IHRC: Muslim voices are being sidelined by government and media

Prime Minister Theresa May

The Islamic Human Rights Commission has warned that Muslim voices that challenge government policies are being increasingly marginalised by the mainstream media and by civil society.

In a new briefing published yesterday the IHRC said successive governments and those opposed to Muslim participation have forced to the margins authentic Muslim civil society organisations (CSOs) that do not conform to official strategies or desired policy outcomes.

The effect of this, according to the IHRC, has been to produce policies that are often counterproductive, discriminatory and which do not address the fundamental concerns, needs and aspirations of Britain’s approximately three million Muslims.

Consultation and smear campaigns

The IHRC says it has become standard practice for recent governments to ignore genuine Muslim voices in consultations that directly relate to their communities. Instead officials have sought out deferential and conformist CSOs and figures that serve as an echo chamber for government intentions.

The recent review of “Shariah councils” is a case in point, said the IHRC, highlighting an instance where the government-appointed panel failed to include any CSOs or individuals that could be said to be representative of the Muslim community.

Another example is the government’s appointment in January 2018 of a counter-extremism campaigner, Sara Khan, to lead the Commission for Countering Extremism.

Government-friendly Muslim Sara Khan

Moreover, the IHRC says CSOs like IHRC, MEND and CAGE have been subjected to targeted vilification campaigns by sections of the media designed to discredit them and frustrate their work.

As recently as 22 December 2018 the Daily Telegraph published an article criticising the EU’s decision to fund IHRC for the research it carries out into Islamophobia and racism on the grounds that it was anti-Semitic.

In recent years the annual Al-Quds Day demonstration in London in support of Palestinians, which is jointly organised by IHRC, has also been subjected to a concerted demonisation effort by pro-Israel groups who have tried to get it banned.

In 2017 Darren Osborne sought to attack the march by driving into it. Unable to get past a police cordon he instead killed and maimed worshippers in Finsbury Park returning from prayers at a local mosque.

Accusations of entryism against Muslim CSOs or indeed any grouping of Muslims are becoming increasingly common. Despite the almost complete vindication of all involved in the so-called “Trojan Horse” affair, the damage from what the IHRC calls a “state sponsored witch-hunt against Muslim parents, governors and teachers” continues.

The counter-terrorism regime

The briefing says that with the rapid expansion of anti-terrorism legislation and policy, state actors have also hitched Muslim CSO participation to the degree to which they buy into the various initiatives, such as Prevent.

“Muslim and Muslim-led CSOs have also found their room to operate squeezed by the obsession with framing policy towards Muslims inside an anti-terror/extremism rubric,” the report says.

“Others have stopped expressing their legitimate views out of fear. Universities for example have banned speakers on the basis of their (non-violent) views, prohibiting discussion of political and social issues. The impact of the legislation has been to inhibit the expression of views that are perfectly legitimate but which may be perceived by the authorities as skirting too close to or falling foul of the new definition.”

The IHRC adds that in recent years scores of Muslim charities have been subjected to a disproportionate number of inquiries by the Charity Commission, some of them on more than one occasion, often after complaints from politically motivated groups such as the pro-Israeli Zionist lobby.

Gatekeeping

The briefing says the operation of pro-Zionist groups and individuals as gatekeepers to Muslim CSO participation is a prominent feature of the UK’s political architecture at the current time.

“CSOs that toe an Israel-friendly line routinely find themselves selected for participation while those who are avowedly anti-Zionist find themselves treated as outcasts. It cannot be right that the pro-Israel lobby determines which Muslims are or are not consulted by the government,” the report says.

The Israeli lobby holds a powerful sway over British politics

“The furore in 2018 surrounding the Labour Party’s adoption of a controversial definition of anti-Semitism highlighted a further shrinking of the political space available to CSOs. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition with its eleven non-exhaustive examples has been foisted upon countries and institutions in what amounts to a cynical political campaign to render off-limits any criticism of Israel and its founding philosophy.

“The aim of those who wish to equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is simply to curtail opposition of any kind to Israel and its policies… Bizarrely this targets many Jews and Jewish groups, who often work with Muslim CSOs in their pro-Palestinian activism and solidarity work and delegitimises equality and social justice movements everywhere.”

Recommendations

The IHRC has made the following recommendations:

  • The government must protect the right to question the legitimacy of the State of Israel and not allow it to be subsumed under anti-Semitism definitions.
  • The government must abandon its current policy of favouring and accepting the views of only those CSOs which sing from its hymn sheet.
  • Muslim charities must not be arbitrarily investigated or subjected to stricter surveillance than other charities.
  • Political parties need to robustly challenge the culture of cynical opportunism that has seen political figures, often in senior positions, cynically exploit anti-Muslim narratives to curry favour in an increasingly racist, Islamophobic and xenophobic environment.
  • With regard to the media, there also needs to be a re-evaluation regarding the relationships between political parties and certain media groups and journalists.

Commenting on the briefing, IHRC chairman Massoud Shadjareh said: “For there to be effective political debate and actual functioning democracy, there needs to be effective and protected spaces to challenge political ideas and functions, and to hold the political class to account.  An independent media is one facet of this, and civil society, its institutions, members, leaders and constituencies another. Both are under extreme stress in across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“We are living in a moment described as an environment of hate against Muslims.  This environment is the product of the cross fertilising and mutually reinforcing of anti-Muslim racism political, media and policy discourse. Attacks on Muslim civil society must be understood as part of this climate which is part of the deeper crisis of the political and social culture we live in.”

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