Censorship by Intimidation
by MELANIE PHILLIPS
February 1, 2010
A study by the University of Exeter’s European Muslim Research Centre claims that a rise in the number of hate crimes against Muslims in London is being encouraged by mainstream politicians and sections of the media. In the Guardian, Vikram Dodd has written:
The study mentions no newspapers or writers by name, but alleges that the book Londonistan, by the Mail writer Melanie Phillips, played a part in triggering hate crimes.
The text of this study, Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime by Dr. Jonathan Githens-Mazer and Dr. Robert Lambert, does not in fact mention my book Londonistan (although it is cited in the bibliography). What it says is this:
Islamophobic, negative and unwarranted portrayals of Muslim London as Londonistan and Muslim Londoners as terrorists, terrorist sympathisers and subversives in sections of the media appear to provide the motivation for a significant number of anti-Muslim hate crimes.
For Dodd (and if they did mean my book, the authors of this study) to single me out in this way is a crude smear which bears no relation to the facts. In my book – as in everything I write about this subject – I go to considerable lengths to stress that many Muslims in Britain and elsewhere have no truck with, and indeed are amongst the principal victims of, Islamic extremism and terrorism.
My argument in Londonistan – which is not about London – is that the British state first turned a blind eye to, and ever since has chosen to appease, Islamist extremism, allowing the radicalization of British Muslims to gather pace, tolerating the preaching of hatred and doing nothing to stop Islamist subversion through the spread of Sharia law. I have repeatedly said that this compromises the safety and security not only of society in general but of those many British Muslims who are desperate for the government to stop the radicalization and intimidation of their community, and who are horrified by the way in which the British establishment has embraced extremist Islamist bodies and individuals as responsible interlocutors.
This study claims effectively that such commentary incites violence against British Muslims. There is not one shred of evidence for this. Remarkably, the authors make no acknowledgement of what is overwhelmingly likely to be the biggest reason for animosity against Muslims – the repeated acts of terror and the 2,000-4,000 potential terrorists within the British Muslim community as reported by the intelligence service, not to mention the refusal by community leaders to take any responsibility for this state of affairs.
Indeed, given the scale of this threat it is remarkable that there has thankfully been so little violence against British Muslims. Where it has occurred, as in the appalling attack upon Muslim students at City University, the report claims the motivation was the perceived association of Muslims with terror. But that perception has not been created or fabricated by the media. There is a significant terrorism problem among British Muslims.
No reporting I can recall has ever said that all or most Muslims are implicated in terrorism. The media have merely provided the facts as given, which are alarming enough. So the authors’ implication therefore seems to be (as Muslim community leaders themselves argue) that no reference at all should be made to Islamic terrorism. The self-acknowledged motivation for such terrorism should apparently be censored.
Targeting the media in this way is not just to shoot the messenger. It is also to downplay the role of ideology in fomenting violence, and thus not merely to trivialize and downgrade the motivation for anti-Muslim attacks but also to negate by implication the very concept of the Islamic jihad as the cause of terrorism.
Conversely, the authors make no acknowledgement of where truly false and irresponsible reporting has indeed inflamed violence against a vulnerable British minority. The way the British media report the Middle East incites irrational hatred not just of Israel but also Jews in general. This reporting takes the form of false claims about Israel’s aggressive and illegal behavior, medieval-style blood libels that Israel deliberately kills Palestinian children, and conspiracies between Israel and America to put the world’s security at risk.
The result has been a frightening rise in anti-Jewish attacks in Britain to record levels. Unlike attacks on Muslims, which unfortunately rise after actual Islamic terrorist incidents, attacks on British Jews rise after the demonization of Israel’s self-defense against terrorism as aggression. Many of these attacks are not reported because Jews are too frightened or fatalistic to do so. And contrary to the claim in this study, white racists have not stopped targeting orthodox Jews or Jewish institutions. The attacks on British Jews, which mean that every single Jewish communal event has to be guarded and Jewish schools now shelter behind razor wire, are coming from both white racists and Muslims. But there’s no mention of that in this study.
