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What do British Muslims really think?

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Trevor Phillips

Originally published for Sedaa on April 16, 2016

 

This was the week when British Muslims became experts in research methodology.

Trevor Phillips, who led the Equality and Human Rights Commission, presented the Channel 4 show What British Muslims Really Think on Wednesday night, which was based on an ICM survey — and it has created quite a debate.

The ICM surveyed 1,000 Muslims face-to-face and found that:

  • One in 25 Muslims (four per cent) said they felt at least some sympathy with people who took part in suicide bombings, while a similar proportion said they had some sympathy with “people who commit terrorist actions as a form of political protest”.
  • A quarter – 25 per cent – said they could understand why British school girls could be attracted to become “jihadi brides” overseas.
  • Less than half (47 per cent) agreed that Muslims should do more to tackle the causes of extremism in the Muslim community.
  • 52 per cent believed homosexuality should not be legal in Britain, 39 per cent agreed “wives should always obey their husbands”, and 31 per cent said it was acceptable for a man to have more than one wife.
  • 78% said the media had no right publish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad.

 

Rather than addressing the important issues raised from this poll, the usual suspects — including left-wing commentators — are either downplaying the worrying responses or dismissing this entirely as ‘Islamophobic’. We don’t like it when our dirty laundry is aired in public. There are either absolutely no problems, or if there are, it’s everyone else’s fault but ours.

This poll didn’t really tell us anything new. It is a fact that British Muslims, on the whole, do tend to be more conservative. As writer and lecturer Kenan Malik points out:

“This is not the first poll to have shown the social conservatism of British Muslims. Linda Woodhead, professor of sociology of religion at Lancaster University, for instance, conducted a series of surveys with YouGov on religion, politics and social and personal morality, the results of which were published in 2013. I wrote briefly about the findings at the time. The poll showed that religious believers were more liberal on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage and assisted dying than usually recognized in public debates. The key exception, however, were Muslims, whom the poll found to be more socially conservative than most other religious groups.”

London Central Mosque

 

When asked ‘How strongly do you feel you belong to Britain?’, 86% of Muslims did compared to 83% of the general population. A higher proportion of the general population (17%) felt little attachment to Britain as compared to Muslims (11%).

A large proportion of Muslims believe in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Thirty-eight per cent thought ‘Jewish people have too much power in Britain’, 39% that they have too much power over the media, and 44% that they have too much power in the business world. But when asked about what they thought of Jews personally, the responses were more positive. Again, this was not a surprise. I have come across far too many Muslims who believe that Jews control the media and are running the world — oh, and the Holocaust did not happen by the way.

Questions have been raised about the methodology of this research (we’re all experts now). It was suggested that, as the survey was done in deprived areas where the population was at least 20% Muslim, it was skewed towards more conservative Muslims. However, the fact is that half of British Muslims do live in areas where there is a large Muslim population. The Muslim Council of Britain’s own research shows that Muslims are more likely to live in deprived areas. So this shows that the research is keeping in line with reality. Anthony Wells, from YouGov, believes this poll on British Muslims is the “best I’ve seen for several years”.

ICM did NOT poll only local authorities with 20%+ Muslims, but LSOAs with 20%+ Muslims (those are geographical units of abt 1500 people)

51% of Muslims live in LSOAs that are 20%+ Muslim, so there will be a skew towards more muslim areas.

But polling British Muslims is very difficult, compromise is unavoidable, and I think this is the best I’ve seen for several years

Admittedly, some of the questions were phrased oddly. And Trevor Phillips describing Muslims as a “nation within a nation” will probably alienate those who would be more inclined to agree with him.

Those who have said that this survey is ‘skewed’ have shot themselves in the foot.  They have basically just admitted that there are problems when there are large numbers of Muslims living in one area, leading to problems with integration. And if these Muslims surveyed were “more conservative” than Muslims living in areas with fewer Muslims, then why are those people still happy to quote the high percentage of Muslims who identify with Britain? You can’t have it both ways.

When the stats tell us something we don’t like then it’s the usual case of: the sample size isn’t representative, it’s skewed, they’re demonising Muslims again, etc. If this poll is ‘skewed’ then why don’t we dismiss the high figure of Muslims who identify with Britain? Besides, where is the evidence to show that those who live in areas where there are fewer Muslims will naturally have more progressive views?

Roshan Salih, editor of 5 Pillars, attacked the ‘Islamophobic’ survey. His video message is confusing. On the one hand, stating that more than 50% of Muslims want homosexuality banned is “Islamophobic” (of course) but then says this is not surprising because Muslims are conservative and these are “normative Islamic views” anyway. In 2013, over 500 British imams signed a joint letter to The Sunday Telegraph opposing gay marriage, accusing the Government of attacking “the cornerstone of family life”. We are told constantly that certain views are “normative Islamic values”, such as opposing homosexuality and gay marriage, or wanting an Islamic state and a caliphate. But don’t point this out or you are a bigot.

