It’s been yet another year when British Muslims were targeted by the state and the media with our religious and political values under constant attack, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.
2019 was a year when an Islamophobe was elected Prime Minister; when a pro-Muslim leader was roundly rejected by the electorate; when anti-LGBT teaching protests hit the headlines; and when another terror attack took place in London.
Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from the past year:
BORIS JOHNSON WINS THE GENERAL ELECTION
It was bad news for Muslims on December 12 with the Islamophobe Boris Johnson winning a five year term in the General Election. Despite all the major Muslim organisations complaining about institutional Islamophobia in the Conservative party, the Tories easily beat Labour thanks to a pro-Brexit, and perhaps racist, white-working class vote in the Midlands and the North of England.
The so-called Muslim vote proved to be ineffective in the face of mass pro-Brexit voting, although a record number of Muslim MPs were elected.
JEREMY CORBYN LOSES THE GENERAL ELECTION
Disenfranchised Muslims across the country have been re-energised by the mainstream political process over the last few years because of one man – Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader gave hope to Muslims by speaking up in favour of them, and by his messages of equality, anti-austerity and peace.
But the Corbyn project seemingly came to an end on December 12, leaving Muslims without a natural political home in party politics. It remains to be seen if the Labour Party will continue on Corbyn’s trajectory or whether right-wing/centrist forces will capture its heart, but British Muslims seem once again destined to be alienated by the system.
MUSLIM PARENTS PROTEST AGAINST LGBT TEACHING IN SCHOOLS
Throughout the year Muslim parents staged protests outside Birmingham schools which were teaching pro-gay lessons. Muslim parents argued that the lessons went against their religious principles and were age-inappropriate, but they were largely demonised by politicians and media.
In November a ban against protestors rallying against LGBT teaching at Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham was made permanent. The ruling came after the court was told the protests have had an adverse impact on pupils, staff and residents. The protesters said they were victims of the “white establishment” and said their campaign would go on at the edge of the exclusion zone.
THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA CONTINUES TO SPOUT ANTI-MUSLIM HATE
The mainstream media continued to target Muslims by questioning their religious or political positions or by holding them collectively responsible for the actions of a few.
A study found that the chief investigative reporter of The Times, Andrew Norfolk, published a sensational series of unfounded front-page articles portraying Muslims as threatening.
In December, The Times newspaper apologised and paid damages to an Imam who questioned the Conservative leadership candidates about Islamophobia during a high-profile BBC debate in June.
Following the debate, in a front-page story headlined “Tory candidates threaten BBC debate boycott,” The Times reported that Imam Abdullah Patel had blamed Israel for the “Islamist” murder of a British police officer. The newspaper also claimed that a school that he ran was warned by Ofsted for segregating parents. In addition, most of page 8 of the paper was devoted to an article headlined “Israel is the real problem, said Imam in BBC row” under the same by-line as the front page story.
Yet each of these published allegations about the imam was untrue and The Times published a correction.
Earlier in the year, The Daily Mail apologised and paid substantial damages to a university student who it falsely claimed was a cheerleader for terrorist groups. Rahman Lowe Solicitors successfully represented Farah Koutteineh in her defamation claim against the newspaper who apologised, printed a correction, paid Ms Koutteineh substantial damages and agreed to pay her legal costs. The paper accepted in court that the allegations made against Ms Koutteineh were defamatory and entirely false.
HATE CRIMES AGAINST MUSLIMS SOAR
Statistics in October revealed that there were 3,530 hate crimes against Muslims in England and Wales in the last year, which represents nearly half of all hate crimes against religious groups. Just under half (47%) of religious hate crime offences were targeted against Muslims, a similar proportion to last year.
Perhaps the most high-profile attack occurred in Sheffield in December when two teenage sisters were attacked on a bus. A video of the incident, during which Redana Al-Hadi suffered serious injuries, went viral on social media. She suffered a fractured cheekbone and a bloody eye while her sister sustained bruising to the inside of her leg.
Lawyers for the Sheffield schoolgirls have demanded that South Yorkshire Police conduct a full and independent inquiry into the decision-making process which led to the attacker only being given a police caution. Both girls told 5Pillars that their assailants should be prosecuted and go to jail.
TWO KILLED IN LONDON BRIDGE ATTACK
The family of London Bridge killer Usman Khan said they were “saddened and shocked” and “totally condemn his actions” after he killed two people in November. They also expressed their condolences to the two victims who died and those who were injured in the violence.
Cambridge University graduates Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, were stabbed to death by Khan during a prisoner rehabilitation event they were supporting at London’s Fishmongers’ Hall. Khan, who was living in Stafford, was given permission to travel into the heart of London by police and the probation service.
OUTRAGE OVER INVESTIGATION INTO SHUKRI ABDI’S DEATH
A 12 year old girl called Shukri Abdi drowned in a river in Bury in June and her family immediately suspected that bullying played a part in her tragic death. But they believe they had to hold protests across the country before the allegations were taken seriously by her school and Greater Manchester Police. The inquest into Shukri’s death is due to take place in February.
SHAMIMA BEGUM IS STRIPPED OF BRITISH NATIONALITY
In February Shamima Begum said she regretted leaving Britain for Syria to live under ISIS’s so-called caliphate while asking for a “second chance” in her country of birth. Ms Begum said she was “brainwashed” by online ISIS groomers. The 19-year-old from east London had her UK citizenship revoked amid a national debate over her request to return to Britain.
The former Bethnal Green schoolgirl left for Syria to live under ISIS aged 15 and had lost two children prior to the death of her third child. When she first asked to return to the UK, Home Secretary Sajid Javid stripped Ms Begum of her citizenship on “legal advice” that she qualified for Bangladeshi citizenship because her mother was a Bangladeshi passport holder. However, Bangladesh refused to accept Ms Begum, while her lawyer argued that she does not have dual citizenship – rendering her currently stateless.
ANOTHER TOUGH YEAR FOR MUSLIM CHARITIES
In December, Penny Appeal announced that its Chief Executive Officer, Aamer Naeem, was stepping down. The news of Naeem’s departure came a few months after the chairman and founder of Penny Appeal, Adeem Younis, was suspended in what appeared to be an internal dispute in the organisation. Younis’s suspension came soon after the Charity Commission confirmed that Penny Appeal had submitted a “serious incident report” related to financial concerns. Penny Appeal said there was no significant risk to existing operations and the charity continues to operate as normal.
In September Human Aid UK accused the Charity Commission of undue scrutiny of Muslim charities after the regulator opened a statutory inquiry into the organisation due to what it calls “mismanagement and/or misconduct.” The action cames after cash funds were seized by police from Human Aid UK workers at Heathrow Airport in July while they were on their way to deliver aid to Gaza. Human Aid UK said its trustees were concerned with this escalation, and whilst complying and working closely with the Charity Commission they are also taking legal advice on “challenging this undue scrutiny.”
And in March, The Charity Commission concluded that the trustees of Islamic Global Trust were responsible for serious mismanagement and abuse of charity. The commission said it removed Islamic Global Trust from the charity register after it spent funds on gym membership and made payments to a TV channel at which one of the trustees was a director. The trustees of Islamic Global Trust (who were not named in the report) could not be located by the Charity Commission and their website is no longer functioning.