In light of the new recording of Islamophobia law coming into effect in April, controversial anti-Muslim hate monitoring organisation Tell Mama will inevitably be made redundant, writes Dilly Hussain.
Muslims across the UK are eagerly awaiting the publication of the much-anticipated Counter Extremism Bill.
Prolific Government statements throughout 2015 set out its intent to tackle the “extremist ideology” that apparently lurks behind “Islamist extremism”, and the justifiable counter-concerns about yet further encroachments on Muslim civil liberties, makes this as significant a political struggle as the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill at the start of 2015.
But there is a development on the horizon which promises to be every bit as significant to British Muslims, namely the rolling out of the policy mandating all police forces to record Islamophobia as a category of crime from April 2016.
It was the social policy think-tank MEND which began the campaign of getting local communities to push for the recording of Islamophobia as a separate category of crime in their 2012 manifesto for the first ever PCC elections.
Since then, MEND secured commitments from 10 police forces in England and Wales (almost a quarter of all forces) before the Prime Minister’s announcement last year building on MEND’s work to require all forces to record.
The Government’s announcement and the impending roll-out of new, improved recording mechanisms will put Islamophobia on par with anti-Semitism, in terms of better quantification of hate crime and analysis of criminal statistics relating to racist and religious hate crime affecting Muslims.
It is a long time coming but the prospect on the near horizon is a significant one.
There are of course many things that will need to be done to ensure that the policy goes beyond adjusting police crime recording systems to introduce an “Islamophobia” crime flag. They include:
- Better training of law enforcement officers to correctly identify offences as “religiously aggravated” to avoid, as happens all too often under the current system, of Islamophobic hate crimes being mistakenly flagged as “racially aggravated”. This inflates the “race” numbers and “deflates” the “religious” ones.
- Taking into consideration that victim perception of bias motivation will also be required to be ramped up, if the new recording mechanism is to improve the quality of officially available statistics on anti-Muslim hate crime.
- Emphasising the need for victims to report hate crime. Home Office analysis of police recorded crime data and the Crime Survey of England and Wales show that only 43% of hate crime offences coming to the attention of the police in the most recent year analysed.
For some years now, and quite inexplicably given that the initiative appears to be a duplication of stretched public resources, in February 2012 the Communities and Local Government department announced a considerable amount of funding (£375,000) for the creation of Tell Mama, an entity that was to “measure anti-Muslim attacks”.
The initial seed funding was bolstered in November 2012 with a further tranche of £214,000, which is not small by any means. In addition to the lucrative government funding, Tell Mama also received the considerable sum of £337,130 in July 2013 from the Big Lottery Fund.
This funding from “official” sources has been viewed with suspicion by many Muslims who perceive the government’s interactions with the Muslim community as toxic.
Tell Mama claims to (i) provide support, assistance and signposting to victims of anti-Muslim incidents, (ii) work with the police to ensure prosecutions (iii), map, measure and analyse hotspots, and (iv) provide advice to mosques on safety and security.
Indeed, these are undoubtedly praiseworthy aims but there is one problem: these services are already available to Muslims across the UK in the form of the publicly funded Victim Support Service, UK police forces, third party reporting centres, and the work of local councils on responding to hate crime, support from the local councils, and local police force to mosques and other religious institutions, which are targets of hate crime, including advice on security, and crime data analysis by local forces to provide extra patrols etc.
Muslims for years have been demanding fairness not favours, equality not exceptionalism – surely these are the rights of every UK citizen?
As such, with Islamophobia being recorded properly from April, the existing infrastructure is not only fit for purpose for all people including British Muslims, in reality there is no need for Tell Mama at any level, which in turn will put an end to accusations about Muslims receiving “favourable treatment” – indeed there are no such equivalent Government-funded initiatives to record anti-Sikh or anti-Hindu crimes, those communities all rely on the existing legal framework, and so should Muslims in my humble opinion.