Maya Goodfellow, from Media Diversified, insists that British Muslims are not a homogenous group entirely separate from wider society. But that’s just it. People like Goodfellow do treat Muslims as homogenous. Liberal and ex Muslims are often attacked as ‘native informants’ or ‘not representative’ of mainstream Muslims, as though we should all conform to a certain set of values because we are of Muslim heritage.

Speaking of liberal Muslims, what has frustrated me more than anything is some of the liberal Muslims who have also attacked Trevor Phillips and the survey: we weren’t represented, it’s stereotyping Muslims, they cry. But they were represented. They were the ones who answered in favour of abortion, or homosexuality in the poll.

These are the same people who are constantly mocked, insulted and threatened by the more conservative and extreme elements within Muslims communities. They of all people should know better; they know how bad the situation is for more liberal or reform-minded Muslims. Yet even they have joined the bandwagon and either downplayed or dismissed the survey.  If you are on the liberal end of the scale, why get so defensive when someone talks about those who are not so liberal? Yes, yes, so 50% of Muslims have intolerant views towards gay people, but at least they feel British!

There are certainly progressive voices from Muslim communities now speaking out. But, as Trevor Phillips has pointed out, they are not as influential as one would hope. There are far more conservative and reactionary people who are doing their best to silence the progressive voices.

The views of Muslims today are more polarised than the previous generation — but I do believe that the next generation will be even more progressive and enlightened. Another survey conducted in ten years’ time may look very different.

Allegations of CSE cover up and misogyny within the Labour Party

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Shaista Gohir Source: Facebook

Shaista Gohir
Source: Facebook

 

Shaista Gohir is pulling no punches. The chair of the charity Muslim Women’s Network (MWN) UK is continuing to deal blows to the Labour party, accusing it of covering up misogyny and intimidation of Muslim women from the men in their own communnities.

Gohir has been gathering evidence from Muslim women across the country in order to get the party to address the allegations and make some serious changes.

But more revealing is the allegation made by a former Labour councillor, who  claims that abuse is being covered up within the Labour party. The Muslim woman told Newsnight that Pakistani councillors on the council where she served are regularly protecting men who may be exploiting white girls, simply because they are important business allies.

Zahara – not her real name – claims that the police presented councillors with a sexually explicit video as they ruled on whether to shut down a club where these alleged offences were taking place.

She said: “The decision ultimately should have been to close the establishment down because of inappropriate behaviours going on of a sexual nature between young white girls and Asian males that was being shown on the video.

“I was clearly told to stop questioning by a hand gesture and nudge by senior male councillors that were Asian who were sitting next to me… I was told: ‘Do you know who it is? It’s a very prominent Asian businessman that supports us’.”

This woman claims that, on this occasion and many others, she was deselected because she refused to do as these powerful councillors of Pakistani heritage demanded. When she arrived at the selection meeting, it was full of Asian people she had never seen before. “They’re in the pocket of influential male councillors,” she added.

This, in my opinion, is the angle on which Newsnight should have led. Instead, it was almost buried within the report. It is almost as though allegations of covering up CSE were an afterthought of this report.

It seems evident to me that Labour is doing anything to keep  the ‘minority’ vote, at the expense of leaving those groups effectively to be ruled by ‘their’ men.

 

“Systematic Misogyny”

Councillor Arooj Shah Source: Oldham Council

Councillor Arooj Shah
Source: Oldham Council

 

From about 2:50 in the Newsnight video, Oldham councillor Arooj Shah is seen leafleting in her neighbourhood, along with fellow councillor Shadab Qumer. Councillor Shah is doing the talking yet the Muslim man they visit only shakes hands, and speaks directly, only with the male councillor, instead of Councillor Shah.

She told the BBC: “There’s Labour Party members who will accept my two colleagues, Asian men, but support anyone but me. They’re members of the local Labour party. They are shameless about it… It’s because I’m a woman and anyone who sugar-coats it is lying.”

Councillor Shah also said that she has received disgusting letters where her head has been attached to images of Page 3 models, in an effort to silence and intimidate her.

MWN has been heard from many Muslim women across the country on the “blocking” of vocal, independent Muslim women by male members of the Labour Party who are of Pakistani heritage – or ‘biraderi’ (clan) politics. The charity has called for an inquiry by party leader Jeremy Corbyn into the “systematic misogyny” within Labour. If this is happening in the Labour party then I wonder – is this also happening in other parties?

Unfortunately this is no surprise to many women of Muslim heritage. We are all aware of the fact that most of the hostility faced is by those from within our own communities. We receive support when we toe a certain line, but as soon as we go beyond that we are quickly silenced.

Well done to the brave women who are continuing to speak out against the misogyny and campaigns of harassment they have faced. It takes a lot of courage to speak out.

When is a mosque not a mosque? When it’s an Ahmadi mosque

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A large fire broke out at a prominent mosque in South London on Saturday. The blaze, at the Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, was tackled by 70 firefighters, and a man was taken to hospital suffering the effects of smoke inhalation.

