It came as no surprise that a Muslim “Question Time” event in my hometown of Bedford caused such a furore, writes Dilly Hussain. But due to the erroneous and incendiary reporting of what actually happened, I am obliged to tell you the real story.
More than 240 people, including around 30 non-Muslims, packed out the Bedford Corn Exchange on Friday evening for Quiz a Muslim, and although I anticipated some unwarranted opposition due to the line-up of speakers, the publicity the event ended up receiving has been truly unprecedented.
Thank you Maajid Nawaz
A huge thank you is owed to Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation, who was responsible for the majority of the marketing – without his hysterical Facebook post I would have certainly struggled to fill the venue!
He described all the speakers as, “Caliphate-advocating Islamists” who apparently “reject ISIS merely because they made their move for a Caliphate too soon”. I will kindly decline to dignify Maajid’s statements with a response. After all, how can any Muslim take the ranting of a married man who frequents strip clubs, inappropriately touches female dancers whilst under the influence of alcohol during Ramadan seriously?
Nevertheless, it was Maajid’s Facebook post that attracted reporters from the right-wing press, as well as Bedford’s two local newspapers, who I’d already informed of the event.
But in reality, what was really burning Maajid and his intolerant secular liberal fan club was that the event was structured as a “question and answer” session – not the usual Muslim conference consisting of ‘motivational speeches’. Perhaps, for the first time ever, Muslims and non-Muslims alike had absolute freedom to ask whatever they wanted about Islam – and equally the speakers – would have adequate time to respond and elaborate on their points.
The event was held at the Bedford Corn Exchange – premises which belong to Bedford Borough Council, who confirmed to the Bedfordshire on Sunday newspaper that they had no intention to “derail the event”.
It should also be noted that I had met Bedford’s Conservative MP Richard Fuller a week before the event to seek his counsel, and though he voiced his concerns over Moazzam Begg and CAGE, he understood to some extent why I was hosting an event of such nature (I even asked him to chair it, which he declined).
In addition, I had kept Inspector Gail Mulvaney from Bedfordshire Police in the loop regarding Quiz a Muslim, its objectives, scheduled speakers, and the topics that would be discussed. I think it’s fair to say that I had taken sufficient steps to be as transparent and honest as one can be, to avoid the usual accusations made by neocons, Quilliamites and Islamophobes that Quiz a Muslim was just another covert ‘Islamist gathering’.
So, how much coverage did the event receive? Well, a front page splash on Bedford Times & Citizen, and a pre and post event article on the Bedfordshire on Sunday to begin with. Freelance journalist Dominik Lemanski from The Sun was also snooping around for a story, Adele Robinson from Sky News turned up with her crew on the night, and Breitbart London, who hardly qualify as a reputable media outlet. Nonetheless, it was Breitbart’s selective propagandist spin in light of the Paris attacks, which sparked further interest from the Daily Mail.
‘As Paris Burned, UK Muslims Told To ‘Struggle’ For Islamic State’ was the headline the infamous right-winger Raheem Kassam ran with – making all kinds of fallacious claims against the panellists, myself and the event in general.
What was the crux of his article? Expectedly, it was a cocktail of the usual previous statements made by the speakers and their respective organisations – quoted in isolation and out of context; as well as claims that the organisers imposed gender segregation, that British values were described as “junk”, that the speakers called for an “Islamic state in Britain”, and that I had “hoped more councils would invite Islamists to town” – lies which the full video will expose.
Nevertheless, I’ll briefly address these fabrications for those who can’t wait for the video…
As the organiser of Quiz a Muslim, I did not impose gender segregation. I made it clear to the stewards that attendees were free to sit wherever they liked, but as expected, the majority Muslim audience stuck to their normative Islamic practices and organically sat with the same sex – though some did mix.
Of course, this isn’t good enough for muscular liberals and pseudo-feminists who pay mere lip service to gender equality and freedoms.
Are British values ‘junk’?
