Monthly Archives: March 2015

The academic director of polling agency YouGov, Joel Faulkner Rogers, presents some interesting data from the company’s polling of public attitudes on Islam’s compatibility with British values.

Reflecting on the Home Secretary’s recent speech detailing the new approach the Conservatives will take on counter-extremism, with a focus on “British values” and a “partnership” between Government and local communities, Rogers questions the extent to which the wider populace discredits the clash of civilisations thesis and believes that Islam is “entirely compatible” with British values, as the Home Secretary put it. To defeat extremism by putting “British values” first and developing “partnerships” to take this message to the people will succeed if the people surely believe it and if such partnerships are sincerely established.

Rogers details the left and right dilemmas on counter-extremism, the one laden with nuances that evade generalisations on how radicalisation happens and what form counter-extremism must take given the complexity of the process, and the other heavy handed in its emphasis on the security apparatus and assimilationist integration policy. In both cases, the data cuts through the neatly constructed view of the wider population believing that Islam is “entirely compatible” with British values.

For example, of the 1641 adults polled by YouGov, only 22% said they felt “Islam is generally compatible with the values of British society”. Fifty five percent of people agreed with the statement “There is a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society”, while almost 25% didn’t adopt either statement or answered ‘don’t know’.

That is, more people opted not to offer a response to the statements than affirmed that “Islam is generally compatible with the values of British society”. And over half of those polled said they believed “There is a fundamental clash between Islam and the values of British society”.

The data broken down by party affiliation shows that UKIP supporters are most likely to believe in the clash of values between Islam and Britain (89%) and the Lib Dems least likely (38%) with the Conservatives taking second place after UKIP (68%) and Labour, third place (48%).

Less than one in five Conservative voters agrees with the statement “Islam is generally compatible with the values of British society”, which suggests the Home Secretary has much convincing to do among her own party ranks, let alone in the rest of the country. Just over a quarter of Labour voters believe Islam and British values are “generally compatible” while almost 40% of Lib Dems agree. The data suggests that for all the counter-extremism work undertaken by the current Conservative government and the preceding Labour one, and the focus on “values” as uniting the nation across the religious divide, little of this has actually penetrated the popular consciousness and views of a fundamental clash of values persists.

The problem is further evident among older people with 58% of those aged 40-59 and 67% of those aged 60 and above believe that Islam and British values fundamentally clash. That view is less pronounced among younger voters with 18-24 year olds displaying the greatest tendency to believe “Islam is generally compatible with the values of British society” (39%). There is a little ray of hope.

If theories on radicalisation single out alienation, a sense of disaffection and social exclusion as factors influencing the vulnerability of young Muslims, the YouGov data makes for uncomfortable reading. Tackling radicalisation while the prospect of presenting Islam as “entirely compatible” with British values rings hollow raises serious concerns about approaches that are high on rhetoric and low on impact.

For years, we have heard politicians rehearse statements on terrorism having nothing to do with Islam though their actions on engaging with Muslim communities has fostered greater distrust in Government than it has forged a “partnership”. Moreover, media coverage has tended to portray Islam in contexts of violence and conflict with war narratives gradually being replaced by social and cultural values as the cleavages where differences between Islam and British values are apparently exposed.

All this, inevitably, affects popular attitudes and the YouGov data is a sober reminder of the major consequences of policies devised in Whitehall that take no consideration of the changes on the ground, whether in Muslim communities or in society at large, that affect policy success.

Rogers posits an important question, “Public concerns about extremism and Muslim concerns about alienation are currently locked in a vicious cycle, feeding each other in ways that fuel the atmosphere for extremists and their increasingly sophisticated portrayals of a war between Islamic and Western societies. If the answer to extremism is united communities, then the first question is “how do we break this cycle?”.

The Guardian and Independent both report on the latest scandal involving Katie Hopkins as she wades into yet another accusation of inciting racial hatred.

In a twitter exchange with the Labour MP for Rochdale, Simon Danczuk, who marked Pakistan National Day by raising the Pakistani flag in his constituency, Hopkins tweeted a number of messages denouncing Danczuk by referring to men of Pakistani heritage recently convicted of child sex offences.

Hopkins tweeted a picture of men convicted of sex grooming offences in Rochdale saying:

“Are these your friends too ‪@SimonDanczuk? Is this why you are raising the Pakistani flag in Rochdale? 77 years inside.”