About 50% of the building’s ground floor was reported to be damaged as well as part of the first floor and a section of the roof. Thankfully, only a handful of worshippers were inside the mosque when the blaze started and they were evacuated safely from the site.

Usually, such incidents unite most Muslims (and non) who will find a common humanity to express commiseration. Instead, what we have seen is certain Muslims more preoccupied with semantics. The reason – this was an Ahmadi mosque.

The Pakistani channel Geo News describes Baitul Futuh as an “ibadatgah“, or place of worship. Not a mosque. This is, unfortunately, expected from a country where Ahmadis are officially declared as being non Muslims.

Sadly, such views are not confined to the Indian subcontinent. The 5 Pillars website, which runs the tagline “What are Muslim thinking?”, repeatedly refers to the mosque as a “temple” and its name is inserted in very snide quote marks.

Considering that its deputy editor Dilly Hussain once alluded to Ahmadi Muslims as being worse than monkeys, one should not expect any less.

On their Facebook page, there are comments lauding 5 Pillars’ “correct” use of the word temple to describe the mosque.

The Muslim Council of Britain states on its website that it is a “non-sectarian body working for the common good without interfering in, displacing or isolating any existing Muslim work in the UK”.

How ironic then that not only did the MCB not refer to the Baitul Futuh as a mosque, but it once put a statement on its website declaring it as “not a mosque”, adding “It is clearly misleading to describe [Ahmadis] as Muslims”. So much for non-sectarianism. The statement disappeared from the website quite recently.

These are the same people who often cry Islamophobia, when in fact a lot of the bigotry towards Muslims comes from fellow Muslims themselves.

Perhaps they should take note of the Ahmadi motto: Love for All, Hatred for None.

UPDATE: Two teenage boys have now been arrested on suspicion of arson

Written by Iram Ramzan

September 27, 2015 at 12:44 pm

I was in danger and my family was in danger: story of a young Iranian asylum seeker

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For weeks, months even, the news has been dominated with reports of refugees and migrants who are fleeing their countries and seeking sanctuary in Europe. It got me thinking: who are these people and what are their stories? What lives did they lead before they were forced to leave their countries, and what are their hopes and aspirations now? Last month I met a young, Iranian asylum seeker in Manchester and found his story so interesting I felt I had to share it.

*

To all appearances Peyman seems like any other foreign student in Manchester learning English as a second language. He always has a smile on his face, giving the impression that he lives a fairly straightforward life with little or no complications. He volunteers at the Red Cross twice a week and his dream is to become a counsellor one day, as he is interested in psychology. But his dream may remain just that.

Peyman (not his real name) fled the Islam Republic of Iran and came to the UK to seek asylum in September 2010. He insists that he went into the nearest police station as soon as he arrived in the UK, but unfortunately for him, the authorities did not believe him. Five years on, the 30-year-old is still appealing his deportation and fears being made homeless again if he loses his right to accommodation and the potentially deadly possibility of being deported to Iran. Under the theocratic regime political and religious dissent is often conflated, mirroring the fusion of state and religious power, and blasphemy/apostasy are common charges against dissidents..

On August 26 2015, Amnesty International reported that Behrouz Alkhani, a 30-year-old man from Iran’s Kurdish minority, was executed while awaiting the outcome of a Supreme Court appeal. A Revolutionary Court had charged him with “effective collaboration with PJAK” (Party of Free Life of Kurdistan) and “enmity against God” for his alleged role in the assassination of the Prosecutor of Khoy, West Azerbaijan province.

Zeynab Jalalian, also from Iran’s Kurdish minority, has been convicted an “enemy of God” and sentenced to death by an Islamic Revolutionary Court for allegedly being a member of PJAK, which she denies. These cases are a drop in the ocean.

Peyman’s Kurdish-Iranian family have experienced similar fates. His older brother was imprisoned and tortured for 20 years, as were some of his other relatives for their political activities. One of his childhood memories is visiting his brother in prison. When he was a teenager, Peyman was once detained by the police who were looking for another brother, who had been spotted with his girlfriend. As his brother had run away, the police took Peyman instead to the station, where he was beaten before his family managed to get him released a few hours later.

“That was the time I started hating the Iranian government,” Peyman told me. “Most Iranians hate the government but they can’t say it. I wanted to talk about my ideas. I was scared for my family – I wasn’t happy. I’m not safe there anymore. It could be dangerous for my family.”

Iranians were among the top five nationalities applying for asylum in Britain in the year ending June 2015. However, it is difficult to determine how many asylum applications to the UK are based on fear of persecution on the grounds of religion. Peyman decided to come to the UK as he knew some people who had already come here and because he spoke a little English. Prior to leaving, he worked in a government department.

“When I was in Iran I had a car and motorbike,” he explained. “I lived with parents so I didn’t pay for bills. I spent my income just for myself or for going out with friends. I didn’t come here for financial reasons. I came here because I was unable to live there. I was in danger and my family was in danger. They had proof I was an atheist, that I was against Islam and against the Ayatollah. But here I don’t have proof to get refugee status.”