Moreover, the examples it provides of anti-Muslim attacks don’t even bear out its own hypothesis that these are incited by media reports. The dreadful attack on student Yasir Abdelmouttalib and the murder of pensioner Ikram Syed ul-Haqal by gangs of teenagers were without doubt inspired by hatred of Muslims. But as the study itself goes on to make clear, this hatred was not in turn inspired by media reports, nor even by perceptions of terrorism. The reasons were cultural, as an interviewee explains:
Muslims are now understood to oppose everything these kids aspire to. Flash cars, nightclubs, expensive clothes, jewellery, drugs, alcohol, casual sex, glamour, dancing, music, you name it! One kid [member of London street gang] said after the ...those attacks on the nightclubs [reference to failed terrorist attack on London nightclubs in June 2007] ... that he hated Muslims because they wanted to take all the fun out of life. I said this was not a Muslim attack and he said it doesn’t matter they either bomb the nightclubs or they tell you not to go there.
The second reason arises from the role of convert Muslims with their own backgrounds who condemn their anti-social gang behaviour and drug oriented lifestyles: Often they know someone who has left their scene and become a devout Muslim. That is like a defection. And whether they do or don’t they say they know this or that terrorist who used to be a great person till he joined the Muslims.
Most importantly, thirdly, street gangs like the ones that attacked Yasir and the City University students are increasingly coming into violent conflict with rival gangs who purport to be Muslim or who adopt aspects of Muslim dress for the sake of a new ‘street’ image ... As an interviewee, a local youth worker explains: On the one hand you have gangs like the Muslim Boys who have become attracted to what they like about being or rather looking Muslim. Looking like a terrorist you might say. Thats how they see it. They like to rob the kind of gangs they used to belong to. Take their drugs. Take their guns. Say look we used to deal drugs now we confiscate them. Money goes to a new cause. Then you get a response from the gangs they are attacking. They hate Muslims even more and maybe are afraid to attack the Muslim gangs directly so they attack soft Muslims, real Muslims, elderly Muslims instead. Big issue. Just like a handful of terrorists give Muslims a bad name, now these new so called Muslim gangs are causing the same problem, well, on the streets they are, in the gang scene they are. Big fights. Stabbings, guns....
In other words, the motivation for such attacks is, to put it mildly, complicated. But not, it appears, to the authors of this study. In another attack on an imam at the London Central Mosque the assailant, Brian Dougan, was found to be clinically insane. But for the authors, this was irrelevant: he had still been inspired by the general anti-Muslim prejudice all around him. Another arson attack on a mosque was said to have been inspired by the BNP victory in the European Parliament election. But lo and behold, the authors even blame the media for BNP thuggery:
Similarly, an experienced BNP activist in London, explains that he believes that most BNP supporters simply followed the lead set by their favourite tabloid commentators that they read every day. When these commentators singled out Muslims as threats to security and social cohesion, he says that it was perfectly natural for BNP supporters to adopt the same thinking.
Interesting how the authors of this study regard BNP thinking that fits their own prejudices as axiomatically true. The fact is that the BNP and all neo-fascist groups seize opportunistically upon anything in mainstream discourse that suits their ends. They are not becoming anti-Muslim because of what they read in the media; they are anti-Muslim because they are anti-Pakistani, anti-Hindu, anti-Asian, anti-black, anti-Jew – prejudiced in other words against anyone who is not what they describe as ethnically white Anglo-Saxon. But because of the concern about Islamic extremism in Britain, they have cynically jumped onto that particular bandwagon and played down the rest of their agenda, in order to pose as a mainstream organization rather than the unreconstructed thugs and bigots that they are.
In any event, to say that because thugs or madmen may be inspired to acts of violence by reports of Islamic extremism such reports should be suppressed is a bit like saying that since pedophilia regularly inspires people to try to attack pedophiles (and in once notorious instance where thuggery was exceeded only by illiteracy, a pediatrician) there should be no media coverage of pedophilia.
