In an article in the Telegraph today Woolwich outrage: we are too weak to face up to the extremism in our midst Charles Moore challenges the ideas of a cycle of violence against Muslims and a growth in Islamophobia, throws the title Islamist around at a few undeserving people, and refuses to take seriously the violence, hate speech and hate crimes commited by members of the English Defence League.
It was two weeks ago (Sunday 2nd June) that Telegraph writer Andrew Gilligan launched an attack on TellMama, an organisation set up to monitor anti-Muslim hate speech and hate crime. His first article, The truth about the 'wave of attacks on Muslims’ after Woolwich murder was vigorously challenged by TellMAMA here, Gilligan & the Reductionists. Gilligan continued his attack last Sunday (June 9th) in another piece, Muslim hate monitor to lose backing. with TellMAMA's response here Gilligan at it Again - Attack the Vehicle, Not the Data is Now the Strategy! Word has it that we are due another installment from Gilligan tomorrow. Gilligan's main issues (and seemingly Moore's as well) seem to be that TellMAMA has what they regard as a very subjective reporting mechanism, that a large number of the alleged crimes are internet based, that they exagerate their reports, that the government dont trust it and so are withdrawing funding, and that Fiyaz Mughal, director of TellMAMA is an Islamist who has lost his temper with civil servants.
We could have a long debate about TellMAMA's methodology, but the bottom line is its extremely difficult to monitor hate crime. The under-reporting because people don't trust the police is just one factor, hence the value of a community based organisation to bridge the gap. The Jewish community have had the Community Security Trust working to report antisemitic crimes for 19 years, and TellMama worked closely with them to develop its system. The police don't make it easy because each force has different reporting grids for hate crime, and only the Metropolitan Police in London records as a separate category crimes against Muslims. To have the separate category is not to say one crime is different to or bigger than another, but does allow effective identification of trends following incidents like Woolwich.
We could argue whether social media hate speech is really an issue. That is to ignore all the holocaust and genocide research that identifies stages of development: Classification, Symbolization, Dehumanization, Organization, Polarization, Preparation, Extermination, Denial. Its all here. It seems dramatic but its a slippery slope. We dare not tolerate hatred and exclsion anywhere in any form.
We could argue about Fiyaz Mughal, his character, his politics, his credentials as a Muslim, and his links in the Muslim community. Much of Gilligans approach is to attempt to discredit the man. But the effective reporting of hate crimes must be way bigger than one man and one organisation. When TellMAMA was first launched it was only given a fixed term of funding, with the expectation being that it would become self sustaining from gifts in the community it serves, as with the CST. That has been well known to people working with TellMAMA. Yes, Fiyaz is passionate about his cause, and he has not sought to deny or excuse his anger at officials, in fact from his words he seems to regret that. He may have spoken on the same platform as people the government doesnt like, or Gilligan doesnt like, but that does not make him an Islamist. In fact its frankly absurd! The government in its folly will not talk to many Muslim groups, even the mainstream Muslim Council of Britain, so making it easy for others to tar them with the extremist brush.
Bottom line, an effective structure for reporting anti-Muslim hate crimes simply must exist in a period of our national life when such crime is common. We cannot allow hatred of Muslims to become embedded in our culture, whether in the media, in speech or on the internet. Speaking to my own community, Churches and Christian leaders need to speak against hatred and work with Muslims (with TELLMAMA and more widely if necessary), Jews and peope of all faiths to ensure no religion is stigmatised or its community left in fear. There can be NO place within the Christian community for the language of bigotry, exclusion and hatred. And together we need to work with police , Home Office and others to ensure standardised reporting mechanisms with the option of intermediary organisations like CST or TellMAMA or others.
(edited 12.35 Sun 16th June).