Like many Muslims, Peyman came from a largely nominal Muslim family – his father, he is certain, did not even know how to pray correctly. He started becoming more religious in his late teens, before his compulsory military service aged 18, due to a fear of going to hell and a desire to go to heaven when he died. When he got involved in political activism, however, a conversation with a communist about Islam turned him into an atheist. Now he does not identify as an atheist but he does not have any religious views.

In the UK, he initially found it difficult to make friends. He could not be part of religious communities and had no desire either to go to nightclubs as he is not a heavy drinker.  Although he was not afraid of Iranians here, he felt he could not trust them so did not want to join any community groups either.

When Peyman first arrived in the UK he was placed in Bury, Greater Manchester, while a decision was pending on whether he could remain here. He found out shortly afterwards that his father, his friend and mentor, had died. This led to a period of depression and suicidal tendencies, worsened by the fact that his application was rejected.

He lost his accommodation in July 2011 and managed to rent a room in Rusholme after working illegally in several jobs and saving money. After he lost his job, he then went to London to stay with an Afghan friend and tried to find another job. When he ran out of savings he came back to Manchester as it was smaller and cheaper. He stayed with a few friends but pride stopped him from staying with them for longer than two weeks. Peyman then ended up on the streets, relying on a night shelter for a few nights a week. If there was one advantage to being homeless, it was that it helped with his speaking skills – throughout the interview, however, he still apologised for his “poor” English despite having a good command of the language.

He then decided to sign a form to voluntarily return to Iran. He did that, not because he wanted to go back but because section four of the asylum support provides failed asylum seekers with temporary financial support and accommodation while they make arrangements to return to their native country.

For a couple of months Peyman was also able to take free English classes. But then he was told to leave his accommodation and return to Iran. Once again he appealed and made his way back to London to stay with his Afghan friend, but wound up on the streets once more, sleeping at night shelters for three days a week or on park benches and the night bus when he got change from begging. Being in this situation led to him being “emotionally fucked up” and trying to commit suicide.

Fortunately he was able to get counselling while in hospital and was then transferred to Liverpool and subsequently Manchester, where he still lives. He made a fresh claim in May 2013 and received accommodation and was able to receive English classes, where he has made many friends. Currently each person receives £36.95 or £35.39 on a payment card for food, clothing and toiletries if asylum has been refused.

Despite an uncertain future, not knowing whether he could be homeless or made to return to Iran, Peyman has a cheery disposition and does not want any sympathy.

“I’m not complaining,” he insists. “My situation is better than it was three or four years ago. For the last few weeks I was thinking, what if I’m here for 20 years and I still don’t get my stay? Maybe I should go back to Iran. Maybe there at least I’ll die for something. Here I’ll die for nothing. But then I remember my voluntary work with the Red Cross and tell myself, no, you’re doing something here. I’m really enjoying it at the Red Cross.

“For the last five years I have been trying to change myself. I’m not saving the world but I’m trying to save myself first. For a few years I felt I was wasting my time. Now I feel better. When I’m at the Red Cross I feel like I’m part of a community.

“I’m happy. It doesn’t matter what will happen tomorrow or if I lost my accommodation. Well. It does matter because I will end up on the streets. But I’m not thinking about that. It’s not easy all the time but I just appreciate life.”

Part of Peyman’s story originally featured in an article for the National Secular Society on 9/9/2015

The Sun’s ‘Unite against Isis’ campaign divides opinions

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When I previously wrote a blog post about The Sun newspaper’s front page it was because it was tasteless and extremely provocative.

BwuuIYmIMAAZc7v.jpg large

The tabloid has gone for another striking front page today and it has created dialogue, but for different reasons. The headline says “UNITED AGAINST IS”, with a large photo of a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf in the colours of the Union Jack.

“The Sun urges Brits of all faiths to stand up to extremists,” the paper says. Gone were the bare breasts on page three (sorry India from Reading), and instead there was a Union Jack that was meant to be cut out, with which snap-happy Sun readers could take a selfie and post on to social media.

SunfrontpageISIS.jpg large

Some Muslims and even non Muslims came out and condemned it, saying that it was absurd to ask British Muslims to apologise for the actions of the Islamic State. What are the odds that those people have even looked past the front page, opened up the paper and read the leading editorial and articles inside? The paper does not ask Muslim specifically to apologise for IS. It does not even ask them specifically to condemn or stand against IS. It asks all people to take this stance, although I was slightly disappointed that they had not appealed to those who do not subscribe to a particular religion – I am certain that they are united against IS, are they not?

One you get past the front page you will see that there are comments from Home Secretary Teresa May, Sun columnist Louise Mensch,  Labour leader Ed Miliband, Prime Minister David Cameron – those well known Muslims! I would have liked more comments from Muslims but if that had been the case then there would have been even more complaints that only Muslims were being asked to condemn IS. People will moan either way.

