HOPE not hate

Political

Why Shooting The Messenger Will Not Work

posted by: Nick Lowles and Joe Mulhall | on: Tuesday, 15 December 2015, 07:25


As they gathered for the main Friday prayer service last week, worshippers at the Islamic Center of Palm Springs heard a loud explosion and saw flames erupting from the lobby of the building. While thankfully no-one was injured, the bombing of the Palm Springs centre represented the 63rd attack on a mosque in America so far this year, with 17 taking place in November alone. This represents roughly three times the number of attacks last year.

After the shocking Islamist attack in San Bernadino on 2 December, the top Google search in California with the word “Muslims” in it was “kill Muslims.” The New York Times said that it found a direct correlation between anti-Muslim searches and anti-Muslim hate crimes. This all comes off the back of Donald Trump’s call to temporarily ban all Muslim immigration from America.

Even here in the UK, there was a tripling of anti-Muslim attacks in London after the Paris attacks; a woman was pushed into the path of a Tube train, while other high-profile incidents took place before Paris on public transport.

These incidents, and many more besides, reflect growing anti-Muslim sentiments which as our new report into the Counter-Jihad movement exposed last week, is moving from the margins to the mainstream. We covered over 900 organisations across 22 countries, with research compiled by independent experts and cross-referenced with many publicly-available sources and reports (from prominent civil rights organisations, mainstream media, academic institutions, etc).

While our report was clear that criticism of Islamist extremism (as well as criticising religion) is perfectly legitimate – we ourselves have exposed violent Islamists, as well as opposed intolerant preachers, and called on the Left to do more to tackle Islamist extremism – the term ‘counter-jihad movement’ has come to be used by scholars and commentators to describe a broad range of anti-Muslim activists and organisations which don’t just attack Islamism but also Islam and Muslims more generally.

Margins to mainstream

As well as documenting the rise of organised anti-Muslim activity, our report showed how the rhetoric of this broad movement has become worryingly mainstream. These are quite clearly troubling times and just as HOPE not hate has exposed antisemitism and long stood firm with the Jewish community in the UK (organising the highly-successful Golders Green Together coalition in north London with multiple Jewish organisations, against neo-Nazi intimidation, plus supporting initiatives such as the Jewish-Muslim Women’s Network) we feel it’s important that more people take notice of rising anti-Muslim prejudice.

Sadly, despite our report raising these serious issues, there have been a few people, most notably the controversial figure of Maajid Nawaz, who have sought to undermine the report and with patent hyperbole accused us of a ‘witchhunt’. In doing so he ignores the majority of our research, the vast nature of its scope and the public sources from which it is drawn.

Mr Nawaz is the co-founder of the British-based Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank which has been influential in Westminster but struggled to win the trust and support of the British Muslim community. In 2013 Nawaz very publicly staged a press conference with the founder of the anti-Muslim street movement, the English Defence League (EDL), claiming Quilliam had ‘facilitated’ EDL leader ‘Tommy Robinson’ quitting the organisation. Two years and one prison sentence (for mortgage fraud) later, Robinson has announced he is launching a new anti-Muslim PEGIDA UK movement in the New Year, after speaking at rallies of the organisation in Germany and claiming that refugees were ‘invading Europe’. He also revealed that he was paid £8,000 by Quilliam, despite failing to renounce his anti-Muslim views.

Untrue

There are several aspects of Mr Nawaz’s attack piece on our report that are demonstrably untrue, including his peculiar attempt to undermine it by explaining that it was written by ‘two white men’. One of us is of mixed parentage and the other is of Indian descent. Our director, Nick Lowles, sits on the Government’s Anti-Muslim hatred working group and with others in the Muslim community has worked to raise awareness of difficult issues, such as the grooming/child sexual exploitation scandals. Nick has also, sometimes at risk to his own safety, exposed countless neo-Nazi and far-right groups, as well as authored several books. He is a respected expert on extremism often consulted by media and government.

Nawaz’s misrepresentation of our report as akin to a ‘hit list’ is wildly off-the-mark and, to reverse his argument, in our view highly irresponsible of him to do so. The figures who were named in our report and to whose inclusion he objects have been the subject of open critique and controversy in the US from many reputable and publicly-quoted sources: notably reports compiled by mainstream civil rights organisations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Center for American Progress or a specialist academic centre within Georgetown University (none of which Maajid Nawaz has, tellingly, sought to directly question). In fact, his criticism is noticeable for its anger, not its facts. It hardly needs saying but HOPE not hate has never and will never condone violent attacks.

