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Muslims will continue having a ‘victim mentality’ for as long as they are victims

Sufyan Gulam Ismail, Philanthropist and Entrepreneur, CEO of MEND, www.sufyanismail.com

Views expressed in this paper are my own, statistics though are references back to work by relevant bodies eg MEND  

This essay is essentially an abridged version of key statistics from MEND’s Muslim manifesto 2015 which can be found at http://mend.org.uk/muslim-manifesto-2015/.  All references for the statistic below are all also contained in the above document.

This essay has 4 sections:

  • Introduction
  • Islamophobia the new racism
  • Why Britain needs its Muslim community
  • Summary

Introduction

A few weeks ago, a rather wealthy friend of mine criticized MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) for fostering a ‘victim mentality’ when it comes to British Muslims and Islamophobia.  A short while later, a non-Muslim former colleague of mine echoed precisely the same sentiment and went further by stipulating that Muslims should be more positive and less negative about living in the UK and moreover integrate better with non-Muslims.  When I paused to reflect over the statement by both individuals, it struck me why they held the view they did; the reality is that neither of them ever had or was ever likely to experience any real Islamophobia.

My non-Muslim friend by definition would not experience it and my wealthy Muslim friend, like many affluent Muslims has the good fortunate of living in a comfort zone where Islamophobia is at its least potent.  He is a high-end professional living in affluent neighborhood and well insulated from the fate of ‘Joe Muslim’ living on a council estate and working in the local supermarket.  Regrettably though, my affluent Muslim friend is closer to the exception than the norm when it comes British Muslims as our community is largely financially polarized.  There exists a small percentage of wealthy entrepreneurs and professionals but the bulk of the community is largely working class and in financial terms  ‘just getting by’, in other words more like  ‘Joe Muslim’ above and less like my wealthy friend in his comfort zone.

The reality for everyday ‘Joe Muslim’ is that Islamophobia is now rife, in almost every sphere of their life its fair to say that Islamophobia is now the ‘new racism’ – if you don’t believe me just read the following.

A. ISLAMOPHOBIA – MODERN DAY RACISM

i) Hate crimes on the Street and in the playground

The Met Police in London recently revealed a staggering 70% increase (year on year) in Islamophobic hate crime.  London is arguably the most cosmopolitan part of the UK, one wonders how bad things are outside of London.  Moreover, many Muslims will tell you that they just don’t bother reporting Islamophobia, partly because they believe reporting to the Police won’t make a blind bit of difference or worse still Muslims now accept Islamophobia as part of every day life.

As Islamophobic attacks to date have not been recorded as separate categories of crime in the same way racism and anti-Semitism are, there is no concrete national picture for the whole of the UK outside of London.  Nonetheless results from recent Freedom of information requests carried out by MEND across all UK police forces, there are at least 5,800 reported anti-Muslim hate crimes in the UK alone, over a recent 12 month period.  The actual figure is likely to be higher however a combination of poor reporting levels amongst Muslims coupled by inadequate disaggregation during recording by most Police forces means that only so much of the picture is visible.

In fact, it’s not just the street where this new hatred and prejudice breeds, sadly school playgrounds are now also happy hunting grounds for Islamophobic bullying.  In a review of counselling offered to young people during the period 2012/13 ChildLine found a 69% increase on the previous year in counselling related to racist bullying.  When the study looked in more detail at what terms where most commonly used as ‘racist’ bullying, their research yielded terms such as  ‘suicide bomber’ and ‘terrorist’, amongst the most commonly used terms.  Its therefore probable that many Muslim children are victims of this bullying.

In fact, the failure to develop adequate tools for use by teachers to address Islamophobia has been highlighted by Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers.

ii) Employment discrimination

A Cabinet office Report in 2003 found the Muslims suffered more from an ‘ethnic penalty’ than other minority groups. This was affirmed in the report by the National Equality Panel which found that “Muslims are paid 13-21% less than their White Christian counterparts of equal qualification”. It further noted that while “all minority groups suffer some form of ‘penalty’…Muslim ethnic groups suffer the largest ‘ethnic penalty’.

The BBC conducted 2 investigations regarding job discrimination in 2004 
and 2010 respectively. In the first study, 50 companies were sent fictitious applications from six different applicants, two with traditional English names and four with ethnic sounding names two of which were Muslim names. The investigation found that 25% of applications from applicants with traditional English names prompted a positive response and an interview offer while only 9% of the ‘Muslim’ applications resulted in the same.

