Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph report on the Law Society’s retraction of the legal guidance that was issued earlier this year to help the legal profession meet the needs of Muslim clients who wished for wills to be drawn up on a shari’ah compliant basis.

The guidance, which has attracted some criticism from bodies like the National Secular Society, was defended by the then President of the Law Society, Nicholas Fluck, against accusations of its ‘promoting’ shari’ah law.

With the arrival of a new President, Andrew Caplen, it would seem the leadership has responded to critics by withdrawing the guidance. In a statement Caplen said: “We reviewed the note in the light of criticism.

“We have withdrawn the note and we are sorry.”

There is no mention in the statement by the new President of whom or how many the critics are. It would certainly be an odd move to retract guidance on the basis of a vocal minority and without disclosure of what criticisms have actually been levelled against the guidance note it is difficult to determine whether the guidance was revoked under pressure from an Islamophobic lobby or out of genuine regard for the note’s impact on legal professionals.

Introducing the guidance note earlier this year, ex-President Nicholas Fluck explained, “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.”

Given the sometimes hysterical reception to the mere mention of shari’ah law in legal debates, it is not entirely implausible that the guidance note is just the latest casualty of excitable Islamophobic groups.

Indeed, as barrister Neil Addison wrote in a letter to The Sunday Times newspaper at the time:

“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.”

Rotherham’s local paper, The Star, reports on frustrations expressed by the local MP over the Government’s response to local petitions for the banning of far right demonstrations in the city.

After a series of local protests which have cost the city considerable amounts in the form of policing costs and loss of local business, Rotherham MP Sarah Champion said she was disappointed with the response from the Home Secretary, Theresa May, and Business Secretary, Vince Cable to her call for more policing powers to prevent marches and for support for local businesses affected by the disruption to trade.

Talking to the local paper, Ms Champion said: “I am angry that the Government aren’t taking these concerns on board. Small business owners are seriously affected by the repeated targeting of our town by the EDL.

“Traders are telling me that they are on the verge of going out of business, because they haven’t been able to recover lost earnings. This is a serious issue and not one that the government should ignore.”

BBC News further reports that Champion has raised the issue of Asian girls in Rotherham being targeted by far right extremists with retaliatory threats of rape levelled at them. Champion, speaking on a BBC programme about the report by Professor Alexis Jay into child sex exploitation in the city, said that young Asian girls have been “too scared to go into town for the past three months because when they do, they get threatened”.

She added that threats of rape had been made against Asian girls as a way to “even things up”.

Politicians and police in other parts of the UK have echoed similar concerns over greater police powers to prevent demonstrations which put a strain on police budgets and which divide local communities.

The Guardian covers the latest outburst by Lord Pearson of Rannoch, former leader of UKIP.

In a debate in the House of Lords this week over the findings of the Intelligence and Security Committee report on the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, Lord Pearson said:

“My Lords, are the Government aware that Fusilier Rigby’s murderers quoted 22 verses of the Koran to justify their atrocity? Therefore, is the Prime Minister accurate or helpful when he describes it as a betrayal of Islam? Since the vast majority of Muslims are our peace-loving friends, should we not encourage them to address the violence in the Koran—and, indeed, in the life and the example of Muhammad?”

It is not the first time Lord Pearson has sought to hold Islam and the Prophet responsible for the violence committed by individual Muslims for whatever purpose. In a debate in the Lords last year, Lord Pearson contested the Prime Minister’s statement on the morrow of Drummer Lee Rigby’s murder arguing that the PM was wrong to suggest that “There is nothing in Islam that justifies acts of terror.”

At the time, Lord Pearson said, “…as Muhammad went through life, he became steadily more of a conquering warrior, and the messages that he received and what he said and did became progressively more bellicose and violent…I fear that the dark side is moving strongly within Islam.”

Baroness Stowell of Beeston responding to Lord Pearon’s remark stated “My Lords, British Muslims want strong counterterrorism measures in this country so that everybody in this country who shares British values, whatever their faith, is safe. That is basically all I need to say to the noble Lord.”

The Guardian quotes Yasmin Qureshi, the Labour MP for Bolton South East, who said: “These are lies. Trying to say this comes from some text in the Qur’an or there is some justification in the religion – it isn’t there. To suggest that Muslims should be apologising and somehow having to take responsibility for the actions of a handful of people is absolutely diabolical. This is nonsensical rubbish.”

Lord Pearson when leader of UKIP placed banning the burqa and niqab among the party’s priorities, something his successor Nigel Farage has retracted from party policy. He was also one of the two peers who invited Dutch Islamophobe Geert Wilders to speak at the House of Lords in 2009 (the other being Baroness Caroline Cox). His other intervention included the claim that Muslims are ‘breeding ten times faster than us.’

