Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Independent was among several newspapers yesterday reporting on the announcement by the Home Secretary of an “independent review into the application of Sharia Law in England and Wales”.

The review, which was noted in the Government’s Counter Extremism Strategylast October, has been established “to explore whether, and to what extent, the application of Sharia law may be incompatible with the law in England and Wales. It will examine the ways in which Sharia may be being misused, or exploited, in a way that may discriminate against certain groups, undermine shared values and cause social harms.”

The Home Office discloses names of those who will be involved in the review including the chair, Professor Mona Siddiqui, and scholars who will advise on proceedings, Imam Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi and Imam Qari Asim.

The full terms of reference have not been explicitly set out though the Home Office announcement explains the panel reviewing shari’ah councils will announce a call for evidence in due course.

The announcement, of course, doesn’t address more serious questions about the establishment of a review with such a narrow focus.

For example, why would the Government’s intention to conduct such a review be mentioned in a Counter extremism strategy, unless there is an implicit assumption that views on gender have some bearing on extremist attitudes? And were this to be the case, what are we to make of general assessments on the state of gender equality in the UK with the UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Rashida Manjoo, claiming the UK has a “boys’ club sexist culture” and the recently launched Reclaim the Internet initiative revealing the extent of misogyny on social media?

Does such a culture and the prevalence of online misogyny not also “discriminate against certain groups, undermine shared values and cause social harms”?

And then there the assurance given by the Home Secretary that the review will be a review of “Sharia courts” only and not religious courts in general. Is this to suggest that shari’ah councils are a problem when it comes to gender equality but Jewish Beth Din courts are not? The evidence certainly doesn’t bear out such an assumption with the Jewish Chronicle having published several articles on the discriminatory treatment of Jewish womenat the hands of Beth Din courts. Why the singular focus then on “Sharia courts” unless, again, there is an implicit bias at play that regards Muslims as a problem but not other faith traditions.

The discriminatory treatment of Muslims under counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies is well documented with the recently released Council of Europe’s annual report 2015 noting, “Many Muslims feel unjustly under suspicion and complain about racial profiling in policing, counter-terrorism operations or border controls. Furthermore, already existing stigmatisation and discrimination of Muslims in various areas of social life, such as employment, housing and access to goods and services, are exacerbated. While Muslims in general suffer from this, those who choose to lead a life in accordance with strict religious rules, for example concerning their dress code or diet, are particularly affected.”

The announcement on the review presents a delicious irony with the Government setting out its objectives as understanding how the courts might “discriminate against certain groups, undermine shared values and cause social harms” with little regard for its role in announcing policies which do exactly the same. Can we have a review that will examine that?

The Chronicle reports on the court appearance of a man charged with racially/religiously aggravated common assault over an incident at an Asda supermarket in Gosport earlier this year.

Joseph Tudor, 36, pleaded guilty when he appeared before Newcastle Magistrates’ Court yesterday.

The court heard that Tudor launched an “abhorrent” attack on the Muslim victim, Ms Raja, as she shopped with her sister in the supermarket at around 9.40pm on 20 January.

Tudor called Ms Raja a “terrorist” before he shoved her in the shoulder causing her face veil (niqab) to fall away.

Tudor told Ms Raja “Get that off, you’re in the UK – have you not seen the news recently?

“There’s no place for burkas in this country.”

Ms Raja told police “her legs turned to jelly” during the incident saying she had been left with pain and discomfort in her shoulder as a result of the assault.

Police released CCTV images from the supermarket’s surveillance system appealing for information about the man seen entering the store around the time of the incident.

Prosecutor Alison Howey, told the court: “The victim says she remembers him using the word terrorist, but he says he can’t remember, and his recollection of the incident is not particularly clear.

“The victim says she was particularly concerned about what happened, she has never had this type of thing said to her before.

“It was extremely upsetting and shocking to be faced with this.”