The NEP found that Muslims are 76% less likely to have a job of any kind compared to white, male British Christians of the same age and with the same qualifications and Muslim women are up to 65 per cent less likely to be employed than white Christian counterparts.”

33.8% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi men reportedly experienced job refusal while 40.9% experienced both refusal and blockage. In comparison, 20.8% of white men reportedly experienced job refusal and 27.5% disclosed that they experienced both refusal and blockage.

Similarly, 33.4% of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women disclosed that they experienced job refusal and 39.1% experienced refusal and blockage. This is in comparison to 17.6% of white women who disclosed they experienced job refusal and 23.8% who experienced refusal and promotion blockage.

iii) Media hysteria and public perception

Research by academics at Cardiff University and Lancaster University on characterization of British Muslims threw up some extraordinary results.  For every one occasion a moderate or positive terms is used to describe Muslims in print media, there are 21 occasions of negative terms used’   

The terms ‘extremist’ or ‘fanatic’ occurred next to the word Islamic in 1 in 6 cases.  Such a heavy weighting towards negativity when reporting on Muslims is bound to affect public perceptions on Muslims and Islam.

In fact, recent polls exhibit shocking analysis when it comes to perceptions of non-Muslim Brits regarding Muslims in Britain (and other racial communities):

  • 1 in every 3 Brits sees themselves as ‘racially prejudiced’
  • 61% of Brits believe Islam is not compatible with British culture
  • 27% of young people say they don’t trust Muslims
  • 31% of young people either agree or partially agree that Muslims are taking over Britain
  • 55% of Brits would be bothered if a large mosque was built in their area (this compares to only 15% on churches)
  • Only 25% of Brits feel positively about Muslims in Britain.

*All references to above in causes and cures presnetation

iv) Human rights – Islamic Wills, Halaal Meat and Niqab.

Islamic Wills

The Law Society introduced a practice note in March 2014 to assist the legal profession in the preparation of shari’ah compliant wills for clients requesting the service. Its aim was 
to “assist solicitors who have been instructed to prepare a valid will, which follows shari’ah succession rules.” The practice note clearly asserted that “Practice notes are not legal advice” and acknowledged the purpose of providing such guidance as meeting the needs of clients desiring the service.

Despite this, the practice note was profoundly criticised for “encouraging” a “parallel legal system” for Muslim communities in Britain.  The Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, asserted that the guidance and the Law Society’s subsequent launch of a training programme in Shari’ah Law was likely to “undermine” the rule of law.  The practice note was subsequently retracted by the new President of the Law Society, Andrew Caplen, who apologised for the guidance having been issued. Among detractors of the practice note was the Lawyers Secular Society.

Halaal Meat

While animal rights activists have lobbied for the singular use of “stunning” in animal slaughter, these interests have conflicted with the exemption in law granted to religious minorities to practice animal slaughter in accordance with religious rites, halal and shechita. The right to religious slaughter has been recognised as 
a “religious right” though the EU regulations grant Member States the power to impose stricter rules on animal slaughter and is deemed to conform to Article 10 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU on the freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Countries such as Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Ireland have adopted “stunning” only methods in animal slaughter.  In the UK, a petition calling on the banning of halaal meat hit the 100,000 signatures mark thereby forcing a debate in Parliament.

Niqab

Phillip Hollobone, a Tory backbencher proposed a Bill to ban the Niqab in the UK which in turn numerous newspapers including the Sun supported to varying levels.

v) State institutions and Islamophobia

The worst area of the lot though is surely the state’s poorly thought-out apparatus on the counter terrorism front that is doing little to tackle terror and much to demonise and ostracise Muslims.

Airports and Religious profiling

Starting off with Schedule 7 and concerns over ‘religious profiling’ at airports. The consultation opened by the Coalition on the use of Schedule 7 powers in 2012 offered an important opportunity to address the impact of these powers on Muslims. Our analysis submitted in contribution to the consultation found:

  • Almost 1 in 5 (22.9%) under-the-hour examinations are likely to be of Muslims
  • Over 1 in 3 (35.9%) over-the-hour examinations are likely to be of Muslims
  • About 2 out of every 5 individuals detained (41.9%) are likely to be Muslim
  • The insititute of race relations reported that a Pakistani man can be 154 times more likely to be religiously profiled at an airport than his white counterpart (http://www.irr.org.uk/news/farewell-magna-carta-the-counter-terrorism-and-security-bill/)

The Independent Reviewer, David Anderson QC, also noted that Schedule 7 detentions and examinations were imposed upon members of ethnic minority groups to a greater extent than “their presence in the travelling population would seem to warrant” indicating clear evidence its of disproportionate use.

