Monthly Archives: August 2016

A woman who called a chip and kebab shop owner a “f****** terrorist” while drunk has been fined for the offence.

Tracy Ann Whitworth, 46, admitted using threatening or abusive words that were racially aggravated, on 5 May 2016 when she appeared before Mansfield magistrates court this week.

The court heard Whitworth was “heavily intoxicated” when she walked into Maid Marian kebab shop on Leeming Street at around 12.40am.

The court heard that the exchange between Ms Whitworth and the shop owner was triggered by her questioning him on how much he paid his staff. Whitworth was accused of calling the owner a “f****** terrorist.”

Prosecutor Rod Chapman told the court that the owner “took that as being a slur on his heritage and was deeply offended by the language which was within earshot of other customers.”

Whitworth was identified from the shop’s CCTV cameras and when questioned by police about the incident admitted it was a “an act of drunken stupidity.”

Mansfield magistrates court fined her £100 and ordered her to pay compensation of £100 and costs of £85.

The Stoke Sentinel reports on the arrest of a number of teenagers on suspicion of racially aggravated abuse and assault after an incident in Normacot, in Stoke on Trent at the weekend.

Staffordshire police questioned 13 teenagers, aged between 15 and 19, amid reports of racially aggravated abuse and violence against four individuals of Pakistani background.

The local paper notes “bricks and pieces of wood” were used in the attack which happened on Saturday evening, 27 August. It is reported four Asian Pakistanis were injured in the attack though it is not known if any required hospital treatment for their injuries.

All 13 teenagers have been bailed and are due to appear before the courts next month.

The local paper notes that two of the eleven individuals were arrested on suspicion of racially-aggravated assault and the other eleven on suspicion of racially-aggravated public order offences.

Staffordshire police have increased patrols in the area and have enforced a closure notice on a property in Hamilton Road as enquiries into the incident are carried out.

A Staffordshire Police spokesman said: “There were four injured parties, all of Pakistani heritage. We have had a number of community reassurance meetings and are making sure we are visible in the area.

“Visitors have been also banned from a house on Hamilton Road after police used a closure notice under the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 in connection with the incident. The arrested teenagers have all been bailed pending further inquiries.”

Barrie Harrington, chairman of Normacot Residents’ Association, said he heard “an Asian lady had pulled up in her car and, when she got out, they pulled off her head scarf, which is disgraceful.

“If the police have closed this house to stop outsiders coming to Normacot and stirring racial tension then that is all well and good. Usually, it is very harmonious round here,” he said.

Staffordshire police are carrying out door-to-door inquiries and CCTV checks. Anyone with information about the incident should call 101, quoting incident number 906 of August 27, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

An alleged victim of racist abuse was handed a conditional discharge and told to “button his lip” or face being hauled before the court in a case heard at Colchester Magistrates Court yesterday.

The Harwich and Manningtree Standard reports on a dispute arising from the sentence handed to a victim convicted of public order offences who was himself a victim of alleged racist abuse.

The paper reports Bilal Zubair, 30, admitted two public order offences for disorderly behaviour on 26 July when he appeared before Colchester Magistrates’ Court yesterday. The court handed him a 12 month conditional discharge and chair of the bench, Alix Mason, told Zubair: “The best way to deal with it in the future is button your lip, just shut it, because if there is another dispute you will be back in the court”.

The court acknowledged Zubair’s claims he was “provoked” with Mason saying, “In this particular case because we consider not only is it a brief incident but there was also an element of provocation so we will deal with it by way of a conditional discharge.”

The ‘provocation’ were claims by Zubair that he and his brother were regularly taunted with racist abuse. Zubair’s brother has since moved away because of the constant abuse he endured each time he went out.

Zubair said that on the day in question he was called “Syrian” and “Paki” by his neighbours. He said the abuse carried on though he asked his neighbours to desist. Zubair alleged the neighbours said “you are what we’re scared of” and “you are a refugee.”

When he challenged his neighbours over the abuse, they called the police. Zubair tried calling the police at the same time and when officers arrived they questioned Zubair but did not record his own claims of racist abuse uttered by those making allegations against him, his lawyer told the court.

