Muslims in Leicester are backing what they describe as a truly independent inquiry into the violence and unrest in the city last year, which is running concurrently to an official government inquiry which the community has overwhelmingly rejected.
The launch event for the “Independent Commission of Inquiry into the Violence in Leicester during August and September 2022” was held in the city this morning to coincide with the first anniversary of the disturbances.
Last September Muslim and Hindu youths confronted each other on the streets of Leicester leading to scores of arrests and several jail sentences.
Muslims told 5Pillars that the unrest was instigated by Hindutva thugs, but Hindus have said this is a false narrative which has made them fearful and targeted.
The inquiry, which is being conducted with the support of SOAS University and funded by a £620K grant from the Open Society Foundations, is being chaired by Juan E Méndez, a human-rights lawyer, scholar, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, and an expert on transitional justice.
He told a press conference this morning: “I want to assure everybody that the inquiry will do everything in its power to investigate what happened last year and will come up with recommendations that will help build bridges between communities…
“Our inquiry will investigate the reasons for the violence and community disharmony in Leicester last year. It will investigate the roles of civil society organisations, independent actors and social media in fostering disharmony or conversely in working towards peace. We will evaluate the response of the relevant statutory agencies to the violence and consider the impact of the events on the residents of Leicester. The Commission will make recommendations about local, national and community-based strategies aimed at preventing such hostility and violence in the future.”
In addition to Juan Méndez, the inquiry panel includes Schona Jolly KC, leading counsel at Cloisters Chambers; Lisa Magarrell, a human rights and transitional justice expert based in New York; Subir Sinha, Reader in Development Studies at SOAS; Chetan Bhatt, Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics; and Suresh Grover of The Monitoring Group, a London-based human rights and anti-racist organisation that meets regularly with civil society representatives in Leicester.
Prominent community activists, including Umesh Patel and Naim Razak, have agreed to serve as part of a local advisory group to the Inquiry.
Méndez said the call for an independent inquiry arose from local communities in Leicester, and that it will seek the widest participation from those affected. The inquiry’s first report is due in May or June next year.
Local activist Majid Freeman, who attended the event this morning, said: “We think it is very important that an independent inquiry takes place, the reason being that the Muslim community unanimously reject the government’s inquiry because it is being led by an individual, Lord Ian Austin, who has a history of making Islamophobic remarks, labelling the Muslims and people of Gaza as terrorists. So this is why it is very important and crucial to have this inquiry where both parties are engaging with the inquiry.”
Earlier this year the Tory government appointed the staunch Israel supporter, Lord Ian Austin, to lead an inquiry into the violence in Leicester last year.
Austin is a former Labour MP who is known for his strong support for Israel and advocacy for the Jewish community in the United Kingdom.
He has also hosted events for the right-wing Henry Jackson Society in Parliament. HJS said in a report into the unrest in Leicester last year that it found no evidence of a role played by Hindutva.
The report also accused some Muslims of spreading a “false narrative” about the involvement of Hindutva.
Austin’s appointment was immediately criticised by the Muslim Council of Britain who said “his divisive record and the serious allegations of Islamophobia against him, has created deep apprehension among Muslims and other communities in Leicester.”
The government review was commissioned by Secretary of State for Communities Michael Gove, who himself has been accused of Islamophobia.
This morning Gove announced that he had appointed three “expert panellists” to sit on the review into the unrest that occurred in Leicester last year.
The “expert panellists” who will work alongside Lord Austin are:
- Dr Samir Shah CBE: a former Commissioner for the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, former chair of the independent race equality think tank The Runnymede Trust for 10 years and was a member of the Holocaust Commission.
- Professor Hilary Pilkington: Professor of Sociology at the University of Manchester and Fellow of the UK Academy of Social Sciences. She coordinated the H2020 DARE (Dialogue about Radicalisation and Equality) project, and her research includes focus to the study of youth participation, activism, stigmatisation and extremism in the UK.
- Dr Shaaz Mahboob: Head of Digital Development NHS England and trustee of British Muslims for Secular Democracy for 10 years until 2018, including its Vice Chair for a number of years.
Lord Austin said: “Leicester has a proud history of diversity, tolerance and community cohesion which makes what happened last year all the more troubling. We want to listen to people in Leicester to understand last year’s events, what can be learned from them and how communities in the city can work together to prevent problems in future.
“It is therefore vital that the review is comprehensive and even-handed and that this aim is reflected in the panellists we appoint. The diverse panel brings together a wealth of experience and knowledge, which should result in an honest, frank and productive review.”