Andrew Wigmore, mitigating, told the court Tudor was “very remorseful” over his actions and that his client suffered from “a multitude of problems” relating to anger, depression and anxiety.

The case has been adjourned until June 6 for a preparation of a pre-sentence report.

The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has released its2015 annual report for the period 1 January to 31 December and marking the main trends in the fields of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, antisemitism and intolerance among Member States of the Council of Europe.

The annual report highlights two main developments that have given the Council of Europe’s human rights monitoring body cause for concern: “the ongoing migration crisis and the Islamist terror attacks that were carried out in Paris in the months of January and November and in Copenhagen in February.”

In relation to the first development, the migration crisis, the report notes some of the policy and populist responses in Member States to the arrival of refugees and migrants to Europe noting some of the restrictive practices that have been adopted, anti-migrant public sentiments and expressions of a “welcome culture” in European countries. The note makes mention of the discriminatory statements by States of accepting Christian refugees but not Muslim ones stating: ” Such open discrimination on religious grounds contributed further to a growing climate of Islamophobia across the continent.”

The report also highlights the effects of populist anti-migrant movements which have “contributed to creating a situation in which a growing number of attacks against reception centres and other types of accommodation was carried out.”

The rights monitoring body argues “The overall situation highlights the need to combat racist violence and hate speech and implement effective integration strategies, as ECRI has always recommended. Moreover, the principle of fair distribution, for which ECRI has also advocated in the past, is a key element for the development of effective policies in this delicate area.”

In respect of the second development, terrorist incidents on the European mainland, the report notes the impact on Muslim minorities in Europe stating “This Islamophobic trend merged, especially during the second half of the year, with the growing anti-immigrant sentiments as a result of the ongoing influx of large numbers of migrants particularly from Muslim countries. The Islamist terror attacks in November in Paris, during which the Bataclan concert hall as well as several bars and restaurants and the national football stadium were targeted, added a further momentum to a merger of these two developments in populist rhetoric. Already in its 2014 Annual Report, ECRI pointed out that the growing trend of Islamophobia has the potential of counteracting the integration efforts made so far. In this regard, ECRI has also repeatedly emphasised the importance of its GPR [general policy recommendation] No. 8 on combating racism while fighting terrorism.”

The report notes the escalation in antisemitic and Islamophobic hate speech during 2015 and the impact of austerity measures which have not only aggravated causes of social tension but have also affected the financial support given by Member States to anti-racism bodies. The report states, “Budget cuts also affected institutions and measures put in place to prevent and combat racism and intolerance, including awareness-raising and outreach programmes, local community initiatives and support for civil society organisations engaged in working with vulnerable groups of concern to ECRI.”

The report further notes the ongoing problem of under-reporting of hate crime and the difficulties for specialised bodies working with affected victim groups to undertake vital outreach work to combat persistent under-reporting of hate crime.

On Islamophobia, the report reinforcesrecent remarks by the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Nils Muznieks, in his memorandum on rights compliance of the UK’s Investigatory Powers Bill and the wider impact of counter-terrorism policy on British Muslims.

The report observes “Many Muslims feel unjustly under suspicion and complain about racial profiling in policing, counter-terrorism operations or border controls. Furthermore, already existing stigmatisation and discrimination of Muslims in various areas of social life, such as employment, housing and access to goods and services, are exacerbated. While Muslims in general suffer from this, those who choose to lead a life in accordance with strict religious rules, for example concerning their dress code or diet, are particularly affected. In order to address this problem, ECRI has continued in its 5th monitoring cycle to draw member States’ attention to its GPR No. 5 on combating intolerance and discrimination against Muslims.”

The report further considers the situation of other minorities including Jews, Roma, Gypsy/Traveller communities and historical ethnic minorities and victims of homophobia and transphobia.

The Daily Telegraph reports on the results of an Opinium Research survey exploring identity and equality in multicultural Britain with the headline “One in three Muslims do not feel ‘part of British culture’.”