BBC News and the Daily Mail both cover reaction to the news that the former leader of the English Defence League, Stephen Lennon, has been invited to address the Oxford Union. Lennon went by the name Tommy Robinson when leader of the EDL.

Lennon, who has recently served a prison sentence for mortgage fraud, has sought to distance himself from his past role agitating and organising anti-Muslim protests across the country by claiming he is a ‘reformed character.

But as an open letter by the Oxford branch of Unite Against Fascism points out, Lennon has not so much rescinded his views as gone on to repeat them.

In an open letter signed by almost 200 people, including luminaries like film director Ken Loach and Professor Avi Shlaim, and a host of councillors at Oxford City Council, signatories criticised the OU’s decision citing evidence of his unrepentant anti-Muslim views.

The open letter states:

“Robinson may have abandoned trying to lead a fascist street army but he continues to incite racial hatred against Muslims under the same false flag of tackling extremism that he used while leading the EDL.  Robinson has recently showed his continuing support for the EDL tweeting “Happy to hear the EDL gave me a round of applause for me before their demo.  The EDL will always hold a place in my heart” as well as circulating lies demonising Muslims with statements like “30,000 Muslims marched through Birmingham demanding these same blasphemy laws.”

“Oxford is a multicultural city that has been targeted by fascists in the National Front trying to stir up race hatred by exploiting the suffering of rape victims and scapegoating Muslim men as the problem using the same arguments and language Robinson is using.  By inviting Tommy Robinson the Oxford Union is contributing to a climate of Islamophobia which only encourages fascists onto the streets of Oxford. The Oxford Union should not be giving racists and Islamophobes the prestige of speaking at their institution and we demand Robinson’s invitation is withdrawn.”

This is the third time the Oxford Union has invited the former far right leader with two earlier events being cancelled due to security concerns and Lennon’s imprisonment.

Lennon also had a school tour cancelled earlier this year after a visit to the Duchess Community High School in Northumberland was stopped by the headteacher amidst complaints by parents that Lennon was no role model for schoolchildren.

You can sign the UAF open letter here.

 

 

 

 

The local paper, Hertfordshire Mercury, reports on the trial outcome of a man charged with racially aggravated threatening words and obstructing police after an incident in Loughton last September.

Scott Aaron Vale, 23, admitted the offences which occurred on the night of his brother’s birthday. Chelmsford Crown Court heard that Vale had a soldier friend who was killed in Iraq in 2008 and after the subject of war arose over a celebratory dinner he “was shouting racial abuse about wanting to kill Muslims.”

When he was arrested, Vale swore and accused Muslims of beheading British soldiers before being placed in leg restraints by police officers.

Vale admitted the charges and was fined £75 for each of the offences and ordered to pay £85 costs and £20 victim surcharge

It is noteworthy that prosecutors brought a charge of racially aggravated threatening words when Vale’s threats to ‘kill Muslims’ would clearly be regarded as ‘religiously aggravated’.

 

BBC News reports on the reaction of some Muslim parents in Lancashire to a nasal spray administered to young children as a preventative measure against flu which contains pork gelatine.

The nasal spray, which was earlier piloted in Glasgow and Leicestershire faced negative reaction from Muslim parents there too who objected to the presence of a pork derivative in the product.

The BBC story is exclusively focussed on Muslim communities. The story on the website canvasses the views of Muslim parents and of Dr Shuja Shafi, General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain and Abdul Hamid Qureshi from Lancashire Council of Mosques.

Absent from its coverage on the immunisation programme which will be rolled out to cover “potentially all children between the ages of two and 16…each year” is the possible objection by other faith groups, such as Jews, to the presence of an ingredient which is impermissible according to dietary law.

BBC News, much like newspapers that have covered the issue of halal meat, looks at the presence of pork gelatine as though it were a problem for Muslim parents only.

Would it too much to expect the public sector broadcaster to be more responsible in its coverage and not single out Muslims?

The International Business Times covers the story of UKIP party member, Malcolm Jackson, whose membership has been revoked by the party after he attended a ‘mega-mosque’ demonstration in Rochester organised by the far right, anti-Muslim group, Britain First.

Jackson said that he was not affiliated to Britain First and had only joined the demo to protest against the “evil cult of Islam taking over yet another part of our country”.

Jackson said “All I have done is take part, last Saturday 15 Nov 2014, in a march organised by Britain First, to demonstrate against a Mega Mosque being built on the borders of Rochester and Gillingham.”

