By Paul Goodman MP.
I have in front of me as I write a meticulously-compiled document from the Community Security Trust – its “Antisemitic Incidents Report 2009”.
The report details such incidents, breaks them down into different types, and reports trends within those categories. There’s an active All-Party Group on Anti-Semitism in Parliament. The Government has an inter-departmental working group to combat the prejudice. Ministers can be held to account in relation to it during an annual Parliamentary debate.
There are no comparable figures for incidents relating to Islamophobia or the hatred of Muslims. (The two are not quite the same – a point that I’ll return to later.) Perhaps this is because there is no Muslim equivalent of the Community Security Trust to collect and order data. Certainly, there’s no All-Party Group on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim prejudice to date, no similar Government working group, no annual Parliamentary debate.
To suggest that anti-semitism and Islamophobia/hatred of Muslims are equivalent is controversial. There are obvious differences. One is based primarily on race (though containing a religious element); the other is based mainly on religion (though containing a racial element – often a very significant one). Comparing and contrasting can take one round in loops and get one nowhere.
• There’s neo-nazi activity aimed at Muslims as well as Jews, as well as members of ethnic minorities generally. Last November, Terence Garvan, a BNP gold member, was jailed after an arsenal of weapons was found at his home. Last July, Neil Lewington, a white supremacist, was imprisoned for preparing acts of terrorism: he had written of “targeting and attacking Pakis”. During the same month, charges were brought after a network of extremists was arrested with access to 300 weapons and 80 bombs. In 2008, Martyn Gilleard was jailed for bomb-making. He had written: “I am so sick and tired of hearing nationalists talk of killing Muslims, of blowing up mosques, of fighting back, only to see these acts of resistance fail to appear. The time has come to stop the talk and start to act.”
• There are what could be called, to borrow the terminology of the CST, anti-Muslim incidents – violence, assault, the damage and desecration of property, threats, abusive behaviour. As I say, there’s a relative shortage of data, but reports of incidents are available. Last December, part of a Dudley mosque was burnt to the ground. Last November, Muslim graves were vandalised in Manchester for the third time in two months. During the same month, a Muslim student in Leicester was beaten by youths shouting: “Where is your Allah now?” Earlier in the month, an Asian man suffered a fractured eye socket while returning home after mosque prayers. In September, a man suffered head injuries as he left a mosque in Tooting, London. A fatal attack on Ekram Haque, a 67 year old man, took place outside the same mosque in August.
• There are Islamophobic and anti-Muslim marches – or riots – and anti-mosque petitions and protests. In December, UKIP, which had recently elected a new leader, called for an outright ban on the burka and the niqab. Earlier that month, a group called Stop the Islamification of Europe unfurled banners outside Harrow Mosque. In the same month, some 500 English Defence League members marched through Nottingham, some chanting “Allah, Allah, who the f**k is Allah?” On the eve of September 11, violence erupted after an English Defence League and Stop the Islamification of Europe protest near Harrow mosque. A few days earlier, gangs of youths hurled bottles at each other during an English Defence League rally in Birmingham.
All these examples save one are drawn from within the last calendar year. So what if anything is to be done? Again, there are three important points to make.
• There’s a difference between Islamophobia and the hatred of Muslims – although the two are indisputably linked. The target of the first is a religion. The target of the second is people. There’s a crucial distinction between the two – one vital if the free society’s to be preserved. If a person hates a religious faith, the law should be drawn very widely, if at all. If he hates religious people, it must be framed more tightly. In short, hatred of Islam, like (say) hatred of Christianity, shouldn’t be a matter for the law (though I believe very strongly that it should be deplored); but the hatred of Muslims – like the hatred of Christians – should be such a matter, and laws against incitement should be in place.
• In general, Britain has been a warm home to Muslims, as it has been to Jews, and to those of other minority faiths. Although polls and studies can point in many different directions, a recent survey finding by the IPPR is worth bearing in mind. It discovered that more than a million Muslims have migrated to Britain because it is more sympathetic towards Islam than other European countries. This finding helps to put the alarming incidents described above in their full context. The non-Muslim majority has no reason to beat itself up in a frenzy of liberal guilt.
• For some Islamist organisations, Islamophobia is less a testing problem than a rhetorical device to delegitimise criticism - a shield behind which to advance on Ministerial patronage, taxpayers’ money, and legal concessions. Let’s be clear. When David Cameron said that the Cordoba Foundation shouldn’t get taxpayers’ money, he wasn’t being Islamophobic. Nor was Michael Gove when he argued that Hizb-ut-Tahrir shouldn’t control schools. Nor was Pauline Neville-Jones when she called for Ministers to review Tablighi Jamaat’s plans for a mega-mosque in East London. Exposure of such Islamist groups as the Islamic Forum of Europe – often voiced by mainstream Muslims themselves, who are Islamism’s main targets – is legitimate and necessary. Islamophobia/anti-Muslim hatred is too important a problem to be left for extreme groups to manipulate for their own ends.
There are calls at present for an all-party enquiry into Islamophobia– mirroring the previous all-party enquiry into anti-semitism. I doubt whether the comparison holds. As I wrote earlier, there’s no Muslim equivalent of the Community Security Trust. This is doubtless because Britain’s Jewish and Muslim communities are very different: the national background, ethnicity, languages, and theological approach of the latter vary enormously. It’s hard to envisage an All-Party Group on Islamophobia representing the interests of all Britain’s diverse Muslim communities. It’s easy to imagine such Islamist groups as the Muslim Brotherhood or the Jamaat e Islami infiltrating such a group for their own purposes.
For this reason and others, some will want either to declare that Islamophobia/anti-Muslim hatred aren’t real problems at all, or that government and Parliament have no role in tackling either. I disagree with this view. There’s evidence - like that cited earlier - that the hatred of Muslims and anti-Muslim violence are serious problems . Something should be done.
I suggest a proper Select Committee inquiry to take place during the next Parliament. The most suitable vehicle would be the DCLG Select Committee, since the DCLG deals with community cohesion. It would collect written submissions, take oral evidence, issue a report, make recommendations.
It should take evidence as widely as possible. If the Jamaat e Islami or the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to make representations, they should be allowed to do so. So should think-tanks specialising in counter-extremism, such as the Quilliam Foundation or Centri. So should the police. So should those who believe (wrongly, in my view) that Islamophobia is an imaginary construct, and doesn’t exist at all.
Could such an enquiry be exploited by Islamists? Yes. Is that a good reason for not having it? No. Why? Because the problem of the hatred of Muslims and anti-Muslim violence, in particular, is grave. It's a wound that can only fester. Parliament has a role to play in drawing the poison.