Others were slightly miffed that the paper had chosen a hijab to represent all Muslims. I don’t think anyone would suggest that all Muslim women do wear a hijab. But let us not forget. It is a front page, which means it has to convey the message in one photo or headline and unfortunately, whether we like it or not, the hijab is a symbol of Islam. When one thinks of Islam or Muslims, the hijab is one of the first things that comes to mind. A front page has to get the message across in one go which is why the story has to be more nuanced. Perhaps a better idea might have been to show people of all faiths and none together to convey the idea of unity. But that image would not have had as much of an impact as this one does.

Oh and IT’S THE SUN! What do you expect?

“But why The Sun?”, you may ask. Like it or not, it is Britain’s most-read newspaper by a long stretch. What better way to publicise a cause than to include it in the country’s number one newspaper?

Besides, some people are probably not aware that this is not The Sun’s campaign (though they have now hijacked it), but one started by Inspire, a counter-extremism organisation which, by the way, was created by a Muslim woman.

It was Inspire who launched the #MakingaStand campaign to ” reject the barbarism of the so-called Islamic State, to reject extremists and radicalisers including Boko Haram and Al Shabaab, who prey on our children and those who groom them for terrorism.”

Sara Khan, the director, wrote the leading piece on page 2 urging more and more people, Muslims and non Muslims alike, to make a stand and unite in the face of this barbarity.

Yes, I understand that the entire British Muslim population should not be blamed for what IS is doing but let us not forget that hundreds of Muslims from this country have gone abroad to join IS and commit all kinds of atrocities. They are a British problem – we helped create them. The aim of the front page was to get people to sit up and take notice, which it has done.

 

Written by Iram Ramzan

October 8, 2014 at 6:56 pm

Posted in islam, Press

Tagged with , , , , ,

A weekly round up: Fatwas, nude photos and sensationalist reporting

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Sensationalism in the British press

I was about to go to sleep when my Twitter timeline erupted with the news  about the brutal murder of 82-year-old Palmira Silva in her home in Edmonton, north London.  Nicholas Salvadore, whose identity was revealed later, has since been arrested on suspicion of murder.

Police were initially called out yesterday to investigate a man dressed in black, who neighbours said had decapitated a cat with a foot-long, machete-like blade, and who was running through rear gardens banging on doors and windows.

The Sun newspaper decided to go with a front page claiming “‘Muslim Convert’ beheads woman in garden”. Someone apparently told The Sun journalist that the alleged murderer had converted to Islam, though this cannot be verified.

This is sensationalist and shoddy reporting for several reasons. Firstly, detectives say they have ruled out terrorism as a motive. By putting ‘Muslim Convert in the headline and on the front page, alongside the letter to ISIS caliphate Baghdadi (see below) in the paper, The Sun is forcing its readers to link the stories together. Yes, beheadings have been in the news thanks to the barbaric actions of the so-called Islamic state, but if the police are not describing this as a terrorist crime then why is The Sun making readers think otherwise?

Secondly, as an arrest has been made, publishers and broadcasters have a duty to report news in a responsible way and in a manner in which will not create a real risk that the course of justice in proceedings may be seriously prejudiced. I work at a local newspaper so I know that I could not get away with writing that and nor would my editor publish it. However, The Sun can afford to be in contempt of court as it is a national paper, therefore they can choose to flout certain rules and guidelines.

Thirdly, the Press Complaints Commission code states that the “details of an individual’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability must be avoided unless genuinely relevant to the story.” As we do not know what the motive of the suspect murderer was, it is irresponsible of The Sun to mention the man’s religion.

What we seem to have forgotten in all this is that an innocent elderly woman was murdered in such a horrific way. What must her family be going through? The Sun has demonstrated that it does not care about victims, rather it uses such victims to make a wider, political point to push its agenda.

I said as much on BBC Asian Network earlier today, which should be available to listen to on iPlayer soon.

 

Speaking out on abuse

https://i2.wp.com/www.cps.gov.uk/northwest/assets/uploads/images/afzal.jpg

Nazir Afzal

What has happened in Rotherham for over a decade has shocked us all. The Times claimed (£) that details from 200 restricted-access documents showed how police and child protection agencies in the South Yorkshire town had extensive knowledge of the grooming of young girls  for a decade, yet a string of offences went unprosecuted. I hope journalist Andrew Norfolk wins some awards for his brilliant investigative work.

People have come out and said that “victims should speak out” and those who know must tell the police. Ann Cryer, former MP for Keighley, tried to do just that. She claims that West Yorkshire police did not want to do anything when she told them about the abuse of young girls in her town. She then went to “community leaders” who told her that it was nothing to do with them. We also read, in Rotherham, that victims‘ evidence would go “missing” and police would not take their claims seriously. So it’s no good telling people to speak out, because at the end of the day, many in positions of power neither listened nor took any action.