“If I had been with the crowd of left-wing thugs opposing the march against the Mega Mosque, would Ukip have made the decision to rescind my membership?”

Britain First’s campaign against the mosque in Rochester has already been in the news after the Royal Mail refused to deliver leaflets bearing a message from the party’s prospective candidate, Jayda Fransen, on grounds that it breached the law.

UKIP have already felt the heat after photos showing the party’s canvassers posing with the Britain First candidate surfaced a few weeks ago. The party has since tried hard to dispel claims of its sharing the views of Britain First although with the number of UKIP candidates who have in recent years been found to have espoused views similar to those held by the far right organisation, protestations to the contrary are hardly convincing.

The Daily MailDaily StarDaily Mirror, and Blackpool Gazette all report on the sentencing of four men who admitted to causing religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress in relation to a hate crime incident last year.

Thomas Ashton, 21, Andrew Warner, 30, Travis Crabtree, 25, and Steven White, 28, were jailed for throwing a pig’s head into Blackpool Central Mosque after afternoon prayers on 24 May 2013, days after the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby.

Earlier this week the court heard how Ashton and Crabtree drove to a butcher’s shop where they purchased the pig’s head and then carried it in a bag to the front of the mosque. A volunteer at the mosque who was preparing for evening classes notified police after seeing the bag and the pig’s ear protruding out of it in the mosque car park.

Following the incident, messages were posted onto Facebook saying “A pig’s head has just been delivered to the mosque in Blackpool” and “They will be fuming”. The posts were subsequently used by the police to trace White.

According to the Daily Mail and Blackpool Gazette, White’s mobile phone was seized and the police further discovered a video showing a car being driven by Warner and comments being made regarding Muslims that suggested all four offenders knew of the significance of a pig’s head.

Although the local imam Ashfaq Patel requested that the judge avoid passing custodial sentence provided the men showed contrition for their actions and the distress caused, Judge Graham Knowles described the incident as ‘poisonous’.

Judge Knowles said “People are and must be free to worship as they please and without this kind of foul attack on them and that which they hold sacred.

“What you four did must be denounced.”

Ashton and Crabtree were sentenced to 10 months and 14 months respectively, Warner was jailed for 7 months and White for 8 months.

Press Release:  MEND / Unite Against Fascism

For Attention: News-desk

19 November 2014

 

Diane Abbott MP, Muslim community groups and NGO’s come together to tackle Islamophobia

Tackling Islamophobia: Roundtable panel discussion in Parliament

3-5pm Thursday 20 November 2014

Committee Room 16 

House of Commons

Unite Against Fascism and MEND (Muslim Engagement & Development) have called a roundtable event in Parliament as part of November’s Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM).  The event is an opportunity to address some of the pressing issues facing the Muslim community with a diverse panel that will take up matters including government policy regarding the Muslim community, the rise in Islamophobic hate crimes, policing and the Muslim community and the impact of the media portrayals of Islam and Muslims.

Islamophobia has been rising at an alarming rate over recent years. In London alone, from April 2013 to March 2014, we have seen a rise of 69% in Islamophobic crimes with the Met Police observing an eightfold increase in anti-Muslim attacks in the two weeks following Lee Rigby’s murder. During the last twelve months, the Metropolitan Police have recorded 573 Islamophobic crimes in London. Given that 43% of all hate crimes go unreported (Crime Survey for England and Wales), the actual number of Islamophobic crimes is undoubtedly much higher. Unlike most incidents of hate crime, which overwhelmingly involve male perpetrators and victims, Teeside University have found that the majority of the victims of Islamophobic attacks are female.

The round table will focus on key demands to the Government, policy makers, and parliamentarians to deal more effectively with Islamophobia, including statutory responses and responsibilities, measures to improve policing and better legislation to protect faith-based communities.

Panellists will consist of:

Diane Abbott MP, 

Sufyan Ismail CEO, MEND 

Hugh Lanning, Vice-Chair, Unite Against Fascism

Dr. Mark Walters, Senior Lecturer in Law, Sussex University, 

Dr. Omar Khan Director, Runnymede Trust

Talha Ahmad, Member of the National Council, Muslim Council of Britain

Mohammed Kozbar, Vice President MAB and Chair of Finsbury Park Mosque

Maz Saleem, Daughter of Mohammed Saleem

Sabby Dhalu and Weyman Bennett, Joint National Secretaries, Unite Against Fascism 

 

Sufyan Ismail, CEO of MEND, said:

“Scores of attacks on British Muslims around the country shows that it is time to take Islamophobia every bit as seriously as racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. This round table event in Parliament is an important step towards identifying causes, assessing impact and collaborating on a strategy to tackle anti-Muslim hatred. MEND is delighted to be part of this initiative.”