Colchester MP Will Quince has now raised questions about the way Essex police dealt with the situation, including why no record of Zubair’s allegations of racist abuse were kept.

Mr Quince said: “The question has got to be put to Essex Police because they should have records of someone who makes a complaint.

“Racial abuse is unacceptable and if reported to police they should act on it and deal with it.

“I don’t agree with the advice given by magistrates.

“People should not take the law into their own hands but they should contact the police and have the confidence they will take it on in the appropriate way.”

The Home Affairs select committee report on Countering Extremism released today covers a lot of ground that has been rehearsed repeatedly in recent months about the failings of the Government’s counter-extremism strategy and the Prevent programme in particular.

In a report noting 24 recommendations for Government, most notable are the remonstrations over too narrow a form of engagement with Muslim communities and the counter-productive nature of policymaking that speaks of partnering with communities but effectively marginalises them.

The report makes mention of a number of interesting details in respect of, for example, the affinity of British Muslims to Britain and their strength of feeling on national identity while media and political discourses are alienating and divisive; the myopic focus on the causes of radicalisation by Government – preferring to focus on ‘religious ideology, when the causes are many and varied across individual cases; and the strategic gaps apparent between objectives and outcomes resulting from the Government’s “disengagement” policy with Muslim community groups.

The report cites evidence from Dr Saffron Karlsen, University of Bristol who noted “Over 90% of Bangladeshi, Indian and Pakistani Muslims living in the UK think of themselves as British—a higher proportion than in other ethnic groups.”

In relation to the Government’s failing to engage the full range of factors that can contribute to an individual’s gradually adopting a violent extremist position, the report notes:

“If the Government adopts a broad-brush approach, which fails to take account of the complexities, and of the gaps in existing knowledge and understanding of the factors contributing to radicalisation, that would be counter-productive and fuel the attraction of the extremist narrative rather than dampening it.

“The Government must take a much more sophisticated approach both to identifying the factors which instigate radicalisation and in the measures it takes to tackle this. We recommend the Government work with a cross-section of academic institutions in the UK that work on radicalisation, to marshal existing intelligence and research and develop a more effective understanding of the factors leading to extremism. This should include speaking to the families of known extremists to draw on their experiences. Without such a solid foundation, the strategies in the proposed new Counter-Extremism and Safeguarding Bill are likely to approach the issues and entire communities in an unfocussed manner, and therefore ultimately to be ineffective.”

The recommendation on Government working with “a cross-section of academic institutions” is worth considering more closely given the problems that dog the current policy approach which derives in no small part from the disjuncture between empirical research on terrorism and policy rhetoric. Indeed, in October 2015 when the Government announced its counter-extremism strategy, it stated: “to further strengthen evidence base, we will work closely with academics and universities commissioning and part funding research.”

Is evidence-based policymaking on Prevent detectable so far? It would seem not.

The select committee report notes the role of social media as “recruiting platforms for terrorism” and the importance of a wide range of language competencies to challenge the global reach of extremist narratives. It recommends “that the security services address the lack of Arabic-speaking staff, and staff with Urdu, Kashmiri and Punjabi language skills.”

How that will sit with results that show language learning is in steep decline in the UK is not known.

The report also highlights the need for greater transparency in much of this area recommending that social media companies “publish quarterly statistics showing how many sites and accounts they have taken down and for what reason” and urges the Government to adopt a more open approach, stating:

“The Government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal. This will help communities to understand what Prevent is seeking to achieve and help to avoid it being seen as threatening to their culture and religion. As our predecessors have said in previous reports, we also recommend that the Government abandons the now toxic name ‘Prevent’ for the strategy and renames it with the more inclusive title of ‘Engage’.”

A significant omission in the report is any mention of Channel referrals, a major sticking point given the “training” provided to statutory bodies on spotting the “signs of radicalisation” and intervening to challenge extremist narratives before they take hold.

The figures published by the National Police Chiefs Council this year which suggest “five children a day” are being referred to Channel is too great an impact to ignore. The report does state, in relation to Prevent training “We recommend that the Home Office appoint an independent panel to reassess the Prevent training being provided to education and other professionals, to ensure they have the confidence to be able to deliver their Prevent Duty in the context of the environment in which they work, and the need to continue to deliver their primary function.”

