Monthly Archives: February 2015

The Waltham Forest Guardian reports on an appeal by police for witnesses to a hate crime incident in which a Muslim woman wearing a burqa was racially abused by a passenger aboard a bus in east London.

The Muslim woman and her young child were waiting at the bus stop outside Walthamstow Central station where she boarded the number 69 bus. The local paper reports that when aboard the bus, the woman was racially abused by a slim black woman, aged between 20 and 25, who had spoken with her at the bus stop and who abused her during the bus’s journey.

Police have given no further details about the incident which happened around 3.20pm on 19 January.

Officers from Waltham Forest community safety unit are appealing for anyone who was on the bus and heard or witnessed the abuse to contact them on 020 3276 0963 quoting reference 4901386/15.

Alternatively, contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

The Independent and the Daily Telegraph follow the poll commissioned by the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and conducted by ComRes on the opinions of British Muslims on topics as far ranging as loyalty to the UK and the effectiveness of the Muslim Council of Britain on representing Muslims’ views, to intolerance towards Islam in the UK and drawings of the Prophet (saw).

The media coverage is interesting in its variance with the BBC News story leading with “Most British Muslims ‘oppose Muhammad cartoons reprisals” and “most [Muslims] have no sympathy with those who want to fight against Western interests” while the Daily Telegraph and Independent headline the poll finding on 27% of British Muslims expressing “some sympathy for the motives behind the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris”.

The poll, which questioned 1000 Muslims between 28 January and 20 February in three regions; North, South and the Midlands, found that 78% of Muslims said they were personally deeply offended when images of the Prophet are published. But 85% of those polled disagreed with the proposition that organisations which publish images of the Prophet Mohammed deserve to be attacked. Around two thirds said that acts of violence against those who published such images could never be justified. Just under a quarter disagreed but the questions do not allow further scrutiny of what sort of sanction those who reject no violence reprisals might consider befitting.

Just under two thirds of Muslims said they were not surprised the Hebdo attacks happened, which perhaps reinforces the views expressed by Lord Woolf and Sir John Sawers, about publication of such images provoking a predictable reaction.

An overwhelmingly majority of Muslims declare their loyalty to the UK, 95% and 93% agree that Muslims in Britain “should always obey British laws”.

A little over a third said they didn’t think British people trusted Muslims and nearly half (46%) said prejudice against Islam makes it difficult to be a Muslim in the UK.

Other findings of the poll which are not widely covered in the media include:

More Muslim women than men say they do not feel safe as a Muslim in Britain, 19% to 10%

·         Muslims living in the South were least likely to say they would leave Britain and go to live in a Muslim country if they could; 12% in the South compared to 15% and 16% in the North and Midlands respectively

·         Around a third of those question said they would like their child to attend a Muslim state school if they had the choice

·         94% of those polled said they would inform the police if they knew of someone planning an act of violence.

Poll results can be found here.

Parliament debated the issue of religious slaughter again yesterday as the threshold passed by the petition supporting a ban on non-stunned slaughter reached over 100,000 signatures thereby securing a Westminster Hall debate.

A number of MPs spoke in the debate introduced by the MP for Kettering, Philip Hollobone. Hollobone posed some questions to which he invited the Government’s response: “Do the Government agree that all animals should be stunned before slaughter for animal welfare reasons? Why are they allowing non-stunned meat to go outside the communities for which it was intended, contrary to EU and UK legislation? Will they support the introduction of compulsory labelling of meat, fish and products from non-stun slaughter as “non-stun”? Will they look at introducing mandatory post-cut stunning, as has been done in some countries, including Finland, Austria, Estonia, Slovakia and Australia? Finally, will they consider the German approach of abattoirs having to prove the religious needs, and to define the number of animals to be slaughtered to satisfy the needs of the religious community concerned, before being granted a licence?”

Many of those contributing to the debate raised the question of why, after a debate in the Chamber occurred in November last year, was a second debate secured so soon after the last. Members representing constituencies with significant Muslim and Jewish populations highlighted the anxieties in these communities at what appeared to be undue attention and, at times, perceived hostility, towards religious minorities.

MPs Shabana Mahmood, Anas Sarwar contributed to the debate with Mahmood repeating many of the points raised in the debate last year about more information being made available to consumers and the beliefs, among religious adherents – Muslim and Jewish – that religious slaughter is a humane method.

