Monthly Archives: May 2015

ITV News, Yahoo News and the Local Government Chronicle report on the government’s legislative plans for the coming year that were announced in the Queen’s Speech to Parliament on Wednesday. Despite the Prime Minister promising a “clear programme for working people, social justice and bringing our country together”, many of the policies are likely to negatively impact on Muslim civil liberties and charitable sector.

A new Extremism Bill was announced which proceeds to further plans first entertained during the passage of the Counter-terrorism and Security Bill but which were resisted by the Liberal Democrats and which have since been criticised for targeting and marginalising British Muslims.

The proposed Extremism Bill will pave the way for the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to ban “extremist” groups. It will also give law enforcement agencies new powers to tackle “hate preachers” and enable local authorities to close down premises, such as mosques, which they believe support “extremism”. The Bill will also grant Ofcom greater powers to deal with channels that are considered to have broadcast “extremist” content.

Despite a number of Cabinet Ministers in the previous Government aligning with the Liberal Democrats to resist any encroachment to free speech or invite pre-broadcast censorship, the Government has proceeded to include plans to extend Ofcom’s powers in the Bill to be presented to the new Parliament.

The Extremism Bill will also grant employers new powers through the Disclosure and Barring Service to check whether an individual is an “extremist” and bar them from working with children. The fact that “extremism” has been ill-defined, as brilliantly exposed by John Humphrys in an interview with the Home Secretary during which she struggled to offer a clear definition of extremism or adequately respond to concerns about thought policing, presents a number of challenges to an open society. Reports from the US about an initiative which is identifying pro-Palestinian activists on university campuses in an attempt to malign their employment prospects augurs ill for what looks to be similar moves in the UK.

A new Charity Bill, the Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Bill, was also announced in the Queen’s Speech. The Bill sets out plans to progress on the Draft Protection of Charities Bill which began under the previous Parliament. The Bill has already faced criticism over impeding the work of charities engaged in work in conflict zones and for lack of proportionality, given that its intended focus, tackling the “menace of extremism” in the charity sector is at odds with empirical evidence about the nature and scale of the problem. In its legislative scrutiny of the previous Bill, the Joint Committee scrutinising the Bill’s provision stated in relation to concerns about extremism:

“The consensus of opinion is that abuse, distinct from honest mistakes and persistent mismanagement, is rare in the charity sector. There is, moreover, insufficient evidence available to make an accurate assessment of the incidence or significance of such abuse. We heard that, when such abuse does occur, the financial costs and reputational damage to the charity sector can be considerable. It is right that the Charity Commission should be more effective at tackling it than has historically been the case. This raises the question of whether this would also need additional legislative underpinning and, if so, whether the proposals in the draft Bill are the correct ones.”

Needless to say, as the Government proceeds to introduce these draft Bills into the legislature, Muslim groups will have to be ready for political struggles ahead.

 

The Daily Telegraph reports on the statement issued by the Muslim Council of Britain in response to the comments by Metropolitan Police Commander Mak Chishty about increased religiosity among Muslims and the boycotting Marks & Spencer’s being identifiable signs of radicalisation.

The MCB stated the Commander’s remarks show a “startling disconnect” with Muslims.

Dr Shuja Shafi, the general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, said it was “hugely worrying” that such an influential figure at Scotland Yard believed that a sudden stop in alcohol consumption, shopping at Marks and Spencer’s or not celebrating Christmas were possible signs of radicalisation. The comments are a sad reflection of efforts by French police forces who in an infographic released a few months ago suggested giving up baguettes was a “sign of radicalisation”.

The statement by Dr Shafi comes after Mr Chishty made a number of comments calling on Muslim children as young as five to be monitored for “Islamist extremism” by “moving into their private space”.

Dr Shafi called on Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, to clarify whether Commander Chishty’s views were shared across the police force.

There has been considerable effort to equate religious conservatism to radicalisation with Salafism featuring prominently as a causal factor in radicalisation. The work of police officers, like the former head of the Muslim Contact Unit at the Metropolitan Police, Bob Lambert, dispels the false correlation drawn between Salafism and radicalisation with empirical evidence showing the engagement strategies employed by individuals regarded as religiously conservative to challenge views and beliefs that could lead to radicalisation.

The heavy emphasis on religion over causal factors that are more likely to have a bearing on the turn to radicalisation has been variously emphasised in reports by the Home Affairs select committee, the Communities and Local Government select committee and researchers analysing violent extremism and the radicalisation process. The Communities and Local Government inquiry report into the Prevent strategy stated, “there has been a pre-occupation with the theological basis of radicalisation, when the evidence seems to indicate that politics, policy and socio-economics may be more important factors in the process”.