Tell Mama and the Quilliam Foundation
The vast amounts of tax payers money which has been unjustifiably (in my opinion) granted to Tell Mama aside, there is another reason behind why many in the Muslim community have expressed serious concerns about the group’s attempts to hijack the voice of local communities on any discussion about policing Islamophobia and policy responses to anti-Muslim hate crime.
Quite aside from the organisation being yet another example of the UK Government’s “top-bottom” approach to anything involving British Muslims, there is considerable evidence of its links to perpetrators of Islamophobia that has warned off many who professed a sincere regard for tackling Islamophobia in the UK.
In July 2015, Fiyaz Mughal, the founder of Tell Mama, defended his group sharing a platform with Quilliam Foundation on the Left Foot Forward blog, stating:
“We will speak at any platform, (apart from extremist groups and those who have used prejudiced terms against whole communities).”
One should dwell a little on Mughal’s assertion more closely: “apart from extremist groups and those who have used prejudiced terms against whole communities”.
It is quite disturbing that an organisation that purports to “measure anti-Muslim attacks”, and which claims to desist from sharing platforms with “extremist groups and those who have used prejudiced terms against whole communities” can be so oblivious of the Quilliam Foundation’s bedfellows.
Quilliam’s links to far-right extremists are well-known. You can read a transcript from the QF’s director, Haras Rafiq getting grilled by MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee about the organisation’s links to the Islamophobic Gatestone Institute on the Home Affairs select committee website. An abridged version of the evidence hearing and the unconvincing responses from Rafiq about the organisation’s “lack of credibility” can be read in this article by journalist Hilary Aked of Spinwatch.
Moreover, award-winning journalist, Dr Nafeez Ahmed, exposed the Quilliam Foundation’s US operation’s links to racists and homophobes in this investigative report. There’s enough on Quilliam to make any sane person question their credibility, unfortunately, it was not enough for Tell Mama.
One cannot help but wonder how Mughal does not consider the Quilliam Foundation to be an “extremist group”, given the ample of evidence publicly available of its affiliations and alliances to prominent Islamophobes and far-racists here in the UK and in the US?
Then there is the curious case of one of Tell Mama’s advisors, who has collaborated with someone else linked to the repellent Gatestone Institute. Tehmina Kazi is an “advisor” on Tell Mama’s board. Kazi has collaborated with Baroness Caroline Cox, a board member of the Gatestone Institute, on a publication endorsed by Cox which featured an article by yet another notorious Islamophobe, Anne Marie Waters. Waters requires no introduction – she is the notorious Islamophobe who spearheaded the “Draw Mohammed” campaign, and has recently joined “Tommy Robinson” (the former leader of the English Defence League) in the UK branch of the anti-Muslim PEGIDA group.
Furthermore, Tell Mama appointed the prominent LGBT activist Peter Tatchell as a patron, and Richard Benson who formerly chaired the pro-Israeli Community Security Trust (CST) as co-chair of the organisation– both of whom are very unpopular amongst many Muslims, which has made it difficult for Tell Mama to gain the trust of the people they want to protect. The reality is, large swathes of British Muslims simply do not trust Tell Mama because they are perceived as a convenient policy arm of the establishment, who appear to have hijacked the Islamophobia agenda.
I have also yet to hear a clear condemnation of the PREVENT counter-terrorism agenda (which is effectively state Islamophobia) from Tell Mama. It really beats me how an “Islamophobia monitoring organisation” can ignore one of the main political pillars of Islamophobia in this country.
The recording of Islamophobia by police forces in England and Wales as of April 2016 will hopefully meet two objective.
Firstly, it will give local communities a voice in addressing local policing needs for victims of Islamophobic attacks, and secondly, it will effectively and inevitable render Tell Mama obsolete.
From what has been uncovered of the group’s blindness in the face of perpetrators of Islamophobia and far-right extremists, that can come none too soon.
This is an extended version of an article first published in the Middle East Eye.