Britishness’.

The heavy focus on Muslims in the media coverage on the revival of the debate on ‘British values’ comes at an interesting juncture in consideration of the significance applied to the value of “equality and tolerance of different faiths, religions and other beliefs” and a broader regard for “equality”. At a time when far right movements have consistently singled out Muslims for their particular brand of hostility and social and political activism, and the equality strands identified in the Equalities Act 2010 have been shown to come into conflict with one another in recent cases, the issue of adhering to and championing ‘British values’ of “equality and tolerance of different faiths, religions and other beliefs” goes much further than just the Muslim community however the media might spin it.

 

The Sunday Herald covers news of Glasgow Central Mosque being granted approval by Glasgow City Council to broadcast the adhan, the daily call to prayer, every evening during the Commonwealth Games which this year coincides with the month of Ramadan.

The mosque, a short distance away from the athletes’ village, will broadcast the adhan via loudspeaker between July 10 and August 4 at approximately 10pm each evening.

With a number of Muslim majority countries taking part in the tournament, which includes teams from 72 countries, the decision is aimed at catering for the estimated 400 athletes, supporters, Games officials, media and visitors, many of whom will be fasting during the month.

Officials from the council’s environmental health department visited the mosque last week to oversee a practice run in order to ensure the prayer call did not exceed an agreed sound level.

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council stated “Environmental health officers were present for a test run at sundown on Thursday night and there were no concerns over volume.”

Nabeel Sheikh, general secretary of Glasgow Central Mosque, hopes that the broadcast of the adhan will help illustrate the “open outlook” of Glaswegians.

He added, “The world’s media will also be in Glasgow and they can leave with a positive impression of the city and emphasising the tolerance and open outlook of Glaswegians.”

His comments follow the ‘invasion’ of Glasgow Central Mosque by far right group Britain First last month, who handed out British Army Bibles to worshippers and posted footage of their confrontational antics on their Facebook page.

A Glasgow 2014 spokeswoman said: “Individuals and organisations from different faith communities have been working together with Glasgow 2014 to help make sure people of all faiths and none feel welcome in the city throughout the Games.”

Glasgow City Council’s decision follows that of Channel 4 last year. The broadcaster aired the call to prayer in the early hours of the morning throughout the month of Ramadan in what Ralph Lee, C4’s head of factual programming, described as “giv[ing] a voice to the moderate mainstream majority” by using the airwaves as “a nationwide tannoy system, a deliberate ‘provocation’ to all our viewers in the very real sense of the word”.

Owen Jones in his Guardian column yesterday reflected on the death of Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four, and compared the anti-Irish prejudice of the past that made miscarriages of justice possible with present day Islamophobia asking whether the threat posed to Muslim civil liberties by widespread social antipathy will find future civil rights’ champions.

The Guildford Four and Maguire Seven were wrongly imprisoned for the Guildford IRA pub bombings of 1974. Jones notes Conlon’s past article in the Guardian in which Conlon spoke of the devastating impact of his incarceration on his health and highlighted how history was repeating itself with Binyam Mohamed, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, enduring similar treatment many years later.

Owen’s comparison of past anti-Irish prejudice and present day Islamophobia reinforces research conducted on these “suspect communities” by Professor Mary Hickman of London Metropolitan University. In a wide-ranging study which investigated media representations of Irish and Muslim subjects as well as policy development on tackling IRA terrorism and the CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy, the study concludes that “Despite anti-discrimination legislation, Muslim communities today are subjected to a similar process of construction as ‘suspect’ as Irish communities in the previous era.”

In a similar vein, the Runnymede report published last year, “The New Muslims”, drew parallels between present portrayals of Muslims with past portrayals of Jews.

Jones goes on to compare discriminatory and unequal treatment of Muslims as exemplified in the extradition cases a couple of years ago. Home Secretary, Theresa May, excused white Briton, Gary MacKinnon while extraditing British Muslim citizens, including Syed Talha Ahsan who suffered from a similar medical condition, Asperger’s Syndrome, which warranted MacKinnon’s exemption.

Geoffrey Bindman QC argued in an article for OpenDemocracy, about the discriminatory treatment of the Muslim men saying “It is hard to believe the McKinnon decision was not cynically delayed until after the five Muslims had been safely delivered into the hands of the US authorities… The disparity in treatment is too stark to be coincidental.” 

Jones also draws on research on media representations of Islam and Muslims noting the negative bias in media output on Muslims shown by a Cardiff University study which analysed 1000 articles between 2000 and 2008. A more extensive study carried out by academics at Lancaster University, analysing over 200,000 newspaper articles written about Islam and Muslims between 1998 and 2009, affirmed the prevalence of a negative slant in the reporting of Muslims and Islam with researchers concluding, that “Explicit references to extremism were also found next to the word Islamic 1 in 6 times across all the newspapers – indeed it is likely that Islamic is now difficult to use in a neutral way as it is so heavily laden with negative overtones and disapproval.”

The aforementioned Runnymede study further notes the dominant representations of Muslims in the media as focused on three themes: “gender (hijab/forced marriage/honour killings), triad gangs and grooming, and terrorists/extremists.”

Evidencing polling data from the British Social Attitudes survey and the study by the Freidrich Ebert Foundation on negative popular attitudes towards Muslims, Jones questions the consequences of recent statements by David Cameron and Metropolitan Police Counter-terrorism officer, Cressida Dick, on the potential threat posed to Britain by Muslims radicalised abroad on the civil liberties of innocent British Muslims.

Jones writes, “Last week, David Cameron informed the House of Commons that Britain faced the threat of terrorism from British jihadis returning from Syria and Iraq. The Met’s Cressida Dick – who oversaw the police operation that shot dead the innocent Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005 – has this weekend backed up his assertions. Some will cast a wary eye back to the cast-iron intelligence that Iraq posed an imminent security threat to Britain. And set against a background of frighteningly widespread anti-Muslim bigotry, the threat of miscarriages of justice like that suffered by Conlon is surely real and will in turn serve as a recruiting sergeant for fundamentalist extremism.”

The Runnymede report in its review of the impact on Muslims of counter-terrorism policy argued, “…the suspension and increasing retraction of human rights and civil liberties under the War on Terror pushed for public comment on who could be treated with complete impunity, or even on who might be considered human.” The theme is further explored in Arun Kundnani’s new book, The Muslims Are Coming!

Jones traces the treatment of Irish communities to historical and more contemporary developments through which “the Irish were portrayed as subhumans and animals”. At a time when anti-Muslim bigotry is rife, Jones raises the spectre of innocent British Muslims suffering similar miscarriages of justice as experienced by the Irish in the past.