The real agenda of this study is censorship by intimidation – to defame and smear all those who comment, however responsibly, on a matter of such intense public importance as Islamic extremism and terrorism. The authors' agenda shows through their threadbare arguments. Take this passage about death threats against certain ‘responsible’ Muslims – threats which it says arise from a false premise:
To explain: from the perspective of most activists in the violent extremist nationalist milieu Muslim organisations that are linked directly or indirectly to the al-Qaida terrorist threat to the UK are considered worthy targets for attack and intimidation, and death threats are part of their panoply of tactical options. Like their counterparts in non violent extremist nationalist politics (most notably the BNP) these street activists have spent the last decade getting their instruction on who al-Qaida’s active and tacit supporters are in London from highly visible, obvious yet problematic sources. Thus violent extremist nationalist tabloid readers have become convinced that Londonistan is home to several national Muslim organisations that purport to condemn al-Qaida but are in fact part and parcel of the same threat.
In consequence, for activists in groups like the English Defence League (EDL), a leading member of a mainstream national Muslim organisation will be understood to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, every bit as much as an enemy target Anjem Choudary, a well known London based extremist al-Qaida apologist. This conflation of mainstream Muslim figures with extremists like Choudary is problematic for many reasons but in this current context it results in death threats being made to responsible London citizens because of false and often malicious assertions that they pose a security threat to the UK.
All death threats, against whomever they are directed, are a serious crime and should be treated as such. But the authors’ argument here is that certain national Muslim organizations do not pose a security threat because they have nothing to do with al Qaeda. Because this whole passage is referring to anonymous individuals and organizations it’s hard to be specific. Nevertheless, it is the case that a number of national Muslim organizations such as the Muslim Association of Britain, the Muslim Council of Britain or the Islamic Human Rights Commission, which have no involvement with al Qaeda or terrorism in general, do subscribe to Islamist positions which are extreme by aiming, for example, to supplant Britain’s core values by those of Islam, or by supporting foreign terrorist regimes such as Hamas or Iran.
To repeat – anyone who issues death threats against anyone else, whatever organizations they belong to, should be prosecuted. But such threats should not be used as a pretext to prevent the troubling extremism of such organizations from being reported. What this passage is actually doing is intimidating commentators from exposing such extremism through the pernicious tactic of associating such commentary with attempted murder.
The view that Islamists who, for tactical reasons alone, oppose al Qaeda are not a threat to Britain – and should indeed be treated as allies against al Qaeda – is one of the most lethal mistakes that has been made by the British counter-terror world. One example of such egregious establishment wrong-headedness that I cite in Londonistan is in fact one of the authors of this report, Robert Lambert. A former officer in the Metropolitan Police Counter-Terror Command, who until 2008 ran the Metropolitan Police Muslim Contact Unit, Lambert told a conference organized by the Danish police that terrorism could not be fought by contact with moderate Muslims but through partnerships with the Salafists (radical Islamists) – two of whom were at one stage at least actually officers in his own police department. I wrote:
Lambert believed that this would enable the police to understand the way extremists thought before they committed any acts of terror. But it surely goes without saying that a Salafist officer, who is committed to the overthrow of the west and its replacement by an Islamic society, poses a security risk of the first order. For a police counter-terrorism specialist to be promoting this situation beggars belief.
Now Lambert has co-authored this study which claims that identifying such Islamists as extremists is to incite attacks upon British Muslims. But just look at the organisation behind this study, the European Muslim Research Centre. On its advisory board sit Anas Altikriti of the Muslim Association of Britain, which supports Hamas, and Mohamed Abdul Bari of the Muslim Council of Britain, which supports the Islamisation of Britain and which has a number of Islamist affiliates. The study also says it drew its information from, amongst others, the Muslim Safety Forum, Islamic Human Rights Commission, Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) UK, the Federation of Islamic Student Societies and the Muslim Council of Britain – all of which are Islamist fronts.
The idea that this report is objective is thus demonstrably absurd. It is merely a piece of tendentious Islamist-promoting propaganda.
Contributor Melanie Phillips is the author of the powerful and frightening Londonistan, which can be purchased here, and she blogs at The Spectator.