The Opinium survey, based on a polling sample of 2,000 people plus a booster sample of nearly 500 individuals who self-identify as ethnic minority, is presented in the report, ‘A question of identity and equality in multicultural Britain‘. The report, by James Crouch and Maria Stonehouse, looks at the UK’s changing attitudes to racism, discrimination and equality 20 years on.

The report disaggregates data by age, religion, ethnicity and income group to present an interesting set of data on how the white British majority and British ethnic minority groups regard the UK’s success in adapting to its changing demographic profile.

The report notes the agreement across groups, both white and ethnic minority, about a shared set of common values with just over half (54%) of all UK adults agreeing that there are a set of values that all nationalities and religions in Britain can agree on in future. This is particularly high in London, where almost three quarters (72%) of the city’s diverse population think that there are values that Britons can all agree on regardless of background.

Two thirds (64%) of ethnic minorities agree that those moving to the UK should make an effort to integrate and not establish their own separate communities, similar to the 70% of all UK adults who think this.

But the reports highlights experiences and perceptions of racial and religious discrimination which obstructs ethnic minority integration.

The report notes that “One in seven (14%) Muslims and 10% of Hindus frequently face racial discrimination, compared to a handful of ethnic minorities who are Christians. This suggests that some groups are still targeted more than others, and the data at least, should lead us to re-examine the issue of Islamophobia in Britain.”

The report shows that Muslims are least likely to report ‘never’ having experienced discrimination. Muslims are also the group most likely to report being victims of discrimination ‘frequently’ and report higher levels of discrimination on racial or religious grounds than the average for all ethnic minorities; 64% compared to 58%.

Opinium1

The report reveals that “seven in ten (71%) ethnic minorities think that racist beliefs are still widely held in the UK but are not openly talked about, and 60% believe that racial discrimination is common in the UK. More than half (58%) of ethnic minorities say that they have been a victim of racial discrimination, while 47% say they have received racially motivated abuse.”

The types of racial discrimination experienced by ethnic minority Britons ranges from direct insults (47%) and being at the receiving end of racist jokes or insults (40%) to racist stereotyping (40%) and being treated differently in public places (e.g. shops / restaurants) (38%).

Workplace discrimination is also evident in the results with 14% of all ethnic minorities saying they have been denied a job or interview because of their race, and 13% reporting being turned down for a promotion.

Perceptions of discrimination is also covered in the report with ethnic minorities saying they regard some professions as “closed off” to them.

“Two thirds (63%) of ethnic minorities think that there are occupations or professions closed off to them, rising to 71% amongst the younger generation (aged 18-34). However, white Britons as a whole do not share this pessimism, with only 28% believing that there are still professions closed off to ethnic minorities in the UK.

For minority groups, 18% reported the police as being a profession they believed to be “closed off” to ethnic minorities, 16% cited the legal profession and  15% said banking.

More problematic are the numbers who said they felt  politics was a career “closed off” to ethnic minorities. Almost a quarter, 23% said this and more than a third, 37% of ethnic minorities said they think that the role of prime minister is barred to them.

On the question of identity, there is a split between a civic notion of identity and the attachment to religion or race among ethnic minorities groups. 72% of White Britons said the country in which they live in is the single most important part of their identity.

Almost half (47%) of Muslims considered their faith to be the most important part of their identity, while 43% of Black Britons considered their ethnicity to be the key to describing themselves.

On identity and integration, the report notes, “Just over a third (35%) of minorities report feeling like they belong to a different culture, with a further 22% being excluded from society as a whole by explicitly agreeing that they don’t feel like they are a part of British culture.

“A third (33%) Muslims – the group most likely to identify with their religion – are most likely to say they do not feel a part of British culture, while only 19% of those with no faith feel the same.”

While the Daily Telegraph headline article puts this information at the forefront of its coverage of the report, it neglects a vital piece of information that relates some of the reasons why minority groups, and especially Muslims, might not feel a part of British culture.