How the training is being delivered to date, by whom, and on what merit or expertise, should have featured in the report.

That education remains a potent tool to tackle extremism is noted in the report, as is the readiness of young Muslims to engage in critical discussion and debate.

The report states:

“Engaging with and empowering young people is a critical element of the effort to counter extremism and provide an effective counter-narrative. From our engagement with young people who are most affected by these issues, it is clear that they are willing to discuss their concerns and share their views, and they should be given a safe space to do so…It is only when they are equipped with these skills that they will be able to develop the resilience and tenacity necessary to deal with the complex issues of faith, identity and aspiration, as well as mental health, the role and power of women, the role of prisons, English-language skills and urban pressures. This is also why we have recommended a hotline that is not led by the security services. This resilience programme would best be developed through working with education experts, community organisations, social media companies and policing bodies, including Police and Crime Commissioners and senior police officers, which must all take steps to encourage young Muslims to challenge extreme interpretations of their faith.”

How this can happen under a system where Channel referrals can be instigated on specious grounds is not considered in the committee report and yet deserves crucial attention. The Rights Watch UK report published last month evidences why education is too important an area to fall victim to malpractice.

On the role of the media, never too far away when it comes to talking about British Muslims and feelings of disaffection engendered by negative stereotyping, the report states:

“Islamophobia contributes to young Muslims feeling alienated from mainstream society, as we heard in Bradford and Glasgow, thereby potentially leading to them becoming more susceptible to radicalisation. It is not clear to us that all news editors are taking sufficient care in their handling of these stories and some continue to prioritise sensationalism over facts. They should refrain from using the term ‘so-called Islamic State’, and should instead refer to ‘Daesh’. We also recommend that they do not identify terrorists as Muslims, but as terrorists and followers of Daesh.”

Finally, among recommendations advanced in the report is this:

“The Government needs to have a more effective strategy to help those who have genuinely moved away from extremism and wish to reintegrate into society, just as it should also seek to support those families who have reported radicalisation by individuals or community groups.

“The approaches to counter-terrorism of successive governments have not so far achieved the success we would all have desired…Instead, in some circumstances, they have created suspicion and alienation amongst the very people they need to reach.

“The Government must facilitate regular meetings of the leaders of the UK’s Muslim communities, while also recognising that many communities have no leadership and taking the necessary proactive steps to reach out to them.”

Last autumn, at the Labour and SNP party conferences, we organised fringe events to showcase research we commissioned examining representations of Islam and Muslims in the British nationals, 2010 – 2014. We presented evidence both of the spurious grounds on which current counter-terrorism policy is based and the impact of media output which collectivises Muslims, represents them in media frames dominated by violence and conflict, and reproduces claims of “extremist Islam” being the cause of radicalisation.

According to the research conducted by Professors Tony McEnery and Paul Baker, “When Muslims are discussed as a collective group the most salient pattern is in the context of the radicalisation of young British Muslims” and “Since 2010, the press have showed increasing concern with the process of becoming extreme within Islam.”

So, while the select committee’s report is most welcome the question we must ask is when will recommendations urging the Government to take notice of the problems it has created and commit to a new way forward be heeded?

The Times reports on the release of figures by the National Police Chiefs Council on the number of individuals referred to the Prevent-linked Channel programme who have refused to participate in the “supportive intervention” packages designed by the programme’s multi-agency panels.

The Channel programme has long been regarded as one of the most problematic aspects of the Government’s counter-extremism strategy with the number of referrals to the programme vastly exceeding the number of individuals assessed to be in need of “supportive intervention” to tackle an identified “vulnerability to radicalisation”, and evidence of Muslim pupils being disproportionately targeted for referral.

Previous figures released by the NPCC have shown that around 80% of referrals made to the Channel programme are redundant. The programme has also been roundly criticised for the basis on which Muslim pupils have been referred, for example, for sporting pro-Palestinian political attitudes or for spelling and pronunciation errors where terraced house and cucumber have been mistaken for “terrorist house” and “cooker bomb”.

The Times reports that of the 245 individuals offered support by a Channel panel between 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016, 117 declined to participate, that is almost half.

The NPCC figures were released in response to an FOI from BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.

