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MEND statement on Sunday Telegraph article by Andrew Gilligan

Saturday March 21 2015

Peter Oborne, former chief political commentator at the Daily Telegraph, in a sequence of articles for Open Democracy has shed significant light on the demise of standards at the Telegraph titles drawing attention to the paper’s refusal to publish his investigative pieces on the behaviour of the Charity Commission towards British Muslim charities and the paper’s woeful neglect in coverage of the banking scandal engulfing HSBC allegedly to avoid losing valuable advertising revenue.

In our view, Andrew Gilligan and his derisory brand of ‘investigative’ journalism is further evidence of the “fraud” by the Telegraph titles on its readers who are fed a regular diet of shoddy journalism. Gilligan’s mudslinging at British Muslim organisations is well known. Lesser attention, however, has been paid to the number of times his ‘investigative’ pieces have been shown to be lacking in substance. Unfortunately, British Muslim organisations do not possess the kind of financial clout that large business corporations may be able to exercise over the Telegraph’s print output and so spurious allegations and unfounded accusations continue to be printed.

Gilligan’s form of non-violent extremism takes the curious shape of paradox peppered with paranoia. For example, in light of the Education select committee’s report this week on the so called ‘Trojan horse plot’ in Birmingham schools, it is useful to reflect on the number of articles Gilligan wrote elaborating on the ‘extremism‘ present in the schools, the actors involved and how the Sunday Telegraph “revealed the truth behind the plot“. Contrast this to the important finding by the select committee, and affirmed by the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, in an interview with The Muslim News last year, that “ No evidence of extremism or radicalisation, apart from a single isolated incident, was found by any of the inquiries and there was no evidence of a sustained plot nor of a similar situation pertaining elsewhere in the country.” Have we seen a retraction of the specious allegations Gilligan made in relation to the schools? Of course not. Have we seen an apology from the Telegraph for allowing articles without substance to be published and thereby committing a “fraud” on its readers? Of course not.

Gilligan’s repeat assaults on the reputation of British Muslim charities is another one of his pet topics with articles in the past accusing Muslim Aid of paying charitable sums to groups “allegedly linked to terrorists” though the Charity Commission cleared the charity of any wrongdoing.

To take another example, a few weeks ago Gilligan published an article claiming Islamic ‘radicals’ were at the heart of Whitehall following it up with another article castigating the work done by Alyas Karmani in West Yorkshire claiming his was a ‘radical Islamic group’. Before that Gilligan wrote an article about a number of British Muslim organisations linked to the Muslim Brotherhood which were likely to face a “clampdown” with the imminent publication of the Government’s review into the Muslim Brotherhood. An article just a couple of weeks ago in the same triumphalist tone warned of the “crackdown” on ‘Islamist extremism’ with the introduction of new guidelines by the Government on Prevent. And not to forget his derision for CAGE, the British Muslim organisation whose call for greater accountability of the security agencies was this week echoed by Sir Richard Dearlove, former head of MI6.

Abdul Haqq Baker, former associate of Alyas Karmani, has responded to Gilligan’s nonsensical allegations and Karmani himself responded with an op-ed piece in The Times. What is notable in Karmani’s rebuttal, and in interventions by Times columnists Janice Turner and Matthew Parris, is the contribution of Gilligan’s mudslinging to the growth in anti-Muslim hostility and prejudice. Not content with feverishly pursuing his McCarthyite obsession with ‘Islamists’, Gilligan simultaneously diminishes the scale of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime that inevitably results from his perpetuation of the myth of British Muslims as the ‘enemy within’.

This toxic combination of stoking anti-Muslim prejudice whilst downplaying anti-Muslim hate crime is the fodder that feeds radicalisation. While organisations like MEND provide a legitimate avenue for Muslims to use public spaces to challenge extremism and radicalisation while embracing their British Muslim identities, Gilligan’s bile fuels the extremists.

Just how accurate Gilligan’s accusations are can be seen in the reticence shown by the Government to publish the findings of its Muslim Brotherhood review; the report was pulled this week despite its publication being predicted before the election. It would seem the facts run counter to the case that vested interests would prefer to make about the MB and its activities in the UK.