In an article published in The Guardian at the time of the passage of the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, Associate Professor Anne Aly argued, “The fact is that the role of religion in radicalisation (and deradicalisation) is grossly overestimated. There is actually no empirical evidence to support the claim that religion (any religion) and ideology are the primary motivators of violent extremism. The revelation that wannabe foreign fighters prepared for battle by reading copies of Islam for Dummies and The Koran for Dummies, underscores this.”

“Factors such as anger at injustice, moral superiority, a sense of identity and purpose, the promise of adventure, and becoming a hero have all been implicated in case studies of radicalisation.”

The narrative that has taken hold in recent years, and which has guided Conservative policy in this area, is the unshakeable belief that “extremist ideology” or a “distorted interpretation of Islam” lies at the heart of radicalisation.

The fact that empirical evidence, in studies by Aly and Marc Sageman, suggests that the role of religion has been overplayed and that radicalisation is contingent on a variety of causal factors, none of which are present in all cases, suggests that the dominance of preconceived notions of what causes radicalisation has taken precedence over evidence based analysis on the causes of and reasons for radicalisation. Professor Arun Kundnani in his short booklet, A Decade Lost, traces the false premise which has informed policy on counter-extremism with its heavy reliance on a non-existent relationship between violent and ‘non-violent’ extremism and a preoccupation with “extremist religious ideology”.

The great irony behind Commander Chishty’s comments are that they could further alienate British Muslims, as has already happened under the failed Prevent strategy, which as The Guardian’s Seumas Milne put it, has  “stopped many Muslims from speaking freely, but prevented little else.”

The impact of Prevent on curtailing Muslim civil society and proving counter-productive to its objectives is evident in other analyses by Professor Kundnani, Spooked! How not to prevent violent extremism, and in an essay for the journal Race and Class in which he explored the negative consequences of moving into the “private spaces” of Muslims and conditioning all political expressions as “moderate” or “extremist”. Kundnani argued in his 2008 essay, that “an ideological attack in the name of ‘western values’ could poison the shoots of dynamic self criticism by creating an apologetic and defensive closure among Muslim political activists.”

The Charity Times reports on a stark warning by the Charities Aid Foundation that the new counter-terrorism legislation announced in the Queen’s Speech yesterday must not affect the work of charities working in areas affected by conflict.

The new Counter Extremism Bill follows on from last year’s announcement that the Charity Commission would be granted new powers and £8 million in further funding over the next three years to counter any threat of charities funding the “menace of extremism”.

The Charity Commission’s chair, William Shawcross, has previously warned about “Islamist extremism” being the “deadliest threat” facing the sector though little evidence has been cited to validate the claims. A report by the Overseas Development Institute earlier this year found that claims of the abuse of British charities by extremists were not consistent with operations in the sector and that “the risk has been overstated by some interested parties”.

The Joint Committee on the Draft Protection of Charities Bill also acknowledged that abuse is rare in the charity sector and that there is “insufficient evidence available to make an accurate assessment of the incidence or significance of such abuse.”

Nonetheless, the Government plans to introduce new powers for the Charity Commission to tackle “abuse” in the charity sector.

Charities Aid Foundation’s chief executive, John Low, said the new proposed legislation could have implications for the lifesaving work charities perform in countries afflicted by conflict, such as Syria.

“Charities carrying out lifesaving work in fragile and unstable parts of the world are already vulnerable to being frozen out of the financial system. New counter-terrorism laws will need careful consideration to ensure they do not further restrict relief efforts in places like Syria.”

The new laws could further exacerbate the growing fear among Muslim charities who believe they are already being unfairly targeted by the Charity Commission. A number of British Muslim charities have had their bank accounts terminated and other charities have reported systematic harassment despite no evidence of wrongdoing being uncovered.

These fears were reinforced when Sam Burne, a reporter for the charity news site Third Sector published findings showing that 25% of the Charity Commission’s statutory inquiries involved Muslim charities, despite them making up only 1.1% of the total number of registered charitable organisations in the UK. The extent of the Charity Commission’s focus on British Muslim charities and the unease it has caused in the sector is also detailed in the report by Claystone, ‘Muslim charities: a suspect sector’.

The disproportionate targeting of Muslim charities appears to have created a growing sense of mistrust towards the Charity Commission, especially after the Commission was criticised earlier this year for acting beyond its remit by pressuring two charities to withdraw funding from the British Muslim advocacy group CAGE. This news comes despite an ICM/Just Giving poll showing British Muslims are the highest per capita contributors to charity in the UK.