The debate saw references made to the rival petitions in circulation with the ban on non-stunned slaughter securing around 116,000 signatures and another, supporting the right to religious slaughter, attracting 125,000 signatures.

The debate touched on the proportion of meat slaughtered according to halal and kosher methods and its being greater than the proportion of Muslims and Jews within the UK population. In relation to the point about proportionality and meat from religious slaughter entering the main food chain, the practice observed in Germany, where a derogation exists to permit non-stunned slaughter for religious communities but is regulated in proportion to the size or consumption of meat by those respective communities, was highlighted as a possible solution to keep religious slaughter for religious communities and out of the main food chain.

The question about media coverage of the issue was also raised with MP Mike Freer pointing to the widespread coverage of animal abuse uncovered in secret footage from a halal abattoir in North Yorkshire but virtual silence on later coverage taken from an abattoir which used stunning and in which animal abuse was also observed.

Freer also referred to emails received from members of the public who wrote: ““I don’t want my meat touched by a dirty man in a beard” or “I don’t want Muslim meat”— whatever Muslim meat is.””

Freer, and fellow MP Diane Abbott, remarked on how the animal welfare debate revealed that “perhaps ignorance, racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism lurk behind some of the respectable arguments.”

George Eustice, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, side stepped the issue of establishing an equivalence between stunning and non-stunning methods in animal slaughter citing scientific evidence from a number of studies which appeared to confirm that stunning was considered the more humane method saying “It is not because we think that somehow religious slaughter, be it halal or shechita, is a more humane way to slaughter animals than what mainstream abattoirs do today. It is because we respect the religious rights of those communities and we have accommodated them in the long-standing derogations that we have in place.”

Touching on the issue of animal abuse arising from secret film footage from abattoirs, the Minister confirmed that slaughterhouses will now face unannounced inspections.

It is expected that the subject of halal slaughter will be back in the Chamber very soon as the rival petition having attracted 126,000 signatures is also afforded a Westminster Hall debate led by MP Diane Abbott.

A number of local publications in the north of England, the Halifax Courier, Yorkshire Post, Telegraph and Argus, as well as the Daily Express and Sunday Times, cover the report by the Henry Jackson Society on Community Policing and Preventing Extremism: Lessons from Bradford.

The report, drawing on interviews with police officers from the West Yorkshire force and the North West Counter Terrorism Unit, notes that officers in the region are concerned that Muslim communities may be being exploited by Muslim charities with the possibility of funds being diverted to more nefarious aims.

The report states: “[West Yorkshire Police] recognise that the religious injunction to give to charity within Bradford’s Muslim communities can make them vulnerable not only to fundraising for criminal or terrorist intent but also to intimidating styles of fundraising which seek to take advantage of a widespread generous and permissive attitude towards giving.”

A JustGiving poll on charitable giving found that Muslims topped the list on per capita donations to charity and the amount raised by Muslim charities is quite considerable given estimates on the amount raised during Ramadan last year.

The issue of Muslim charities has been newsworthy for some time as the Government prepares to ramp up the powers of the Charity Commission, including a cash boost of £8 million, while quietly, and without consultation, extending the contract of current chairman, William Shawcross.

Shawcross’s prior association with the Henry Jackson Society (he was formerly a trustee) is not to be lost in reviewing these developments on widening the powers of the regulator and providing it with a budget to tackle “charity abuse”.

Under Shawcross’s chairmanship, a disproportionate number of Muslim charities have already been placed under statutory inquiry though, as Claystone notes its report, often the Commission is itself unclear of the reasons for suspecting the charities of having breached the rules.

Shawcross has suggested that “Islamist extremism” is the “deadliest threat” faced by the charity sector but not been able to name a single Muslim charity suspected of falling foul of the rules. In a report by the Cabinet Office last year, opening a consultation on the proposed extension of the Commission’s powers, the only example given was that of individuals in Birmingham who had falsely used Muslim Aid’s logo on donation buckets to raise funds for their terrorist activities.

It is important that any claims to funds being raised for terrorism related offences be evidence based. There already exists a “perception of bias” in the Commission’s conduct towards Muslim charities and it would be dangerous to further feed the perception with insinuation but few facts.