The report explain ” However, fundamental issues such as identity are not the only factors in this disconnect from society. A range of socio-economic factors that might not be directly associated with identity come into play. Those with a household income of less than £20,000 a year are twice as likely as those with a household income of more than £50,000 to feel excluded from British culture.”

Moreover, “The younger generation are the most likely to say they feel disconnected from British culture (29%).”

As with the Daily Telegraph’s exclusion of data on the higher levels of discrimination expressed by British Muslims, its neglect of the socio-economic factors which may account for the cultural dissonance between Muslims and other Britons give the impression some British Muslims are implacably resistant to integration rather than address factors that explain the causes why.

As Ingrid Storm pointed out in her study of British Social Attitudes and generational shifts in British attitudes towards Muslims and other minorities “a public debate which focuses on cultural incompatibility, religious extremism and violence could potentially affect a person’s views not only of world events, but of their neighbours, friends, colleagues and potential in-laws.”

It’s a shame the Daily Telegraph should focus on British Muslims’ ‘cultural incompatibility’ while evading questions about the media’s contribution to how and why it might come about.

The Stoke Sentinel reports on the court appearance of a man charged with racially aggravated threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour towards Muslim victim, Asim Latif.

Robert Spilsbury, 39, pleaded not guilty at North Staffordshire magistrates court this week. He is due to face trial on 19 July. North Staffordshire Justice Centre granted Spilsbury unconditional bail until that date.

 

The Irish Times reports on the guilty verdict passed in the trial of a man charged with using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour intending to stir up hatred or arouse fear following an alleged assault on two Pakistani men at their home in Belfast in 2014.

Mohammed Asif Khattak and a fellow resident were verbally abused and allegedly assaulted when a group of people gathered outside their home in north Belfast on Sunday 1 June, 2014.

The two Pakistani male victims claim a bottle was thrown through the window and the two residents verbally abused before some of the group outside their property tried to force their way into their home. The second victim was allegedly assaulted inside his home.

Mr Khattak suffered injuries to his foot in the attack last June. Northern Ireland police confirmed the incident was being investigated as a hate crime. He had spoken at the time of his fear of remaining in Northern Ireland saying “We are scared now and my family and friends are telling me to come back to London.”

This week John Montgomery, 59, who lives on the same street as the victims, appeared before Belfast Magistrates’ Court charged with racial incitement offences in connection with the verbal abuse. He was not implicated in the alleged assault or criminal damage to the victims’ property.

Mr Montgomery denied uttering racist abuse saying he had entered the victim’s home to remove two or three others who had made their way inside.

Mr Khattak rejected Montgomery’s version of events and wept in court recounting the abuse experienced on the day. He told the court, “They were calling us Paki b*******, dirty Arabs [and] saying, ‘get out of our street, get out of our country’.”

Montgomery was found guilty of one charge of using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour intending to stir up hatred or arouse fear, contrary to the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987.

He will return to court in July for sentencing.

The Surrey Mirror reports on the trial date set for two men charged with racially aggravated threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour and criminal damage following an altercation at a taxi rank in Reigate on 5 March.

Jack Armstrong, 23, and Elliot Butler, 21, are accused of racially aggravated offences against Muhammed Khan and Mohammed Khalid.

Redhill Magistrates Court heard that the Armstrong and Butler approached taxi drivers at the rank on the night of 5 March. When taxi drivers refused to carry the pair, one of them allegedly threw a pizza inside a waiting taxi while the other allegedly threw a bottle of Coke at a driver.

The prosecution further alleges “one or both of them got on top of the taxis and jumped up and down on them.” A silver Fiat is one of the cars claimed to have been damaged in the incident.

The prosecution has charged both offences as racially aggravated.

Both men have denied using any racial language. Mr Armstrong admitted swearing and Mr Butler admitted kicking the car’s front but denied he caused any damage.

Both men entered not guilty pleas.

A trial date has been set at Redhill Magistrates court for July 27.