The Prevent strategy, of which the Channel programme is a component, has been challenged by a number of civil and human rights organisations over its discriminatory profiling of Muslims and its breaching human rights frameworks on freedom of religion, conscience and belief, freedom from discrimination and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, (UNCRC). The Government which has been urged to carry out a full independent review of Prevent has preferred to dig its head in the sand and persist with widening the scope of the strategy by introducing the Prevent statutory duty in 2015.

The figures released by the NPCC shed some light on the often magnified problem of “radicalisation”, with The Times reporting earlier this year that “five children a day” were being reported to Channel. The present disclosure reveals that only 245 people were recorded as being offered support under Channel in the last financial year though The Times’ report last month, referring to a different FOI response, noted that there were “3,955 referrals made to the Channel programme between 1 January 2015 and 31 December 2015.”

While a direct comparison between the number of supportive interventions (245) and the number of referrals (3,955) is not possible, given the different timeframes, the data certainly suggests that the introduction of the Prevent statutory duty has worsened the rate of redundant referrals.

The huge disparity in the numbers being reported and the numbers being offered support, and the failure of almost half of the cohort to take up the offer of support will further strengthen calls for the Channel programme to be suspended and a full-scale review of Prevent commissioned.

The Dorset Echo reports on a suspected racially aggravated act of criminal damage after a kebab shop in Littlemoor Shopping Centre in Weymouth was vandalised with a swastika.

Turkish businessman Gem Ciftlik spoke of his shock to find the graffiti on his shop front in the middle of the day.

Mr Ciftlik told the local paper “It happened in the middle of the day just before we were due to open, I was in the back of the store the time. It is just so upsetting. It has affected me morally and has really affected my business, people don’t want to come to the shop with that outside the front.”

Mr Ciftlik said he ran a kebab shop in Weymouth town centre but after being subjected to repeated racist abuse, he moved to Littlemoor.

He said, “We had a kebab shop in Weymouth town centre for three years and I was racially attacked every other day. I gave up that business and moved to Littlemoor because of that.”

Mr Ciftlik spoke of his fears for the safety of his family after the incident saying he no longer feels safe and worries that his children will be targeted in the street.

Mr Ciftlik reported the incident to the police who searched the shop’s eight CCTV cameras for clues.

Dorset police have arrested a 47-year old man on suspicion of racially/religiously aggravated criminal damage. He is currently helping police with their enquiries.

The Scotsman reports on a fine imposed on a businessman who subjected staff and guests to racist abuse at Gleneagles golf course after being refused service at the hotel bar.

Stefan Hutter, 56, became angry and mouthed off at staff and guests after he was refused service at the bar because of his drunken state.

Hutter was accused of “sounding off” at the concierge, Indonesian national Stephen Seba, before directing his ire at Tunisian Houssem Belabed as he ushered guests from the bar.

Hutter was said to have shouted at Belabed that “he hated Muslims and ‘f***ing Arabs’.”

Hutter also abused hotel guests Naim Dehgany and Michael Arshagouni.

Mr Hutter admitted three charges of acting in a threatening or abusive manner at Gleneagles on 20 August at Perth Sherriff Court.

The court heard that Hutter had taken painkillers and had no recollection of the incident.

He was fined £1,600 after telling the court he could cover any fine with his credit card.

The Daily Mail reports on the ongoing case of a woman who pled guilty to a charge of a religiously aggravated criminal damage after she walked into an art gallery and abused a Muslim artist telling her “we voted to take our country back again” and damaged an artwork.

Mikhaela Haze, 70, abused artist Yasmeen Sabri before damaging her art exhibit featuring a mannequin in a veil. Sabri was preparing for her “Walk a Mile in her Veil” exhibition at the Royal College of Art in Kensington when the incident happened on 30 June.

The court heard that when Haze was interviewed by police following the incident she “said she didn’t like the burka as she used to be a design artist for the Beatles and never liked the burka.”

Haze pleaded guilty to causing religiously aggravated criminal damage when she appeared before Westminster magistrates’ court last month. She also apologised to Ms Sabri saying “I’m very sorry to the lady who I offended.”