“British Muslim” identity was also discussed in some detail, but I can unequivocally confirm that at no point were British values described as “junk” by any of the speakers, as Breitbart London falsely claimed. In fact, practically all the panellists, besides Taji Mustafa of Hizb-ut Tahrir, agreed that there was nothing wrong with the term “British Muslim” – but Moazzam Begg went onto highlight the many inconsistencies and double standards in David Cameron’s application of “British values.”
Laughably, when Dr Haitham al-Haddad asked the audience “who considers themselves British” – not a single white non-Muslim raised their hands – that too was conveniently ignored by Breitbart.
“Struggle for an Islamic state in Britain”
Not a single speaker called anybody to “struggle” for an Islamic state in Britain. The Caliphate was discussed from a historical and theological perspective, whilst unequivocally rejecting ISIS’s claims to have established an Islamic state. Inevitably, the noble concept of a Caliphate, which was an integral part of Islamic history for over 1,300 years, was discussed in the context of how the struggle for its revival has been tarnished by the actions of ISIS, and bastardised by the western media and governments.
However, all the speakers agreed that Muslims who have a vision and desire for the return of a Caliphate in the Muslim world and to live under God’s law, was a positive and laudable sentiment. As for Dr al-Haddad’s advice to Muslims to aspire to be “partners in defining what British values are” – what is the reason for outrage here? Are Muslims second or third-class citizens who do not qualify to have a say in the direction of this country or its values? Has the fear of “Islamist entryism” become so irrational among Breitbart and Daily Mail readers that they feel British-born Muslims should be excluded from any national dialogue regarding the betterment of this nation?
Such embarrassing intolerance from secular liberals and neocons only further exposes the ideological hypocrisy of those who bang on about “freedoms and equality for all” – except for when it comes to ‘Muslim dissenters’.
Councils facilitating dialogue
One seriously wonders how gullible Breitbart and Daily Mail readers must be to even believe that the host of such an event would say that he “hopes councils would invite more Islamists to town” – I mean, even if that were true, why use Raheem Kassam and James Delingpole as a benchmark to measure my intelligence?
What I actually said after thanking Mayor Dave Hodgson and commending Bedford Borough Council for not interfering with the event was, “I hope other councils follow suit in accommodating and facilitating the civic space for people of all faiths and political persuasions to have open dialogue”- again, the video will confirm that “invite more Islamists to town” was something plucked out of thin air.
A “concern” that was raised not only by Maajid Nawaz and Breitbart, but some Muslims, was why there were no females on the panel. As someone who’s organised debates consisting of female panellists, and spoke at numerous events alongside both Muslim and non-Muslim women, it was insulting that people who knew me would assume that females were intentionally excluded.
I had invited a number of prominent female Muslim speakers, who for an array of reasons could not attend; either due to the short notice and the specific timing of the event, the topics and structure of Quiz a Muslim, or unaffordable speakers’ fee.
In conclusion, was it necessary for me to write such a detailed clarification of what actually happened on Friday? No, because the full unedited video will suffice for those who are interested in knowing the truth. But why did I decide to write one? Because the current climate is such that the likes of the Daily Mail and its ideological minion Breitbart London, get away with fanning the flames of hatred against Muslims on a daily basis.
How irresponsible and outright shameful was it of Breitbart to desperately clutch at finding a common denominator (an ‘Islamic state’) between the tragic events in Paris and the Quiz a Muslim event, knowing full well that violent attacks against Muslims spiked immediately after the Paris attacks.
This was a case of unadulterated Islamophobic propaganda executed in the most thuggish manner by Breitbart, which the Daily Mail aped. The fact that Breitbart London totally ignored that the panellists and I were unaware of what was unfolding in Paris and no audience member raised it during the three-hour event, was also unsurprising.
I will end on the encouraging words of Tony Milioti, the non-Muslim operations manager at the Corn Exchange, who was present throughout Quiz a Muslim. He described the event as “very beneficial” and that he had “learnt so much”. Upon hearing that, I had decided on the spot that Quiz a Muslim would become a road show event, and Friday’s was the first of many to come.
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