There is a point that arises in the report which has been picked up elsewhere in the recent passing of the Counter terrorism and Security Bill.

The HJS report states, “[P]olice remain concerned about the potential for individuals to graduate from charitable giving to joining an aid convoy – possibly inspired by images of suffering they see online or on television – and then find themselves involved or suspected of being involved in terrorism-related activity.”

The problem of providing humanitarian assistance abroad and running the risk of being suspected of involvement in terrorism related activity arose in the Lords chamber last month when Lord Hope of Craighead raised that very issue.

In his intervention, he drew on evidence presented to him as chair of the Joint Committee on the Draft Protection of Charities Bill, by witnesses “speaking about the chilling effect of the risk of prosecution under the terrorist legislation on the efforts of those who seek to provide humanitarian assistance in areas which are under the control of, for example, proscribed organisations.”

He also referred to evidence from the Independent Reviewer of Terrorist Legislation, David Anderson QC, who said that “charities operating in these areas [areas where proscribed groups may be found] run the risk of falling foul of terrorism law—for example, by delivering relief to a general population which may include individuals or groups designated as terrorists. He suggested that increased risk could deter charities and their trustees from delivering humanitarian support.”

While the possibility of charity funds being diverted by individuals intent on using them for other purposes is a problem that deserves due attention from the authorities, without evidence to support its assumed prevalence and crafting poor legislation in this area will have the double whammy effect of deterring individuals from donating and preventing charities from undertaking essential humanitarian work.

The Hartlepool Mail reports on the commitment expressed by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cleveland, Barry Coppinger, to tackle hate crime in the region after a study compiled by Hartlepool Borough Council found a high incidence rate of hate crime in the area and a low level of police reporting.

The Borough Council surveyed 155 town people of whom 43 per cent said they had been a victim of hate crime. Almost three-quarters of them (73%) suffered verbal abuse, while 42 per cent suffered ‘physical or intimidation hate crime’.

The study also found that of those who had been victims of hate crime, 43% had reported the crimes but 37% had not, with 29% of those who hadn’t reported saying they felt there was no point because they would not be taken seriously.

Furthermore, 17% of those who had not reported the hate crime said they did not believe the police would do anything about it.

The figures reinforce other empirical studies on the significant under-reporting of hate crime and the widespread belief that police services are unable to do something about it.

Police and Crime Commissioners in different parts of the country have been taking a lead in tackling hate crime with a number of force area ramping up efforts to encourage reporting and ensuring police services are more adept at dealing with victim reports.

Local paper, the Newcastle Chronicle reports on the impending march by the far right group, Pegida-UK next weekend.

The march has already been denounced by the local MP, Chi Onwurah, who has called on the Home Secretary to ban prospective participants from overseas from attending the protest on grounds of their presence not being conducive to the public good.

The Newcastle Chronicle reports that Liberty GB leader and candidate in the European Parliament elections last May, Paul Weston, has been invited by the organisers to address the rally.

Weston was arrested for a public order incident days before the European Parliament elections last year after he was approached by police for citing incendiary passages written by Winston Churchill about Muslims and ‘Mohammedanism’ at Winchester Guildhall prompting complaints by members of the public.

Liberty GB proclaims its purpose as “a patriotic, anti-Islamisation party promoting Christian civilisation, Western freedoms and British culture”.

The party’s manifesto for the European elections contained a number of anti-Muslim policies, remarkably like the manifesto published by the British National Party in 2010.

The Newcastle Chronicle reminds readers of some of the policies Liberty GB have promoted:

– death sentence for terrorism

– prohibit Muslims from holding public office

– deport all Muslims considered to be a threat, along with their families

– segregate Muslim prisoners within the prison system to prevent conversion of non-Muslims to Islam

– ban mosque-building, remove minarets from existing mosques, outlaw the Islamic call to prayer

– ban ritual slaughter of animals and importation of ritually slaughtered meat

– close all madrassas and Muslim faith schools

– close Muslim prayer rooms and Islamic centres on university campuses

Weston is also known to have spoken at a number of rallies organised by far right group, the English Defence League.

The Independent adds to coverage about the pending protest reporting that fans from Newcastle United football club have issued a statement saying the far right groups were not welcome in their city. A post on the fans’ Facebook page states:

“There is a fear that Newcastle United supporters who are of the Islamic faith or origin may be singled out for abuse by this group and we say that the authorities cannot allow any of our community, whatever their race, creed or religious belief to be treated in such a manner in our city on match day or any other day.”