Nawaz also disingenuously attempts to paint HOPE not hate as a ‘far left’ organisation, calling us ‘the regressive left’: let us remind him that we draw supporters from across all of the major political parties in Britain, including the Conservatives; from scores of organisations; communities of all persuasions; and from tens of thousands of supporters across the political spectrum.

Muslim reformers

Now the obviously absurd aspects of his attack have been dismissed it is worth replying to the crux of his criticism. In essence it boils down to the inclusion of several people in our report – out of 920 people and organisations – that he felt should not have been included as they are ‘Muslim reformers’.

After consultation with several sources we removed one of the people (a person with a very marginal mention) but retained the others.

One of the figures whose inclusion Mr Nawaz stridently objected to was Zuhdi Jasser. In 2014, Jasser said that the ‘quiet majority’ of American Muslims ‘hate America’. He has also suggested that American Muslim military personnel should not be allowed to have beards, and that American Muslim school kids who recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic will encourage them to ‘join ISIS.’

Jasser is also an Advisory Board member of the Clarion Project (cited in the seminal report Fear, Inc, produced by the Center for American Progress, as a media outlet which was part of ‘the Islamophobia echo chamber’), as well as a Consulting Editor of Family Security Matters (a role he shares with Donald Trump’s notorious anti-Muslim source Frank Gaffney), plus a supporter of the Coalition to Stop Shariah (CSS). He has also spoken at meetings of ACT! For America (one of the most pernicious counter-jihadist groups in the USA).

For those still in doubt, don’t just take our word for it. The Center for America Progress’s Fear, Inc report into US Islamophobia labelled Jasser as a ‘validator’ for groups such as ACT! The highly-respected civil rights group, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), in a report from CPAC 2015, had an entry on Jasser which described him as ‘one of the few Muslim spokespersons within the anti-Muslim movement’.

Jasser and his organisation are also noted supporters of the Coalition to Stop Shariah, which is run by renowned Islamophobe Frank Gaffney Jnr and his Center for Security Policy. Gaffney has been in the news a lot recently after it was revealed that Donald Trump drew on his work for his anti-Muslim comments, which suggested Muslims supported violence and that there were Muslim “no-go” areas in Europe.

Maajid Nawaz also protested at the inclusion of another gentleman, Tawfik Hamid, whom the SPLC writes is ‘one of the first to spread the groundless fear of Shariah law’. He has also been criticised for a piece in the Wall Street Journal calling on Islam to prove its peacefulness, and a column in The Washington Examiner that pushed the notion of Sharia law ‘taking over’ in the USA. Furthermore, he is listed in Fear, Inc as being a ‘validator’ for anti-Muslim groups, and listed as one of the ‘misinformation experts’.

Finally, Maajid specifically defends the controversial figure of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Again, the highly-respected Southern Poverty Law Centre describes her thus: “Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an anti-Muslim activist of Somali origin who used the political bully pulpit to bash Islam and Muslims.” Whilst a Dutch parliamentarian, she worked closely with Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, who has called for parts of the Qu’ran to be banned. Ali has compared Islam to Nazi Germany, and said that Islam is ‘the new fascism’ and ‘a destructive, nihilistic cult of death’. Brandeis University cancelled its plans to award her an honorary degree in 2014, following a wave of scrutiny.

Mr Nawaz also complained that those he objected to being included were only guilty of ‘guilt by association’. When attacking anti-Muslim hatred we must apply the same standards that we would when taking on Islamists and the traditional far-right: namely that sharing a platform with extremists or showing them any support is completely unacceptable, let alone sitting on the board of such groups or addressing their meetings.

If Maajid Nawaz truly wants to oppose anti-Muslim extremism, as he claims, he should welcome our report, engage with its findings regarding the rise of anti-Muslim hatred, while approaching us directly – instead of launching wild attacks on social media and blogs – to raise his concerns about the small number of people he objected to being in there. His failure to do so, coupled with his continued concerted efforts to attack and vilify us, must raise serious questions.

Nick Lowles
Joe Mulhall



 Posted: 15 Dec 2015 | There are 0 comments


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