Louise Mensch suggested that with a Muslim – Nazir Afzal – as the chief prosecutor of the Crown Prosecution Service for the North West in England, children would remain unsafe, which is an inflammatory statement that prompted some to reply with anti-Muslim sentiments. Never mind the fact that he was responsible for securing successful prosecutions for Asian men who were part of a grooming gang in Rochdale. Some have suggested that he is in denial over the religions of the men involved, who were all of Muslim heritage. Perhaps Afzal – a devout Muslim – is correct that religion was not a factor, as drinking and prostituting girls is hardly one of the five pillars of Islam. It could be because, as a chief prosecutor for the CPS, he has to be more careful with what he says. Regardless, one can hardly accuse him of remaining silent on abuse.

In an article for the New York Times a year ago, Afzal knows just how hard it is for women to speak out against barbaric cultural practises, stating: “Women have been talking about these issues for a long time,” he said. “I’m not the first person to take up this fight in this country, I’m just the first man, and that makes it a lot easier. I come from these communities. I understand their patriarchal nature. I can challenge them. And because I am a man, the men in the community are more likely to listen to me.”

While Muslim reformers do attract a lot of negative attention from those within their own communities, it is worse for women, who often have to put up with misogynist remarks as well as accusations of blasphemy or heresy.

Afzal revealed a more personal side to himself. When bullied in school, his father told him to “get used to it”. He also stopped posting on Twitter because, he said, the abuse got to be too much. This does not surprise me. Many Muslims, including myself, have been heavily criticised and insulted when choosing to speak out. All I can say is that when you manage to piss off both the far right and the Islamists, you are doing something right. I hope that Afzal returns to Twitter although I understand he probably has better things to do than respond to those on there who simply want to hurl abuse at him.

I have heard some Muslims say that the whole of Catholicism is not to blame for child abuse by priests, so why do we expect Muslim to defend their faith whenever any perpetrators of a Muslim heritage commit crimes? Perhaps we do not blame the whole faith but we do examine whether the requirement of celibacy is a factor in the abuse of young boys by Catholic priests. Earlier this year, Pope Francis met victims of abuse and asked for forgiveness for the crimes, which shows that in order to solve a problem, one must first acknowledge it.

 

What the Fatwa

 

Letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

Letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

 

Just over a week ago, a group of British imams and scholars issued a fatwa condemning Islamic extremist group ISIS. The fatwa represents the British Muslim community’s strongest denunciation of ISIS yet, calling the extremist group “heretical” and “an oppressive and tyrannical group.” It came after Britain’s terrorism threat was raised last week from “substantial” to “severe”. Clearly the government wants to be seen to be doing something though personally I think we should not give in to these terrorists by showing that we are afraid of them.

Fatwa

I can see both the upsides and downside of this fatwa. On the one hand, I am not keen on the use of the word ‘heresy’ as extremists themselves use it as a justification to kill those they deem as behaving in an “unIslamic” way. What exactly is ‘Islamic’ behaviour anyway? Furthermore, only those who follow those particular leaders are bound by the fatwa, meaning it is not applicable to everyone and can be ignored by many.

On the other hand, we have had many people in the media complaining about the lack of Muslim leaders coming out to denounce ISIS and the behaviour of its jihadis.  Fatwas serve those people who still seek the advice and ruling of their sheikhs and imams. Chairman of Quilliam Foundation Maajid Nawaz wrote in the Independent:

Understandably frustrated cynics could claim that this is far too little, too late. Such a stance fails to appreciate that this can only be the start, not the end. The Isis brand will only be weakened by a full-on assault from all angles.

If theological “get out clauses” are not provided for vulnerable young minds, if all vulnerable young minds hear is silence from every other Muslim Imam on the subject, this will look precariously like consent.

Similarly the above letter, featured in Friday’s Sun newspaper, speaks to self-styled ‘caliphate’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in his language and on his terms. Al-Baghdadi does not believe in secularism or western democracies, so what better response than from a group of practising and devout Muslims. My only criticism of the letter is that there are more than twice the number of men than women though that may have been down to not being able to get enough responses from people in such a short time.

Also in the news was the Muslim Council of Britain, who raised concerns about the prime minister’s anti-terrorism strategy. They claimed that the “crackdown” on British-born extremists will “push marginalised young people further towards radicalisation”. While I think the government’s strategy is only focused on those who have already become extreme – with not enough focus on counter extremism narratives – the MCB have to acknowledge that they cannot keep using this as an excuse. Some Muslims are being brainwashed and we need to address that, rather than using apologetic language. Some Muslims are already marginalised and no longer identify with Britain or British identify, hence why some chose to leave to fight in Syria and Iraq. At the end of the article is a quote from Saleem Kidwai, the secretary general of the Muslim Council of Wales, who said:

I would say to the government, you must talk to the Muslim Council of Britain because it is the largest organisation. You can talk to thinktanks but they are not the grassroots groups – the MCB has got the mandate from 500 organisations who represent Muslims from all walks of life. I know they would love to help rather than obstruct.

Gosh. I wonder to which thinktanks he is alluding…

 

The two faces of Asghar Bukhari

Sometimes people forget that what they post online is available for all to see. Recently, author Jeremy Duns decided to debate, or rather attempt to, with Asghar Bukhari, of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, which describes itself as the UK’s “leading movement for empowering Muslims to focus on non-violent Jihad through political activism”.