On MEND, Gilligan makes a number of ridiculous claims which are wholly consistent with his superficial approach.

We won’t countenance his claims against Muslim scholars, Shaykh Abu Eesa Niamatullah and Shaykh Haitham al-Haddad, they are perfectly able to respond in their own right. But Gilligan’s reference to the presence of these scholars in our video on why British Muslims should vote is an important one to address.

We passionately believe in British Muslims being actively engaged in politics and media. It is our raison d’etre and the purpose behind our seminars and workshops on media and political literacy. We may not agree with every view espoused by Muslim scholars but the ones who feature in our video concur with a position to which we strongly adhere: British Muslims should vote and participate in elections. Detractors claim there is a theological argument that suggests Muslims should not vote. Scholars such as Shaykh Abu Eesa Niamatullah and Shaykh Haitham al-Haddad, and the many others who feature in our video, are the appropriate voices to denounce this point of view and counter it with proper Islamic scholarship on the responsibilities of citizenship and how British Muslims ought to fulfil them.

Gilligan has engaged in a somewhat unhealthy obsession with our Head of Community Engagement and Development, Azad Ali, claiming that comments made in the past suggest a disingenuous approach to political engagement. Gilligan cites Ali as having said: “Democracy, if it means not implementing the shari’ah, of course nobody agrees with that.”

And yet the broader point of the moral conflict religions face in secular societies where equalities legislation often presents dilemmas for the faithful is completely missed by Gilligan. The report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and an earlier report by London Metropolitan University for the EHRC, raises some of these dilemmas in its investigation of conflicts arising between equality duties. The recent example of the Government’s Same Sex Marriage Act and the opposition shown by Christian and Muslim groups illustrates the complex navigation of religion in secular societies. How ironic that it was the Daily Telegraph that published a letter by Muslim scholars protesting the Government’s Bill.

What Gilligan’s obsession boils down to is this: that British Muslims active in the democratic process are guilty of ‘entryism’. He writes that MEND is “a front to secure access to mainstream politics for Islamists and extremists”.

And herein lies the paradox at the heart of Gilligan’s obnoxious articles and determined efforts to undermine the work of British Muslim organisations who take up their rightful role in Britain’s democracy by representing Muslim views in the public space and engaging in the democratic process to articulate Muslim concerns on public policy, particularly in those areas which impact disproportionately on Muslim communities.

Gilligan accuses organisations like MEND of ‘entryism’ but would not dare to suggest the same of the Henry Jackson Society who withdrew secretariat services to two APPGs than comply with rules on transparency. Our former involvement with the APPG on Islamophobia regularly surfaces in articles attempting to discredit us and yet the disparity in treatment concerning transparency evinced by ENGAGE (our former entity) and the HJS is conveniently overlooked. It would seem openness is demanded of some but not others.

Nor does Gilligan stop to consider the wider ramifications of telling British Muslims who rightfully seek access to those they elect to represent their interests in Parliament that they are not welcome or that this is ‘entryism’. Are British Muslims not British? Is the British Parliament not there to represent their interests? Why should they be excluded from the democratic process?

Gilligan also uses accusations by groups like the Quilliam Foundation, Stand for Peace and the myriad of neo-con outfits, whose networks for proliferating anti-Muslim hatred has been brilliantly documented in true investigative style by Dr Nafeez Ahmed and Hilary Aked of Spinwatch, in order to cast a shadow over the legitimate work of British Muslim organisations like MEND.

British Muslims are proudly British as many surveys will attest. They also have the youngest age profile of any faith group in the UK and are slowly but surely finding a voice and visibility in the public and political space. It is the best antidote to the alternatives presented of either Da’esh extremism or disaffection and apathy.

Gilligan’s undermining of these efforts by groups like MEND is a disgrace to journalism and an abuse of privilege. By using his position at a flagship national Sunday newspaper Gilligan has persistently demonised a swathe of British Muslim organisations whose political views he disagrees with in order to sideline their participation in favour of supine Muslim groups who have no traction in grassroots communities. Well, Mr Gilligan, the free articulation of multiple voices is what we call democracy and British Muslims are fully engaging in it. Get over it.