The PREVENT programme

Then of course we have the doomed PREVENT programme which has a fixation with Islamic ideology and practice rather than looking at more likely causal factors of radicalization such as foreign policy, Islamophobia, employment discrimination, resistance to ill-conceived counter terror measures etc.

In fact, successive security experts such as former MI5 Chief Stella Rimmington and another former MI5 Director General Baroness Elisa Manningham Buller have both gone on record to state that the war in Iraq cannot be ignored when it comes to radicalization British Muslims.

MI5’s Eliza Manningham-Buller said that the invasion of Iraq had radicalised a new generation of young British Muslims: “What Iraq did was produce a fresh impetus to people prepared to engage in terrorism.”

Her predecessor, Stella Rimington, has said: “you can’t write the war in Iraq out of history. If what we’re looking at is groups of disaffected young men born in this country who turn to terrorism, then I think to ignore the effect of the war in Iraq is misleading.

The Government is however insistent on ignoring the advice of such experts and continues to peddle its crusade against the ‘ideology and practice’ of Islam.

Marc Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and former CIA case officer, agrees that the “conveyor belt” theory is flawed. In his 2008 book Leaderless Jihad, based on an analysis of more than 500 terrorist biographies, he argues that radicalisation shows no such linear progression, and that “one cannot simply draw a line, put markers on it, and gauge where people are along this path to see whether they are close to committing atrocities”

PREVENT in practice

In spite of the above, the government’s focus on tackling extremism has an unproven ideological fixation and equally flawed focus on religious practice, primarily through the PREVENT programme.

I present 4 cases below reproduced from PREVENT Watch (www.preventwatch.org), a body dedicated to monitoring PREVENT activity in the UK, particularly its impact on British Muslims.  The key observation across all these cases is how Muslims of all ages are being view with suspicion and treated almost like criminals even without the facts being properly presented.  These cases are buy a tiny minority of the sheer volume which exists out there.

CASE 1- UNIVERSITY STUDENT AND TERRORISM TEXTBOOK

On 23 March 2015, a postgraduate student in Terrorism, Crime and Global Security at Staffordshire University was approached by two female staff while in the library – the three had a brief discussion on Shari’a, British values and democracy – this conversation was initiated by the female staff and is questionable whether it was a test for extremism. The tense conversation ended, and after a short while a security guard approached the student, confirming that he had received a complaint from staff members. The staff told the security guard that “there is a man, who is Asian and with a beard, who is not a student and is reading book on terrorism”. The staff went further to say, “check him out”, as she suspected he is a “radical terrorist”. The security guard approached and recognised the student, and did not take any further action.

The student was deeply offended and filed an internal complaint due to the discrimination he faced. In the internal complaint procedure, the student asked the teachers why they chose to question him, the only Muslim with a beard, holding books on terrorism. The teachers refused to answer any of the questions. In response to the internal complaint submitted, the Academic Registrar and Director of Student Experience responded by acknowledging that the university has “a commitment to “secure freedom of speech and to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.”

Moreover, in reference to the duty imposed by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act [2015], the Academic Registrar described it as “very broad, devoid of detail.” In reference to the statutory guidance which underpins the statutory duty, the Academic Registrar described it “insufficient detail to provide clear practical direction in an environment such as the University’s.”

The student also received a letter of apology from the teacher that wrongfully questioned him. The teacher said “I do not possess any particular knowledge or experience of terrorism and radicalisation, and I have only attended a short training session on how to identify students who might be at risk of being radicalised.” She further asserted, that a “combination of the content of our discussion and my lack of experience in this arena caused me to consider whether this was something that may fall within the ‘prevent agenda.’”

CASE 2 – MUSLIM STUDENT PRESENTATION ON ISIS

A young teenager in secondary school, delivered a short presentation on the concept of the Islamic State, as he wanted to dispel the media narratives of ISIS equating to the concept historically. The presentation was held during form time, and the class, including the tutor enjoyed the presentation – the presentation included topics such as architecture, civilisation, and public administration in society. The teacher went further and sent a letter home, congratulating the parents on their son’s fantastic presentation on the concept of the historical Islamic State.