The Northern Echo reports that Northumbria Police have committed extra officers to police the protest. A counter-protest has been organised by anti-racism campaigners with MP George Galloway and Russell Brand expected to attend.

The Bolton News reports on the conviction of a man for a racially aggravated public order offence after he was heard shouting racist abuse at a group of Asian men from the top of a bus last August.

Shaun Jones, 34, attended a protest by the far right group, North West Infidels, against the Astley Bridge mosque and was seen gesticulating and shouting racist slurs at a group of Asian men from the top of the bus. The mosque had been granted planning approval at a council meeting the previous month, in July, where protestors disrupted proceedings and council officials had to be escorted out of the council chamber.

The Astley Bridge project has attracted considerable hostility with a Facebook page being set up opposing it. Last December, two men were convicted for comments posted on the page threatening to “torch” and “blow up” the mosque if it was built.

Shaun Jones was conditionally discharged for three years and ordered to pay £415 costs.

“Jones had previously denied the charges but changed his plea, with the period of his conditional discharge rising from two to three years because it was racially aggravated,” the paper notes.

BBC News and the London Evening Standard cover details of the Labour leader, Ed Miliband’s People’s Question Time event in Lincoln yesterday in which he spoke of the “real fears among Jewish families, among Muslim families” about “rising intolerance” in the UK and Europe.

Miliband, who was canvassing with the prospective Labour candidate in the Lincoln seat, Lucy Rigby, took part in a question and answer session with residents from the area. Addressing the events in Copenhagen last week and Paris last month, Miliband said, “This was a free-speech event where people were attacked and people were killed. That goes to the heart of what we stand for as a country. Defending those rights to freedom of speech.”

He said that the fears felt by minority communities in the wake of reports of rising levels of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism had to be recognised, adding “but recognising it is not enough.”

Miliband urged European leaders “to show a unity of purpose in tackling these issues”.

In a post on his Facebook page yesterday, Miliband wrote at length of the impact of hatred and intolerance stating:

“[R]eligiously motivated crimes in Britain have almost doubled in the last year, with more attacks on Synagogues and Mosques, Jews and Muslims. The number of anti-Semitic attacks is the highest since records began.

“We need to renew our vigilance and ensure every family of every faith can be secure in our country.

“It means we need to work to build stronger communities that give no hiding place to violent ideologies that threaten us all.”

Miliband criticised the Government’s Prevent programme, calling for an overhaul of it “so that parents, families, neighbours, mosques, and friends are all in the first line of defence against violent extremism.”

The Labour leader also called on social media companies to do more to tackle online hatred writing, “Twitter and Facebook need to act swiftly to take down offensive material, block offenders’ accounts and stop them setting up different accounts. It means we need increasing co-operation between security and intelligence services across jurisdictions, borders and, especially, across the EU.”

The issue of online hatred and the effectiveness of current legislation in dealing with hate crime offences and prosecution was raised by MP Keith Vaz last month. The Lords Communications Committee in a report on social media offences noted the low level of prosecutions suggesting that Parliament play a role in “determining the circumstances in which such offences should be prosecuted”.

Dr Tanweer Ahmed, from the Islamic Association of Lincoln, praised the Labour leader’s remarks about community cohesion telling the Lincolnshire Echo, “At a Government level there must be more work to promote cohesion and I think the media needs to publish more positive stories that do not label Muslims as extremists.”

Earlier this month the Observer reported on the Labour party’s policy proposals to tackle Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and intolerance. It will be interesting to see how this shapes up in the party’s manifesto which is expected to be published next month.

The Daily Mail reports on the speech delivered by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, for the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust Criminal Justice Lecture yesterday in which she outlined steps to address the disproportionate impact of stop and search powers on ethnic minorities.

A review of the powers has already been conducted at the behest of the Home Secretary with the subsequent report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary affirming the findings of numerous reports by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission detailing the degree of disproportionality in the exercise of the powers and their ineffectiveness when measured as a ratio of stops to arrests.

The Daily Mail details excerpts from the Home Secretary’s speech in which she related anecdotal evidence “exposing the excessive and inappropriate use of stop and search.”