Haze was due to be sentenced today but the court has now deferred sentencing until 12 November so that a report on Ms Haze’s mental health and alcohol problems can be compiled.

Prosecutor Zahid Hussain said that Ms Sabri did not want Haze punished and instead wanted her “to receive help and rehabilitation for her drink problem”.

The Shropshire Star reports on the guilty verdict in the case of a man who made “pig noises” at a hotel employee thinking the man was a Muslim.

Michael Williams, 61, of Wrexham denied a charge of racially aggravated harassment over incidents at The Royal Hotel in Llangollen, between January and July 2016, where victim, Zacariah Hannah worked.

Hannah, who is an Egyptian Christian, said he came to know Mr Williams from the latter’s personal involvement with a fellow employee at the hotel.

Flintshire Magistrates Court heard that Williams once refused to shake Hannah’s hand in the street saying it was “against his religion”.

The court heard that thereafter, Williams made “pig snorting noises” at him each time he saw him.

Hannah reported the affair to the police following an incident where he was watering flowers at the hotel and could hear Williams “snorting loudly towards him while crossing the bridge over the River Dee.”

Prosecutor John Wylde said Mr Williams’s behaviour was prompted by his wrongly assuming that “the complainant was a Muslim” and that he “made pig snorting noises each time he saw him because of his belief the complainant did not eat pork”.

Mr Wylde told the court, “On one occasion he had done it at the hotel in front of the owner and had been banned from the premises.”

Williams who presented himself in court denied being a racist but the magistrates’ found that he “contradicted himself in his evidence several times.”

Williams was convicted of racially aggravated harassment and is due to be sentenced next month. The court warned Williams that all sentencing options remain open, including a custodial sentence. As part of his bail conditions Williams has been banned from entering Llangollen.

After much trailing of the report on ‘prison radicalisation’ the Ministry of Justice yesterday published an 18 page summary of the ‘main findings of the review of Islamist extremism in prisons, probation and youth justice’ but not the full report.

The summary alludes to the preparation of a “detailed report” to the Secretary of State for Justice on 17 March 2016. Alas, the details are not disclosed for public scrutiny because, according to the summary, the “implications for public safety and security, the review is in the form of a classified report to the then Secretary of State.”

The summary refers to the review being led by Ian Acheson and “supported by external expertise” although there is no disclosure to what or whom this “external support” consists of. The summary also states the purpose of the review as “inform[ing] future policy development and operational practice about which more will be said in the coming months”.

So, we have only the summary of a detailed report, of which particular details as to external involvement are unknown, while being informed that the report’s findings are to have major bearing on future policy development. Why the secrecy? If future policy development is to be based on the findings of the review, shouldn’t the full detailed report be made available for public scrutiny the better to shape policy development in this area?

Problems that will almost certainly arise in policy development become apparent from the little information that is provided in the summary.

For example, we are told the review “found evidence that Islamist extremism is a growing problem within prisons” but we have no idea what this “evidence” consists of.

We are told that the growth in the Muslim prison population and the widening scope of terrorism legislation – to include, for example, glorification of terrorism – has contributed to the expansion in the numbers of Muslim prisoners. This increase in numbers is then presented as a contributing factor to “vulnerability to radicalisation” because “statistics show an increasing and disproportionate representation of Muslim within the criminal justice system, which could chime with the radicalisers’ message of the victimisation of Muslims.”

The fact that a disproportionate number of Muslims are in prison, relative to their size in the wider population, is a fact that has been remarked upon in the past to little effect. The failure of policy to address the problem of race in the criminal justice system, where according to the latest research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, black people are “three times more likely to be prosecuted and sentenced than if you are White,” until it purportedly becomes an issue about “risks of radicalisation” is a dereliction of duty suggesting that the politicisation of Muslim prisoners for policy purposes trumps any regard Government may have for the problems facing minorities who find themselves disproportionately targeted by the criminal justice system.

And if there is a “chiming” between this argument and the use made of it by those claiming “institutional racism”, it would be because there is more than a grain of truth to it.

The summary findings also refer to the possibility of Muslim prisoners increasing in number because of the number of those who have travelled abroad as foreign fighters some of whom “will enter the criminal justice system”.