However, a few days later, the head of year heard about the presentation from another source and took issue with it, calling the student into her office, and asking, ‘do you know what extremism means’? Moreover, the head of year, made a telephone call to the teenager’s family to say they had concerns about the presentation and have contacted the Sutton Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). Sutton MASH requested referral to be made to social services. This referral was triggered by the school’s safeguarding officer recommendation. Consequently, the parents were asked whether they wanted to have their son enrolled on a voluntary Channel programme – the parents did not provide consent. This case is on-going, as the social services and local council have not contacted the family since.

Case 3- MUSIC AND EXTREMISM

A 14 year old Muslim teenager, currently studying in year nine in a mixed state school is a devout Muslim.  His academic achievements are impressive, and he is a good student. However, in March 2015, the school referred him to a PREVENT officer as he refused to attend a music lesson, without the consent of his parents or guardian. Concerned to learn about the facts, His sister contacted the school and asked for a formal meeting. She was intensely angered by the situation, and could not comprehend how not taking part in music lessons warranted the school in contacting PREVENT. In the meeting between his sister and school teacher, it was made clear that the only grounds for referring the case to PREVENT was due to him not proactively participating in music lessons. It must also be questioned on what evidential basis not engaging in a music lesson is a marker for radicalisation/ extremism.

Case 4 – NHS DOCTOR AND ISIS QUESTIONS FOR PATIENTS

A Muslim sixth form student visited his GP and while showing leg his problem to the GP, he was suddenly asked for his opinions on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The patient commented: “I felt as if my doctor was acting like some kind of spy for the government. I know a little bit about the way all of this PREVENT stuff works, and honestly believed that my doctor was fishing for some information about me to pass on to someone else.”

IM’s case clearly illustrates how individuals are unfairly targeted and challenged on their political ideas and views based on their ethnic and/or religious background and appearance. This can have a damaging impact on the individual and can in fact contribute to an individual’s radicalisation.

The Charity Commission

And is all of that was not enough, we now have Sir William Shawcross appointed as head of the charity commission.  Shawcross, a prominent neo con, formerly Director at the right-wing, Islamophobic thank tank Henry Jackson Society (HJS) previously said:

Europe and Islam is one of the greatest most terrifying problems of our future.

Its perhaps no surprise them that within 2 years of his appointment over half of all charities under investigation are Muslim charities, leading many to conclude that he has conducted a witch hunt against Muslim charities.

Legislation not fit for purpose

With so much Islamophobia publicly evident, you would have thought that the Government of the day would review the legislation which governs incitement to anti-muslim hatred with a view to ensuing it was effective and ‘fit for purpose’.  Sadly, no such luck as the incitement to religious hatred legislation places the bar so unworkably high that only when an offender uses violent/threatening words with a view to stirring up religious hatred does it constitute incitement.  No surprise then that since 2006 when the legislation went live not one person has been successfully prosecuted under it.

The case of Erik Kitson, former UKIP councilor, demonstrates rather well the deficiency in the law.  Kitson posted an image to his facebook page with a pig wearing a chef’s hat stating Allah on it roasting a Muslim over a spitfire and in another post in relation to Muslim women Kitson said ‘hang them all and ask questions later’.  With communities defined by race (eg Jews, Sikhs and Blacks), this sort of language would almost certainly have constituted incitement and resulted in prosecution, however as Muslim are a community defined by race and the threshold to prosecute in this area is almost impossible, Kitson walked away without charge.

vi) Lack of engagement with British Muslims

Perhaps the establishment’s biggest crime has been its willful neglect of mainstream, grass roots Muslim organizations in favour of a small collective of neo-con propped organizations who often lack credibility in their own professed specialisms, let alone having any credibility amongst British Muslims.  Organisations like the Quilliam Foundation and Inspire both supported by Government (and the neocon lobby), have no real national credibility in their professed area of expertise and worst still both are universally despised by British Muslims (the very community to whom their work relates).  These necon-propped cowboy outfits have been given preference over more established, mainstream, representative voices such as FOSIS and MCB.

Now of course, the Muslim community is not without blame.  Indeed when you consider that the census shows that nearly half (46%) of British Muslims live in the most deprived 10% districts in England and Wales.  Moreover that only 47% of British Muslims participate in elections according to some analyses, then it’s clear this a two way street.