She added, “evidence [shows] that if you are black or from a minority ethnic background that you are up to seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than if you are white.”

The Daily Mail adds that the Home Secretary’s plans to introduce changes to the powers to exercise stop and search, to eradicate its excessive use and the negative impact on community relations and trust in policing, in the Queen’s Speech last year were scuppered by Number 10.

The tussle between the Home Secretary and the PM led to the Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, adding the opposition’s support to calls for an overhaul in the use of the powers.

The Home Secretary said yesterday: “But let me be absolutely clear: if stops and searches do not continue to fall, if the use of these powers does not become more targeted, and stop-to-arrests ratios do not improve, then a Conservative Government will not hesitate to bring in primary legislation to make it happen.”

Last month, police forces began a process of publishing details on stops and search online including information on the ethnicity, gender and age range of those stopped by police.

The Daily Mail further notes the introduction of a new voluntary code for all police forces by the Home Secretary which sets out “a restriction on the so-called ‘no suspicion’ power, which allows officers to stop and search even when they do not suspect a crime has been committed.

“A chief police officer must now believe it is ‘necessary’ to authorise use of the power because violence ‘will’ take place.”

Previously, a lower ranking officer’s authorisation was required if they suspected violence ‘may’ occur.

The new code also requires forces “to record the outcome of searches in more detail, including if the suspect was arrested and charged.”

The voluntary nature of the code means that compliance is not mandatory hence the Home Secretary’s suggestion that the Conservatives may move to put requirements on a statutory footing if targeted stops and stop-to-arrests ratios do not improve.

There are reports of two major demonstrations by far right groups in Manchester and Newcastle in the papers today.

The Chronicle Live covers the planned protest by the UK branch of German far right group Pegida, on 28 February.

Local MP for Newcastle Central, Chi Onwurah, has written to the Home Secretary, Theresa May, regarding the impending protest to seek a ban on anyone travelling to the UK for the event on grounds of their presence not being ‘conducive to the public good’. US-based Islamophobes Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer were banned from entering the UK in 2013 after the English Defence League invited them to address a rally commemorating Fusilier Lee Rigby.

Onwurah, seeking a similar intervention, wrote to the Home Secretary stating:

“Could I ask you to set out in principle whether inciting Islamaphobia is considered ‘conducive to the public good’, what factors you would take into account before making such a decision and whether Pegida is recognised as an organisation inciting Islamaphobia?

“I am therefore writing to ask you whether the Home Office has made an assessment of Pegida and the impact of its presence in the UK.

“For example has the Home Office a view on the extent to which its extreme Islamaphobic stance represents incitement to racial hatred?”

Pegida’s UK leader, Matthew Pope, has been revealed to hold disturbing views about Islam and Muslims with revelations published last week byInternational Business Times uncovering some of his more outlandish claims. Pope is said to have called for Islam to be banned in the UK saying “As it is impossible for Muslims to re-adapt Islam to the 21st century, we only have one choice….. Make Islam illegal.”

Pope is also shown to keep the company of other noted anti-Muslim far right activists with his Facebook likes including “Paul Golding, leader of far-right Britain First party; Britain First; the British National Party (BNP); the English Defence League (EDL); and Anti-Islam (England Division).”

The Chronicle Live also notes the depressing number of Facebook likes on the Pegida-UK page; 12,000.

The Daily Mirror meanwhile reports on the return of the English Defence League to Manchester for a protest in the city centre next month.

The demonstration has been advertised on the far right group’s Facebook page and around 500 supporters have signed up to attend.

The paper notes the most recent outing by the far right group in the north west with a protest held in Oldham last weekend during which police made five arrests. “Two of the arrests were for breach of the peace, two for racially aggravated public order offences and one for anti-social behaviour,” according to the paper.

The EDL held demonstrations in Manchester in 2013 and again in 2009. Two years ago the far right group’s protest attracted some 700 supporters and cost Greater Manchester Police £50,000 and resulted in 15 arrests.

In 2009, the far right group’s protest saw 40 arrests and cost the police around £800,000.

The Government has resisted efforts to ban the protests by far right groups despite support for such a move by local politicians and police chiefs. Last year, the chief constable of South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton, spoke in favour of a change in the law to make it harder for the English Defence League and other far right groups to cause havoc in towns and cities which police forces were forced to finance at a time of budget cuts.