The UKIP candidate for Folkestone and Hythe, who was banned from standing in the general election and expelled from the party altogether this week after allegations of expenses fraud came to light in March this year, is still sitting as an MEP in the European Parliament in Brussels, The Independent reports.

Janice Atkinson faces a hearing over an expenses scandal caught on camera by The Sun newspaper in March 2015. It showed the MEP for the South East region’s chief of staff, Christine Hewitt, speaking to a restaurant manager during the party’s Spring Conference in Margate, requesting a receipt thousands of pounds over what the senior UKIP members had spent over lunch. It is not known whether Atkinson was aware of Hewitt’s actions or indeed even authorised it personally, but she is being investigated by Kent Police over the matter.

UKIP party leader, Nigel Farage, said that the footage that led to Atkinson’s expulsion made it “perfectly clear that something very bad happened” and it “couldn’t look worse” for the party

UKIP maintained at the time the story broke that it had “removed the whip” from Janice Atkinson, however The Independent were informed by officials in the European Parliament that UKIP “has not moved to formally expel her in Brussels.

Whilst Atkinson is an MEP for UKIP, the party is entitled to “higher levels of funding and staffing allowances from the EU Parliament,” The Independent reports. This has lead Deputy Leader of Labour MEPs and Yorkshire and Humber MEP, Richard Corbett, to conclude that UKIP are “secretly” allowing Janice Atkinson to remain as an MEP in order to avail themselves of EU funds.

Labour MEP Anneliese Dodds, told The Independent: “Ukip don’t seem to be willing to cut ties with Janice Atkinson, despite the fact that she is under investigation for allegedly defrauding the taxpayer. This is in line with Ukip’s general disregard for public money.”

UKIP MEP Stewart Agnew responded: “Ms Atkinson’s so-called expulsion is subject to an appeal. That appeal has not yet been heard and resolved one way or the other. She is still in good standing with the group [the ‘Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy’ group in the European Parliament].”

The Guardian report that Janice Atkinson released a statement after her expulsion saying, “I am deeply disappointed by today’s decision and fully intend to appeal.”

It is troubling that the party, which claimed to have removed the whip from Atkinson at the time the scandal broke, should maintain a normalised position with her inclusion in the political grouping of which UKIP is a member, the EFDD.

Atkinson is no stranger to controversy that paints UKIP in the worst light. Last August she was caught making an appalling racist statement on BBC South East Today in which she called Fa Munday, a Thai UKIP supporter from Ramsgate, Kent, a “ting tong from somewhere.”

Only weeks before The Sun exposed this expenses scandal, another UKIP MEP, Scottish leader David Coburn, likened the Scottish National Party’s MSP and Minister for Europe and International Development, Humza Yousaf, to Abu Hamza leading to calls for his resignation. Nigel Farage defended Coburn, insisting his remark was merely a “joke in poor taste.”

Local news site, This is Local London, reports on complaints made to the Metropolitan Police over its handling of the English Defence League protest in Walthamstow earlier this month.

The far right organisation announced that it would hold a protest in the east London borough two days after the general election against the “continuing assault from Islamification in the UK”.

This is Local London reports that the Waltham Forest trades council (WFTC) has written to the Metropolitan Police Service in response to the scale of the police response to the protest.

The letter states: “The police presence was made up of hundreds of officers on foot, and waiting in vans, some on horses, some in the air and others with dogs.

“This over-the-top mobilisation contrasts sharply with the woeful response ordinary citizens receive when we report a real crime in this borough.”

The letter from Waltham Forest trades council comes as Rotherham Council’s commissioners and South Yorkshire Police prepare a joint submission calling on the Home Secretary to dispense special powers under the Public Order Act allowing the local force and council to ban protests in the town for up to three months.

The Star newspaper reports that after a series of protests and counter-protests in Rotherham costing up to £2 million, and the loss of trade to local businesses as well as a general feeling among shoppers of the high street not being safe on a Saturday, the agencies are looking to act more decisively to prevent any further losses to police budgets and the local economy.

Almost a year ago, the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton, expressed his frustration with the existing legislation on holding static protests and the burden on police budgets to cover the cost of policing far right marches 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.”

The Guardian front page yesterday reported on the increase in the BME share of the vote going to the Conservative party in the 2015 general election based on survey results by British Future.

British Future surveyed 2000 voters from BME backgrounds between May 8 and 14, comparing the vote share for the major political parties in the 2015 election with results from the Ethnic Minority British Election Study which showed that Labour was the party of choice of BME voters in the 2010 election attracting 68% of BME voters compared to the Conservatives’ 16% and Lib Dems’ 14%.