Why Britain needs its Muslim community

i) The demographic case

Its no secret that Britain’s general population is an ageing one with mortality rates in the mid to high 80s. In fact the 2011 Census showed that 1 in 6 people, that’s 9.2 million Brits are over the age of 65.  Moreover, the ONS tells us that the average British family has 1.8 children.

Britain’s Muslim community by contrast has a far younger demographic and a higher average birthrate.  Consider the following facts:

  • 48% of British Muslims aged 24 and under.
  • 33% of British Muslims are aged 15 or under.
  • Almost a tenth of babies and toddlers in England and Wales are Muslim
  • The US Pew forum estimated that British Muslim families had an average of 3 children between 2005-2010
  • The 2003 Cabinet Office report, Ethnic Minorities and the Labour Market noted that Muslims would account for one quarter of the growth in the working age population between 1999 and 2009, based on figures from the 2001 Census.
  • Fifty percent of British Muslims now enter higher education compared to 38% of their White counterparts.

These facts prove that the employment and productivity potential presented by British Muslims is extraordinary and vital for UK PLC to harness.  Moreover due to the skewed demographic in favour of youth which British Muslim possess, their tax contribution to the welfare state, to finance pensions for the elderly is a crucial positive worth noting.  Regrettably though, too much of the right wing media has failed in highlighting these facts and instead ventured down the scaremongering route of ‘too many Muslims on Britain’.

ii) The economic case

In a report entitled ‘the Muslim pound’ by the Muslim council of Britain (http://www.mcb.org.uk/muslimpound/), it highlights the following important statistics:

  • British Muslim spending power is estimated at £20.5Bn
  • London has over 13,000 Muslim owned businesses creating more than 70,000 jobs
  • Britain has over 10,000 Muslim millionaires with over £3.6Bn in liquid assets
  • There are around 115,000 Muslims in higher managerial and administrative positions in the workplace.

iii) Patriotism and Generosity

  • In analysis by Dr Stephen Jivraj of the University of Manchester, British Muslims evince the highest level of identification with a ‘British-only’ identity, alongside British Sikhs.  82% of British Muslims considered themselves loyal to the UK.
  • An ICM poll concluded that British Muslims are the highest online charitable givers with an average of £371 per person.

iv) Islamic Finance

Britain has become the home of Islamic Finance in the West.  Quite aside from the UK treasury issuing the first ever sukuk (Islamic Bond) by a western government to the tune of £200m, scores of Landmark British sites have been purchased via Islamic finance structures or soverign wealth funds of Muslim nations.

  • The Qatari 95% investment share in the Shard
  • Malaysia’s £400 million investment into Battersea Power Station property development
  • Olympic Village owned by Qatari Investment Authority (QIA).
  • London Gateway on the Thames – one of Europe’s biggest ports being built by DP World
  • Emirates investment in the new Arsenal Stadium
  • Etihad investment into Manchester City
  • Canary Wharf complex bought by a consortium led by Qatari Investment Authority70
  • Purchase of 10% share in the company that owns British Airways by Qatari Investment Authority
  • Islamic investors have also financed Thames Water. The Qatari Investment Authority (QIA) is reportedly the biggest shareholder of Barclays Bank.
  • Qatar not only owns Harrods, the London landmark, but also over a quarter of Sainsbury’s and a 20% slice of Camden market. In addition, the Qataris were the largest foreign sovereign wealth buyers of real estate in London in 2013.

 v) The political dimension

 Marginal seats statistics (from last election) 

  • British Muslims constitute 20% or more of the population in over 26 Parliamentary seats
  • In 46 of 80 Tory ‘marginal’ seats Muslims constituted 100% of swing, in another 13 seats, Muslims formed 50% of swing
  • With regard to Labour, 41 of their 106 marginals were subject to a 100% Muslim vote swing whilst 17 out of 106 seats had a 50% swing Muslims.
  • British Muslims also had the highest number of first time voters in the 2010 general election, this is likely to be true for 2015 as well

Summary

Put simply, everyday British Muslims are subjected to Islamophobia in various forms including religious profiling at airports, Islamophobic attacks on the street, relentless media negativity, disproportionately impacting counter terror measures such as PREVENT.  All this against a backdrop of British Muslims being highly patriotic, most generous and playing a vital role in the British Labour market.  Moreover, the economic benefit of Islamic finance to the UK coupled with the voting potential of British Muslims have still not resulted in Islamophobia being tackled seriously and the Government engaging properly with British Muslims.  Things need to change and change fast!

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