Sabby Dhalu, Joint National Secretary, UAF, said:

‘The cutting edge of the rise of the far right has been its Islamophobia.  The fascist BNP targeted the Muslim community and the violent EDL marched on Mosques.  UAF is proud to have worked centrally with the Muslim community to defeat fascism electorally and in our communities. UAF played an active role in challenging Islamophobia and will continue to do so until it is condemned to the dustbin of history.’

For more information and interviews contact Denis Fernando on 07790 022 472 or Shiplu Miah on 07863 349 007

 

Notes to editor:

1. MEND (Muslim Engagement & Development) is a not-for-profit company working towards enhancing the active engagement of British Muslim communities in our national life, particularly in the fields of politics and the media.

2. November is Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM) during which exhibitions, seminars, workshops and conferences are organised across the country by various organisations to highlight the growing incidence of anti-Muslim hatred and hate speech.

3. List of MEND’s events for Islamophobia Awareness Month can be found here: http://iengage.uk.net/iam/upcoming-events-iam2014/

4. MEND Website: www.mend.org.uk

5.  Unite Against Fascism Website: Www.uaf.org.ukinfo@uaf.org.uk

 

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Manchester Evening News reports on concerns expressed by Muslims in Rochdale over the rise in ‘unprecedented and unacceptable’ prejudice suffered by the local community since news of the child sex grooming scandals broke.

An upsurge in anti-Muslim abuse, in the form of hate mail and offensive phone calls, was highlighted by Muslim organisations in the area in the immediate aftermath of the conviction of nine men who were involved in a grooming gang in 2012.

Now, a coalition group called Rochdale Muslim Community, comprising of local Muslim leaders, have issued a statement arguing that the disproportionate focus on ethnicity and religion of non-white sex offenders has led to the stigmatisation of the Muslim community and is fuelling Islamophobia.

The statement was issued in the wake of a protest by Asian taxi drivers in Heywood after their cab firm, Car 2000, admitted to supplying white drivers to customers on request. According to Manchester Evening News, cars run Asian taxi drivers have been attacked or vandalised regularly following the grooming scandal in the area in 2012.

Rochdale Muslim Community stated: “It has become evident to anyone that follows events in the media that Islam is being portrayed negatively and that Muslims living in Britain are bearing the brunt of discrimination and violence.

“There is little doubt that this has resulted in not only the community feeling vilified but could potentially breakdown social cohesion within society. Irresponsible comments from senior local and national politicians are aiding the negative portrayal of the Muslim community.”

As the coalition observes, attempts by some politicians and the media to identify grooming as a problem within the Muslim community solely leads to “misinformation [that] will stigmatise the whole of the Muslim community.”

Indeed, in a parliamentary debate on child sexual exploitation, the Conservative MP for Keighley, Kris Hopkins, made reference to “gangs of Muslim men” involved in “raping white kids” and suggested that “sexist behaviour by Muslim men towards women” was the root cause of the problem.

The Rochdale coalition further referred to the double standards apparent in media coverage of grooming and child sexual exploitation with ethnicity and religion being identified as causal factors in the case of Asian criminals but not in regard to white offender such as Jimmy Savile, Stuart Hall and former Rochdale MP Cyril Smith.

A similar argument was advanced by the Guardian’s Associate Editor, Joseph Harker, who drew comparison between the treatment of Asian and white sex offenders and the ‘racialisation’ of criminal activity in a way that leads to stereotyping of minority groups.

The role of the media in unduly racialising sex grooming is most apparent in the allegations made by the Daily Mail and The Times about the Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz’s interim report on ‘Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups’. The newspapers claimed the report overlooked had ‘left out’ the role of ethnicity in the targeting of white girls by Asian offenders.

Berelowitz in evidence given to the Home affairs select committee inquiry into child exploitation and grooming criticised The Times for “suggesting that victims are only white and perpetrators are only Asian” saying that “the single most important common denominator across all perpetrators is that they are male”.

The Rochdale Muslim Community statement refers to the consequences for local communities of biased reporting stating:

“Unfortunately, we are now facing a situation where a disdain of the Muslim community is something which is deemed acceptable.

“We believe that all segments of society have a duty to stand up against Islamophobia in all of its guises no matter how subtle or apparent.

“We intend to double our efforts in order to alleviate the misconceptions that have been manufactured by irresponsible speech, not only by far-right but mainstream politicians and the media.

“Part of our action plan will be to educate the wider society about the Islamic belief to help overcome stereotypes against Islam.”