According to British Future’s survey results, the Conservative vote share rose to 33% in this election with the party faring better among British Asian voters than with Black or Mixed race voters. Among British Asians, the Conservatives were more likely to attract votes from British Hindus and Sikhs, than from British Muslims.

The British Future results are based on estimates of 3 million BME voters casting a vote in the last election, though results from the EMBES study on the 2010 election shows that BME voters have lower voter turnout rates than the White majority. A related point, which emerges from polling data from Ipsos Mori released last week, shows that Labour supporters in general are more likely to stay away from the ballot box than Conservatives voters, with higher turnout rates recorded among the latter.

The British Future results are consistent with the EMBES findings from the 2010 election which showed that British Indians were most likely of all BME groups to vote Conservative, with 24% of British Indians supporting the Tories in 2010 compared to 13% of Pakistanis, 18% of Bangladeshis, 9% of  Black Caribbean and 6% of Black African voters.

The steady demise of Labour’s BME vote share was noted by Maria Sobolewska, one of the academics involved in the EMBES study in an article published in the Daily Telegraph in December 2014. Sobolewska’s analysis of British Election Study data shows the falling share of the BME vote going to Labour from 1997 to 2014 with the decline starkest among British Indians, but falling also among Pakistanis, Black Caribbeans and Black Africans.

Support for the Labour Party among Indian voters fell from 77% in 1997 to just 18% in 2014. Support among British Pakistanis fell from 77 to 57 per cent, Caribbean support dropped from 78% to 67% and support from Black Africans fell from 79% to 63%.

The loss of the BME vote to the Labour Party and Conservative efforts to appeal to BME voters following the party’s poor showing of 16% in the 2010 election appears to have paid off with some minority groups than with others.

British Hindus and Sikhs, according to the British Future results, were more likely to have voted Conservative and British Muslims more likely to vote Labour:

  • Muslim: 64% Labour, 25% Conservative
  • Hindu: 41% Labour, 49% Conservative
  • Sikh: 41% Labour, 49% Conservative

There are a number of related, causal factors that are worth noting in connection with analysis on voting behaviour among BME voters and the low level of support evinced by British Muslim voters for the Conservative Party. Lord Major, the former Conservative PM spoke about the party’s relationship with BME voters being “not remotely goodish” days ahead of the general election and Peter Oborne, the former chief political commentator of the Daily Telegraph, asked “Why are the Conservatives ignoring the Muslim vote?”

While the Conservatives have been aware of the problem of broadening their appeal to BME voters since the publication of Lord Ashcroft’s report ‘Degrees of Separation’, it would seem the strategy employed has been to appeal to some BME groups over others. Prejudices about Muslim voters “being on benefits and voting Labour” have been voiced in the past and the appeal to BME voters has presently been couched in the language of “aspiration”, building on Tory appeal to working class voters in the 1980s through policies such as the right to buy council houses. There are echoes of this in the analysis by British Future.

But there is more to the work of party strategists about which BME groups might appear to be amenable to the Conservative message than aspiration. There are also wider concerns about the policy of engagement, or lack thereof, by the Conservative Party with British Muslim communities. Consider that the PM, David Cameron, visited Sikh and Hindu temples during the election campaign but not a single mosque. Consider further the comments by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, former co-chairman of the Conservative Party, about the “trust deficit” cultivated among British Muslims as a consequence of Tory policy on engaging with Muslim groups. The range of policies that have affected Muslim communities in recent years, from the Counter Terrorism and Security Act to the impending Counter Extremism Bill, and the Conservatives’ flippant response to press regulation following the report by the Leveson Inquiry suggest that low Tory appeal among Muslim voters is not because Muslims are not receptive to the message of upward social mobility but because the reality of political exclusion stands in sharp contrast to the promise of aspiration.

BBC News and the Brighouse Echo report on the English Defence league protest in Halifax at the weekend.

The far right group announced plans to hold a protest in Halifax town centre last month. It follows a protest by the group outside Calderdale Magistrates Court earlier this year as 25 men from the West Yorkshire region went on trial for sexual offences.

The Brighouse Echo reports that around 150 supporters turned out for the protest chanting “Muslim paedos off our streets” and “E-E-EDL” as they staged a protest outside the Calderdale Council offices.

The paper reports police made six arrests on the day for a range of public order offences, including “breach of the peace [and] racially aggravated public disorder”.

The Guardian publishes a letter from the former Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, protesting at aspects of the counter-extremism speech delivered by Theresa May in March, ahead of the dissolution of Parliament, the bulk of which is expected to be included in the Queen’s Speech setting out the new legislative agenda.