Perhaps a portion will enter the criminal justice system but in the absence of firm evidence and questions raised as to the severity of the threat actually posed by foreign fighters, this is mere conjecture.

We are also told that “manifestations of extremism must be systematically reported, and sanctions to deter and punish such behaviour applied” but there is little detail offered in respect of what would constitute “manifestations of extremism”.

If the Government’s Prevent policy and its monitoring of “signs of radicalisation” is anything to go by, society should be wary of suggestions that Muslim prisoners be penalised for what are legitimate expressions of religious observance.

The summary findings refers to the various ways in which ‘Islamist extremism’ can manifest itself in prison from “Muslim gang culture” to “charismatic prisoners acting as self-styled ‘emirs’” and “aggressive encouragement of conversions to Islam” to “attempts to prevent staff searches by claiming dress is religious” or “exploitation of staff fear of being labelled racist”.

The summary refers to the review team’s emphasis on the “importance of faith to prisoners” though a reading of the summary findings invite serious questions about just how emphatic the review team actually were about Islam in the lives of Muslim prisoners.

For example, the review summary notes that there is a “lack of hard data on conversions or the reasons behind them”, not that this stopped the review from stating Islamist extremism in the prison system manifests itself via “aggressive encouragement of conversions to Islam,” and that frontline staff should be supported in their quest to deliver “peaceful faith worship” by “ensuring the appropriate content of sermons” and “closer engagement in the appointment of sessional imams.”

The degree of control asserted by the prospect of “censoring” sermons and interfering in the appointment of imams only reinforces fears expressed many years ago by the Communities and Local Government select committee that the Government’s counter-extremism strategy was meddling in religion. Those fears are heightened given the findings of the summary review which calls for “suitable training for staff with particular emphasis on distinguishing religious and cultural traditions; tightening the vetting of prison chaplains to assess association with organisations linked to extremism; and systematic recording of the promotion of extremist beliefs…”.

An interesting omission in the summary is any mention of the statutory duty which was introduced in the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 which named prisons and probation services among those “specified authorities” to which the Prevent duty applied. The summary makes no mention at all of the implementation of the duty which came into force last year nor alludes to any evidence derived from its operational practice.

The matter is made all the more serious given the former PM David Cameron’s declaration that prisons are the “new front” on tackling radicalisation. Indeed, the new Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, yesterday announced the measures that are to be introduced on the back of the review, such as:

  • creating a new directorate for Security, Order and Counter-Terrorism, which will deliver a plan for countering extremism in prisons and probation services
  • instructing governors to remove extremist literature and putting in place a thorough process to assess materials of concern
  • improving extremism prevention training for all prison officers
  • strengthening vetting of prison chaplains and a range of positions to make sure the right people are in place in prisons to counter extremist beliefs

One further observation from media coverage of the MoJ’s review: Melanie Phillips in The Times today opines that the review is in fact pusillanimous because our “authorities refuse to face reality”.

Mel P’s take on the “reality”?

She writes “The reason for the lack of precision is the government’s extreme reluctance to accept that the threat is uniquely centred upon Islamic religious fanaticism…This all fails to grasp that Islam is both faith and political ideology, and that expansionist jihad is based on the most traditional, purist interpretation of the religion.”

She goes on, “The reason the government is constantly shocked that so many young Muslims are being radicalised is that it still can’t or won’t acknowledge the reality of Islam itself.”

Sadly, the government’s approach is moving closer to Phillip’s designation as the problem being “Islam itself”.

It is fair to say that the myriad of problems emanating from the government’s Prevent strategy, with its poor evidential base, spurious claims as to causal relationships between ‘extremist beliefs’, ‘non-violent extremism’ and violent extremism, and the misrepresentation of religious observance as “signs of radicalisation” will be reinforced by the approach which now looks to be under consideration in prisons.

Last month, Dr Ryan Williams of Cambridge University presented his research on the targeting of Muslim prisoners for their faith and the distorting effect of counter-extremism policy on Muslim prisoner experiences. As with so much of the government’s policymaking in this area, a lack of transparency, the absence of solid evidence to justify policy initiatives, and a patent disregard for fundamental human rights appears to permeate measures to be introduced to fight the “new front” on radicalisation: prisons, probation services and youth justice.