She followed it up with a number of other messages all conflating the crimes of the few with the British Pakistani community more broadly. She wrote:

“Your Pakistani friends saw young white girls as fair game when they abused them.”

“Raising a Pakistani flag in Rochdale is not helping community cohesion.”

“It is inflammatory. ‪@SimonDanczuk you & your party disgust me.”

“Do NOT lecture me on community cohesion fool.”

Danczuk has referred the messages to the police stating, “I don’t think we should beat about the bush here, Katie Hopkins is inciting racial hatred.”

“Rochdale has a proud history of coming together to mark special days in different cultures, from St Patrick’s Day to the Ukrainian Holodomor, and our town will not take any lessons from Katie Hopkins on community cohesion. She has waded into something she doesn’t understand and her ignorance is extremely dangerous.”

The complaint of Asian businesses in Rochdale of hate crimes experienced on the back of media coverage of the sex grooming trials is certainly evidence of ignorance inviting danger, as is the exploitation of the issue by far right groups who have targeted a number of town and cities in campaigns against ‘Muslim grooming gangs’.

But Hopkins is not alone in perpetuating the ignorance that undermines community cohesion and which blames entire communities for the criminal acts of the few. In his review of Trevor Phillips’ documentary about race in Britain, Joseph Harker, reflected on the ways in which “casual stereotyping” seeps into our everyday conversation to the point of normalising prejudice.

Of the way in which race and crime is discussed in the media, Harker observed, “There is an infinite number of facts about any one ethnic group; so the issue isn’t whether certain facts are correct or not; but which facts are chosen.

“The strongest recent example of this has been the shocking revelations of sexual grooming by mainly Pakistani-origin men in several British cities, with thousands of young victims. Hundreds of men are implicated in these horrific crimes. Yet in Britain there are 1.2 million people of Pakistani heritage. The vile grooming gangs are a tiny proportion (far less than one in 1,000), yet the stories have led to all manner of discussions about what is wrong with Pakistanis in general. Or, even worse, what is wrong with their religion, Islam, which has still less connection to the issue. Said one Radio 5 Live caller: “They can’t have relationships with their own young ladies because it’s forbidden so they go after young white girls.” Presumably “they” means all Muslim or Pakistani men.”

Given the penchant of sections of the media to divulge some “facts” but not others, the ignorance displayed by Hopkins is the thin wedge of a much wider problem when it comes to media representations of Islam and Muslims.

The voluntary sector publications Third Sector and Civil Society, return to the subject of the Charity Commissionand its approach to regulating British Muslim charities.

Third Sector covers the defence offered by William Shawcross, the Charity Commission chairman, of its actions over the charities providing some funding to CAGE, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) and the Anita Roddick Foundation.

The Charity Commission acted to pressure the two charities to withdraw funding leading to criticisms of the Commission’s behaving beyond its remit. The Commission, which has already been accused of displaying bias against Muslim charities, has come under considerable scrutiny over its handling of the CAGE issue and the pressure exerted on the two charities to withdraw funding.

William Shawcross speaking at a conference this week said, “Some people have questioned whether it is for the commission to decide what is in the public interest, or what might damage trust and confidence in charities. Of course it is. As regulator, we exist to regulate charities on behalf of the giving and volunteering public. Public trust is vital to charities. If this is under threat in any way, we must act.”

In order to preserve “public trust” the Commission issued a statement encouraging charities to perform their “due diligence” to ensure they do not expose themselves to “reputational risks”.

But the move by the Commission against the JRCT prompted a letter to The Times signed by almost 200 individuals, including a number of celebrities, peers, academics, human rights organisations, journalists etc protesting at the “regulatory pressure and media attacks” the Trust had suffered as a result of offering financial grants to CAGE.

The Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) has requested a meeting with the Commission over the issue stating charitable trustees must have the “discretion and right of independence” to pursue charitable objectives without being hindered by an “overzealous” regulator. The ACF said in a statement following the pressure exerted by the Commission and felt by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Foundation:

“In light of this, we are actively seeking to work with the commission to construct guidance around the complex issue of charitable funders supporting the work of non-charities for charitable purposes. Key to this guidance must be a shared understanding of the duties and responsibilities of trustees, as well as clarity regarding the role of the Charity Commission, the extent of its powers and its process for dealing with disputes.”