The proposals, which include plans for “extremism disruption orders”, “banning orders” and powers of intervention to prevent “harmful activities” which could pose a “threat to the functioning of democracy”, have already been criticised as tantamount of a new “Cold War” against British Muslims.

The Guardian publishes the letter setting out reservations about the proposed restrictions to free speech envisaged by May’s plans expressed by the Culture Secretary.

In the letter, Javid criticises the restrictions as amounting to “censorship” arising from “pre-emptive action”, the like of which is commonly associated with more authoritarian regimes.

Javid wrote:

“Extending Ofcom’s powers to enable it to take pre-emptive action would move it from its current position as a post-transmisson regulator into the role of censor. This would involve a fundamental shift in the way UK broadcasting is regulated, away from the current framework which is designed to take appropriate account of the right to freedom of expression”.

The Guardian, soon after the election, noted the role of the Liberal Democrats in resisting some of the draconian powers sought by the Home Secretary. The Financial Times, at the time of the speech in March, highlighted the objections raised by no less than six other Conservative Cabinet colleagues, aside from Javid. These were Greg Clark, Chris Grayling, Eric Pickles, Nicky Morgan, Theresa Villiers and Stephen Crabbe.

It will be interesting to see what impact these objections have on the plans that will be outlined in the Queen’s Speech next week and on what is likely to be a fraught exercise in the Bill’s passage.

The Express and Star and Birmingham Mail report on the planned protest in Dudley by a newly founded far right group, All Football Fans/Firms March Against Islamisation.

The group plan on demonstrating in the town, following in the footsteps of the English Defence League and Britain First both of whom have held similar protests, against plans to build a new mosque in Dudley.

The Express and Star publishes images of T-shirts that have been designed for the occasion, emblazoned with a Union Jack and showing fists being waved in support of “anti-Islamisation”. The paper also prints some of the social media posts which have been posted by individuals showing their support for the protest. Comments include “no surrender, its [sic] time to take back our country” and “Dudley, don’t worry, the British are coming!”

An editorial in the Express and Star cuts through the stated motive for this and previous protests in Dudley by far right groups, the policing and economic costs of which are laboured over by the local papers, making clear that the anti-Muslim agenda of these groups is falsely couched in scaremongering about “Islamisation”. The editorial states:

“Make no mistake, this is not a protest about the location of a mosque. That issue is still subject to a decision by the High Court. The people planning to travel across the country to Dudley will come to spread a message of hatred, bile and division about a religion. They may purport to defend British values. In fact they do the very opposite. Deciding whether or not to allow a group of worshippers to use their own money to build a place in which to practise their faith is not ‘Islamisation’. It is British democracy and fairness in action. It applies as much to Christian, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and other places of worship as it does to Islam.”

Luton News and Luton on Sunday report on plans announced by the far right group Britain First to demonstrate in Luton on 27 June, a date that falls in Ramadan this year.

Jayda Fransen, the party’s failed candidate in the Rochester and Strood by election, explained the purpose of the demonstration saying “We are marching because Luton is a hotbed for Islamic extremism.

“It has been turned into an Islamic ghetto where non-Muslims now feel intimidated to go.

“We don’t want this. This is Great Britain, this is a Christian country and we want Islamic extremists out.”

Her references to “an Islamic ghetto where non-Muslims now feel intimidated to go” is reminiscent of the words used by Fox News guest and “terrorism expert”, Steve Emerson, who in an interview earlier this year said of the city of Birmingham, “[it’s] totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in”.

The language is also similar to the motives given by the English Defence League for its recent protest in Walthamstow as being against “Islamist Bandit Country” and the “continuing assault from Islamification in the UK”.

Luton News reports that the leader of Britain First, Paul Golding, and fellow members of the far right group were filmed “invading” two mosques in Luton last June. The paper notes, “Golding and other members were filmed storming into Luton Central Mosque and Bury Park Mosque to hand out leaflets and bibles.”

These “mosque invasions” have been carried out elsewhere in the country by the far right group with members door-stepping an MP in Lancashire, pushing “anti-Muslim grooming” literature through the letterbox of a Muslim councillor and intimidating mosque personnel in various parts of the country.

The local paper also revives the issue of policing far right demonstrations noting that a demonstration by the EDL last November required Bedfordshire police to “field 300 officers, ten horses and a dozen dogs to manage the demonstration, though the whole operation required the input of around 700 staff.”

Luton South MP Gavin Shuker told the Luton News: “Once again Luton is being targeted by a far right march, the difference between now and 2010 is that now we have fewer officers and a bigger hole in the police budget.”