The Hereford Times reports on the trial of two brothers charged with assault after a “ferocious” attack on an Asian man who had travelled from Berkshire to Leominster to visit his pregnant girlfriend.

Ryan Davies, 19 and his brother, Jake, 23, appeared at Worcester Crown Court charged with racially aggravated assault causing actual bodily harm. Ryan Davies faced a further charge of criminal damage and common assault. The brothers pleaded guilty to the charges.

The court heard that Ryan Davies had been drinking on 25 July 2015 when be bumped into Cameron Ali, 20, and his girlfriend.

Davies was with two other men when he recognised Ali’s girlfriend from school and struck up a conversation with her.

Davies went on to make a series of racist and homophobic remarks at Ali. Davies called him a “fat P***” and questioned Ali on whether he was “100 per cent British”.

The couple walked on and the two other men left when Davies was joined by his brother Jake. Ali asked the two brothers to leave him and his pregnant girlfriend alone but Jake responded with a threat saying, “let’s do him in”. Ryan Davies added: “I’m going to kill you and the P*** baby”.

The court heard Ryan Davies threw the can of lager he was holding at Mr Ali, who ducked, but Jake Davies punched him on the head and knocked him to the floor where both men punched and kicked him several times.

A passer-by who witnessed the incident called it a “ferocious and nasty” attack.

Mr Ali was left needing hospital treatment for his injuries including a fractured eye socket, a cut to his eye and a fractured ankle. His injuries forced him off work for five weeks. The court also heard that Mr Ali had been left too afraid to return to Leominster since the attack last summer.

Recorder Denis Desmond said Ryan Davies had “manufactured” a drunken argument with Mr Ali.

He sentenced Jake Davies to 22 months and Ryan Davies to 22 months in a young offenders’ institution.

Earlier this year, the Hereford Times noted a “worrying trend” in racist incidents in the region reporting on a number of cases of violent assault and verbal abuse that had come to light.

The Birmingham Mail reports on another suspected incident of “flying while Muslim” with news of two men being ushered off a Monarch Airlines flight to Rome on Sunday 15 May after fellow passengers accused them of “acting suspiciously”.

The local paper reports that West Midlands police were called to Birmingham Airport after receiving a complaint about two passengers “acting suspiciously on a plane at Birmingham International Airport.”

The flight was delayed as the two passengers were made to disembark and their luggage offloaded.

One of the passengers on the plane, Marsha De Salvatore, told the paper that the incident began when a man and a woman started airing concerns about boarding the flight. She said the man speaking to his wife said, “I’m not getting on the plane”, before stepping out of the boarding queue line.

The plane was then grounded as the two passengers were forced off the flight.

Dr Salvatore said the pilot relayed information to the remaining passengers describing the decision to remove the two travellers as “totally wrong”.

De Salvatore said “Not only was the plane delayed but I witnessed the sad reality of racism as these men were escorted off a boarded plane because others suspected them to be terrorists.

“The pilot told us: ‘What happened today was an act of total racism’.”

De Salvatore added, “While I’m happy that safety measures are in place, these people need to be careful about who they wrongly accuse.”

The two travellers were allowed to board a later flight after officers found no cause for concern.

The London Evening Standard yesterday published news of a Muslim businessman who is suing City of London police for alleged racial discrimination following his arrest during the 2012 Olympics.

Akmal Afzal, 23, claims that he was singled out by officers for being “an Asian with a beard”.

Mr Afzal alleges that he was targeted by officers while watching a marathon race during the London Olympics. He claims he had to undergo a “foreign national check” despite being a British citizen, and that a “intelligence report” was created on him for the Special Branch.

City of London police state that Mr Afzal was arrested on suspicion of theft but was later released without charge.

Mr Afzal is now suing the force for “false imprisonment, assault and discrimination”.

His barrister told a jury at the Central London county court: “His position is he did nothing wrong and he says the reason he was treated in the way he was relates to his ethnic origin and/or his religion.”

The case continues.