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Response to criticism of Tell MAMA which monitors anti-Muslim attacks

Summary

30 June 2013 Updated 25 October 2015.

Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) is an initiative of Faith Matters, a not for profit organisation which works to reduce extremism and interfaith and intra-faith tensions. I am a patron of Tell MAMA and also a member of its informal Advisory Board. The purpose of Tell MAMA is to provide a reporting mechanism for Muslims who have suffered abuse or physical violence; the Community Security Trust (CST) has performed a similar role for many years with regard to the Jewish community.

After the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby by two Muslims in Woolwich on 22 May 2013, it was expected by most people that there would be an increase in anti-Muslim hatred. Accordingly, it was no surprise that Tell MAMA recorded a sharp spike in anti-Muslim incidents. What was a surprise was finding mainstream journalists such as Andrew Gilligan and Charles Moore seeking to downplay, or even worse to discredit, Tell MAMA's findings or its director Fiyaz Mughal.

I found such reactions quite irritating, and on 21 June 2013 published a piece on the Conservative Home website about this issue. I chose to emphasise the similarity between the way the CST and Tell MAMA operate, and the similar mixes of incidents reported. You can read it lower down on this page.

Update 25 October 2015

I ceased to be a patron of Tell MAMA in August 2015 when the organisation restructured its list of patrons which had become somewhat large and unwieldy. At roughly the same time, the informal advisory board was made more formal by being listed on the Tell MAMA website.

On 25 October 2015 I resigned from the Tell MAMA Advisory Board. This resignation was not due to any lack of support for Tell MAMA's objectives. Instead it arose from my concluding that I could no longer work with the director Fiyaz Mughal.

Mohammed Amin: Don't shoot the messenger who reports on anti-Muslim hatred

Mohammed Amin is Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity. Follow Mohammed on Twitter.

Britain’s leading anti-Muslim hatred body is modelled on, and assisted by, the Jewish-run Community Security Trust – yet the CST rarely suffers the media assaults faced recently by Tell MAMA.

For many decades the British Jewish community has sadly suffered from verbal abuse, physical assaults, and criminal damage to community institutions. That is why the Community Security Trust (CST), a registered charity, was set up 19 years ago to advise Jewish organisations on physical security and organise volunteer marshals to protect synagogue services and Jewish community events.

The CST also serves the Jewish community, and indeed our entire nation, by providing a reporting mechanism for antisemitic incidents. Its Antisemitic Incidents Report 2012 recorded 640 incidents. Of these, 80 involved social media, compared with only 11 in 2011 – perhaps indicative of the growing use of social media in Britain. A further 69 incidents (11% of the total) were classified as violent antisemitic incidents, including two categorised as extreme violence, meaning that it involved grievous bodily harm (GBH) or a threat to life.

A physical description of the offender was available in 169 of the 640 recorded total. Of these, just over half (51%) were described as ‘White – North European’; 6% of offenders were described as ‘Black’; whilst 31% were ‘South Asian’; and 11% were labelled as ‘Arab or North African.’ As a Muslim of South Asian ethnicity who abhors antisemitism, I find the significant over-representation of Muslim perpetrators of antisemitism deeply troubling. In March Mehdi Hasan of The Huffington Post wrote a brave piece in The New Statesman: “The sorry truth is that the virus of anti-Semitism has infected the British Muslim community”. This should be read by everyone.

Many British Muslims, including me, have long felt the need for a Muslim organisation similar to the CST. Accordingly I was delighted to learn that interfaith organisation Faith Matters, directed by former Liberal Democrat advisor Fiyaz Mughal, had set up the Tell MAMA (Monitoring Anti-Muslim Attacks) project with interim funding from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG). I was very pleased to be invited to become a patron and to serve on the project’s Advisory Board. The operational management of the project, of course, remains the responsibility of the trustees of Faith Matters, with day-to-day management by Fiyaz Mughal as the director.

I am aware that the CST has provided extensive technical advice to Tell MAMA, whose monitoring and classification methodology has been adopted from that used by the CST. As well as pure altruism, it also makes sense for the Jewish community to assist the Muslim community in this way as racists and bigots rarely stop with just one type of victim.

Backlash

British Muslims were almost universally horrified and disgusted by the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich by two Muslims on 22 May. That very evening the murder was condemned by many Muslim organisations including the Conservative Muslim Forum  and the Muslim Council of Britain, the largest Muslim umbrella body.

Based on the post-9/11 and 7/7 experience, British Muslims also steeled themselves for an upsurge in anti-Muslim incidents. The Jewish community had similarly experienced an upsurge in antisemitic incidents after incidents such as Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in late 2008/early 2009 and the Gaza Flotilla in 2010. Accordingly, it was no surprise when Tell MAMA reported that anti-Muslim incidents had spiked sharply after Woolwich. On 29 May, one week after Woolwich, Tell MAMA issued an interim report outlining a spike of 200 anti-Muslim incidents. (Tell MAMA used the phraseology “Islamophobic incidents.” I have consistently advised Fiyaz Mughal to avoid the word “Islamophobia” for the reasons at this link, but obviously I have no control over the vocabulary he chooses to use.)

I have been dismayed by the reaction of some journalists to this spike in anti-Muslim hatred. While many have rightly condemned the incidents, a few journalists have responded by querying the good faith and methodology of the statistics, or attempted to downplay their significance. On 2 June former BBC reporter and Press TV presenter, Andrew Gilligan wrote a very ad-hominem piece for The Telegraph, attacking Fiyaz Mughal and Tell MAMA. He implied that, apart from a very few exceptions, what was happening was not serious. On 14 June ex-Spectator and Telegraph editor Charles Moore followed up with his own ‘go’ at Tell MAMA.

Given that Tell MAMA has adopted the methodology of the CST; and that the pattern of incidents that it is reporting is similar to the patterns reported by the CST – with incidents ranging from verbal abuse, internet abuse, to relatively rare cases of extreme violence – will these journalists be attacking the CST’s next report the same way? Because, as far as I can see, there is little difference between the evils of antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred, or the way in which both bodies which monitor such hatred function.

 

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