Bukhari is regularly invited on to Sky News or the BBC. On air he is very calm and composed. But his Twitter account shows a darker side.

bukhari 1 bukhari 2 bukhari 3 bukhari 4 bukhari 5 bukhari 6 bukhari 7

As you can see irony is lost on Bukhari who calls other people “bullies” yet constantly insults and demeans those with whom he debates. Not only does he use rather colourful language, he is misogynist towards women with whom he disagrees and even believes it is a “fact” that European  Jews have no DNA linking them to Palestine. Perhaps media organisations should have a look at his Twitter account and his blog – where he likens Lee Rigby’s murderer Jeremiah Adebolajo to a “revolutionary” – before inviting him on air?

 

Don’t drink?

Retired judge Mary Jane Mowat was criticised by women’s campaigners after she said that the rape conviction rate would not improve until women stopped drinking so heavily.

Mowat, who stood down in August, said it was often difficult to secure a rape conviction as it was “one person’s word against another”.

She was not, she insisted, saying that drunk girls deserve to be raped, but that drunkenness has implications for juries attempting to establish the reliability of witness testimony.
What do you think – was she right?

 

Women’s bodies

Earlier this week,  several intimate photographs of celebrities were published online. Apple confirmed that some  iCloud accounts were hacked into. Copies of the images spread to other services, including Reddit, Imgur and Twitter, from which they were subsequently deleted by administrators.

Fleet Street Fox wrote a brilliant piece on this in the Mirror that sums up exactly how I feel on the issue.  It amazes me that we still live in a world where what a woman does with her breasts or vagina can make the news – note that no nude photos of men were posted.

Jane Moore, writing in The Sun, said that the best prevention is not to take such photos in the first place.  I take it that Ms Moore has absolutely nothing on her phones or computer that would make her feel embarrassed were it to be seen by the public?

Her paper also ran the headline “How bare they”, supposedly sympathising with the female victims. This is the same paper that published semi nude photographs of journalist Tasmin Khan, bought from her ex boyfriend. In a statement to Mail Online, Khan said the incident had left her devastated by someone whom she had trusted. A bigger betrayal is from The Sun who chose to publish photos they knew were not obtained with Khan’s permission and could have ruined her life. As an Asian woman, one can only imagine what her family’s reaction could have been if they had not supported her.

 

The Ahmadi Muslims – a question

In a Twitter debate, I asked a few people why it is that Ahmadis, despite being widely persecuted, seem to be the most progressive of most Muslims in the world. After all, they believe in the same Qur’an as all other Muslims, so what makes them so different?  My theory is, as they believe that the Messiah has already been – in the form of founder of the faith Mirza Ghulam Ahmad – this has marked the beginning of a new chapter and allowed them to progress and move forward. Other Muslim groups, however, are either doing nothing in the hopes of the arrival of a hoping for a messiah to solve their problems, or they are willing to do anything they can to can to prompt the arrival of the messiah. Certainly the latter is the view of the Evangelical Christians who  believe that the return of the Jews to Israel is a prerequisite for the Second Coming of Jesus.

As I said, this is just a theory, but I would be interested in your views.

 

Sayeeda Warsi, Iraq and the conflict in Gaza: A weekly round up

with 10 comments

“Morally Indefensible”

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi at a Hindu temple

 

There she was, the first Pakistani, Muslim woman to become the chairman of the Conservative party and also the first Muslim woman to sit on the front bench of a British party.

An outspoken woman, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi could certainly have been seen as an inspiration to many women who thought that their gender and skin colour were factors that would prevent them from becoming involved in politics or any other industry/sector so heavily dominated by white men.

I think it is so ironic that only now Lady Warsi has resigned that she has gained respect from Muslims in the UK – where were they all before? Too busy calling her a sell-out, I suppose. In 2009, she was pelted with eggs by a group of Muslims during a walkabout in Luton. The protesters accused her of not being a “proper Muslim” (what is one of those?) and of supporting the death of Muslims in Afghanistan. Warsi told the BBC that these men were “idiots who did not represent the majority of British Muslims”. Only now that she has resigned over Gaza has Warsi gained respect from her own people.

However, while I can appreciate the symbolism of it all, just what legacy has she left behind? She spoke out against the Asian grooming gangs, stating: “There is a small minority of Pakistani men who believe that white girls are fair game. And we have to be prepared to say that. You can only start solving a problem if you acknowledge it first.” When other commentators were in complete denial she spoke out and for that she must be applauded.

Douglas Murray said she could have done more for Gaza by remaining in her position, but in her resignation letter Lady Warsi hinted at the change in the government’s direction, which suggests that she felt as though she was not being taken seriously. Her party could have used her ideas and background to their advantage in order to to try to reach out to more voters. A former solicitor with her own law firm, there is no doubt that she is an intelligent woman and she was once named the most powerful Muslim woman in Britain.  I doubt that many in her party were very supportive of her –  an Asian woman will always find it more difficult to fit in a white man’s world.