Peter Oborne in an article on Open Democracy shed further light on the Charity Commission’s conduct in this affair disclosing that the Commission had written to three other charities pressuring them into withdrawing funding from CAGE. Oborne notes the contents of the letters sent by the Commission which read:

“Statements made recently by Cage, and the public reaction to them, raise clear questions for a charity considering funding its activities, or associating with it, as to how they could comply with their legal duties as charity trustees. It would be difficult to envisage there not being significant reputational damage to any charity intending to work with the organisation.”

Oborne suggests that the Commission has “confuse[d] its task of protecting public confidence in charities with protecting them from being unpopular.”

The “reputational risk” suffered by Muslim charities as a result of the Commission’s conduct in this and other matters involving the sector doesn’t seem to get a look in as far as maintaining “public trust” in the charitable sector is involved.

Indeed, Stephen Bubb, chief executive of ACEVO who first raised the question of “bias” against Muslim charities said at a press conference hosted by the Muslim Charities Forum this week:

“Britain needs to fight terrorism with both hands – not with one hand tied behind our back.

“We need high level strategic security measures but also better understanding of the conditions on the ground that breed or alleviate the threat of extremism. There are serious flaws in our current approach.”

“We must recognise that an overzealous approach by regulators has exacerbated the difficulties charities already experience from restrictions on their bank accounts. The Charity Commission, in particular, has found itself at loggerheads with many of the organisations it regulates.

“Regrettably, they are perceived by parts of the charity sector to be biased in their investigatory priorities – and a perception of bias here can be as corrosive as actual bias.”

It will be important for the Charity Commission to restore “public trust” in the regulator as much as it seeks to maintain “public trust” in the charitable sector more widely.

BBC News reports on the outcome of the trial of Christian preacher, Michael Overd, who was facing two charges of using threatening and abusive words, and a third of causing racially or religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or distress.

BBC News reports that Overd was convicted of one charge of using threatening and abusive words for making homophobic comments while preaching on Taunton High Street last June and July but was cleared of a second similar charge and the charge of causing racially or religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or distress for his disparaging remarks about the Prophet Muhammad.

Taunton Magistrates’ Court heard from a witness who claimed Overd “disparaged the Prophet Muhammad during one outburst” last summer. The court also heard from witnesses who claimed Overd made homophobic remarks.

Overd, 50, was fined £200 and ordered to pay compensation and costs totalling £1,200 at Bristol Crown Court.

Passing sentence, Judge Shamim Qureshi said, “In my view he enjoys coaxing people into asking him questions so that he can reply loudly into the microphone to answer them.

“The only semblance of civilised conversation is when they commend him, if they disagree he shouts them down.”

The judge added that Overd “does not display any scholarly approach to the topics but merely preaches whatever little he had learnt, regardless of being rude or bullying to others.

“He happily shouts out the negative points in any other religion.”

The Islington Gazette reports on the criminal trial of a man who attacked a Muslim shopkeeper at his store in Holloway Road, north London, with two knives telling him “I’d love to kill a Muslim”.

Drug addict, Michael O’Leary, 35, attempted to rob a different store in Camden earlier in the evening before targeting Samsul Islam at his DR Mart store on Holloway Road.

Samsul Islam told Blackfriars Crown Court that O’Leary had asked him if he was a Muslim. When Islam responded in the affirmative O’Leary is said to have replied, “I’d love to kill a Muslim”.

CCTV footage played in court showed O’Leary approach Islam in the shop, say something to him before pinning him up against a wall with his left hand and gesturing at him with a knife.

The paper reports “The victim grabbed the knife and was pulled to the floor off camera where his attacker began to beat him before Mr Islam, who suffered a deep cut to his right hand as he gained possession of one of two knives O’Leary was carrying, chased him out of the shop.”

CCTV footage played in court showed Islam chasing O’Leary out of the shop and down the street.

Prosecutor Wayne Cleaver QC argued that the words Mr O’Leary was reported to have said to Islam coupled with the fact that he was armed with the knife were proof of his intent to kill. Cleaver added that the fact that O’Leary had not even attempted to get any money from the cash register at DR Mart proved this was a “more sinister” attack.

O’Leary claimed to have no recollection of the incident on account of being intoxicated with drugs and alcohol. He has also denied attempted murder with his defence lawyer claiming his criminal behaviour was fuelled by a desperation to seize money for drugs.

O’Leary, who was cleared of attempted murder and wounding with intent, pleaded guilty to assault with intent to rob at a preliminary hearing.