Let us for one moment take her resignation at face value. Let us believe she resigned solely over the government’s “morally indefensible” stance on Israel. Yes, our government could, and should, be doing more to end the violence in that region and stop the killing on both sides. But do you know what I find “morally indefensible” Lady Warsi? I find it morally indefensible that only Palestinian lives seemed so important to you that you felt you had to resign. What was your position on the Syrians being either slaughtered or fleeing their country to live as refugees, not knowing when the conflict is going to end? What was your position on ISIS slaughtering thousands of people in Iraq? What was your position on the Ahmadis who were murdered in the Punjabi city of Lahore, the country from which your parents came to England?

My own view is rather cynical. She was never really popular with many Muslims, or other ethnic minorities, so resigning over Gaza could prove to be a huge PR boost for her. Nor was she very popular within her own party and instead of progressing in her political career, she seemed to be fading in the background. Her hint at Cameron’s leadership might be a revelation of her providing support to another prospective candidate who will listen to her concerns. She has since criticised her party for not attracting enough ethnic minority voters,  which is a bit rich coming from her seeing as she stood for as a candidate in the 2005 elections and lost. Whatever her reasons for resigning, I do not doubt that she will do well from this and it is certainly not the last we will hear from Lady Warsi.

 

Israel and Gaza

Pro-Palestinian march

If there’s anything that unites Muslims around the world it is the ongoing conflict in Israel and Palestine.

I vowed not to write about this issue, as it is very divisive and guaranteed to piss off one group of people or another. But I cannot remain silent. My analysis will not be on the conflict itself but rather the reporting of it and the reaction of some communities on this particular issue.

In my area, there was a protest outside a Tesco Express store, at which demonstrators were holding up signs calling for a boycott of Israeli goods and chanting “shame on Tesco”. I believe the protest was largely peaceful although some shoppers did claim to feel “intimidated”.

I believe an arms embargo should be imposed on Israel, as Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell said this week. But what will boycotting Israeli goods achieve – to me, that  is a form of collective punishment and we must not punish people for the actions of their governments or armies? Nick Cohen wrote a brilliant piece on London’s Tricycle Theatre banning the annual Jewish Film Festival this week because they received a small sum of money from the Israeli embassy. Do we boycott goods from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or India? After all, their countries routinely violate the human rights of their citizens, yet we hold Israel to a different standard.

Reports have suggested that anti-Semitism has increased in the UK and in Europe. I don’t think this conflict has made more people anti-Semitic, but rather it brings out the anti-Semites, reaffirming their dislike and hatred of Jews. I rarely agree with Mehdi Hasan but he was spot on when he said that anti-Semitism is still a problem in Muslim communities. That is not to say that being pro-Palestinian equates to being anti-Semitic – to suggest that is untrue and outrageous. But it shames me to admit that it has certainly “passed the dinner table test” (thanks Baroness Warsi) in the conversations in some of the homes at which I have been present and even on a radio discussion earlier this week. And unfortunately, some of those people do use certain Qur’anic verses to justify their dislike or mistrust of the Jews, claiming that Muslims can never trust the Jews. I understand not all Muslims engage in these discussions, I am simply recalling what I have seen and heard – I do appreciate that many Muslims have nothing but respect for Jewish people.

We don’t like it when Muslims are expected to denounce the extremist behaviour of Muslims or distance ourselves from the barbaric Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, so why do we expect Jews to condemn the behaviour of the Israeli army and government, as though being Jewish=Israel.  And people constantly point out that many Jews are against the actions of the state of Israel, as though that should matter, as though the only “good” Jews are those who go on marches alongside pro Palestinian protesters, unlike those “bad Jews” who do support Israeli policies.

 

The ongoing crisis in Iraq

 

Kurdish fighters

US air strikes have successfully carried out four air strikes to defend those of the Yazidi faith from being indiscriminately attacked near Sinjar, in northern Iraq.

On Newsnight, Sindus Abbas of the Iraqi Turkmen High Representative welcomed the US air strikes in northern Iraq and said this should have happened “months ago”.

But who cares what the Iraqi people want when left-wing commentators here in the UK think we should not intervene. In a Twitter exchange with journalist David Aaronovitch, Owen Jones said that ISIS “will only be stopped when it is eradicated”. Not a vague statement at all. How exactly must ISIS be stopped? Simple – by “dealing with Sunni resentment” and, most importantly, NOT intervening militarily. Yes, there needs to be a long-term solution and there I will agree with Jones, but right now we can do something to help.

The Iraq war may have caused resentment within some Muslims around the world –  that is debatable – and I, too, was against the 2003 invasion, but sitting idly by while people are being slaughtered – the same people who are asking for our help – will surely cause more resentment.

It is easy to solely blame the West for the ills in the Middle East today. Yes, colonialism left a terrible legacy but for how long can we all continue to blame others? I think it is easy for people to blame the US or Britain because if they have no one else to blame they will have to accept the reality that the blame lies within themselves. And that is too uncomfortable for them to contemplate.

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