CHAPTER: “Stop Dudley Super Mosque and Islamic Village”: overview of the findings from a pilot study

dudleyI’ve just had a chapter included in the recently published 2015 Annual Review of the Sociology of Religion. Themed around “Religion and Internet”, my chapter once again focuses on the ongoing furore surrounding the proposed Dudley mosque.

Titled ‘”Stop Dudley Super Mosque and Islamic Village”: overview of the findings from a pilot study’, the publishers have made the unusual decision to allow a copy to be made freely available via personal websites. With this in mind, feel free to download the article by clicking here.

Comment: Riposte – Dr Chris Allen comments on recent MET statistics indicating a 70% rise in islamophobic attacks in London

soasHere’s my piece I wrote for MuslimWise, a blog linked to SOAS at the University of London.

RIPOSTE: Dr Chris Allen comments on recent MET statistics indicating a 70% rise in islamophobic attacks in London

In the past couple of weeks, much has been made of the Metropolitan Police data showing that the number of Islamophobic hate crimes recorded increased by 70% in the past year. Amounting to 816 Islamophobic hate crimes in total, this was the second successive year that numbers had risen in London. In 2014, the 478 hate crimes recorded indicated an increase of more than 60% on the preceding year. A particularly concerning trend was that Islamophobic hate crimes increased in every London borough. While the most dramatic could be seen in Waltham Forest and Merton (showing increases of 270% and 263% respectively), notable increases were also evident in Islington (175%), Lewisham (160%), Hackney (137%) and Lambeth (135%).

In trying to explain these increases, the Metropolitan Police’s hate crime lead, Commander Mark Chishty suggested that it was down to the fact that greater numbers of people were increasingly aware of how to report hate crimes. Fiyaz Mughal (CEO of Tell MAMA) however was less convinced. Questioning the epiphany necessary to prompt significant numbers of people to report Islamophobic hate crime to the police, Mughal cited data collected by Tell MAMA to suggest that the increases were simply because “there were possibly more anti-Muslim hate incidents”.

To some extent, both explanations have some truth in them.

To continue reading, click here.

Comment: The Curious Incident Of The Muslim Student in the University Library Who Was Reading A Book (Which Clearly Meant He Was a Terrorist)

huffington-post-logoMy comment piece in the Huffington Post from last week, enjoy.

The Curious Incident Of The Muslim Student in the University Library Who Was Reading A Book (Which Clearly Meant He Was a Terrorist)

The recent experience of Mohammed Umar Farooq at Staffordshire University confirms my worst fears about the statutory duties now placed on universities following changes to the PREVENT programme as part of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

Farooq was a postgraduate student on Staffordshire’s Terrorism, Crime and Global Security MA. Like all university students, Farooq was required to read a range of texts relevant to his studies. In his case, this included a text entitled, Terrorism Studies. Deciding to read the book in the library on campus, Farooq was approached by someone that he first thought was a fellow student. That individual went on to ask him questions about Islam, his attitudes to homosexuality, Islamic State and al-Qaida among others. To Farooq’s surprise, the individual questioning him was a member of staff who proceeded to report him to security guards as the conversation had allegedly raised “too many red flags”.

After being investigated for three months, Staffordshire University admitted fault and subsequently apologised to Farooq for the distress caused. The University did stress though that Farooq was never accused of being a terrorist and that only “concerns” had been raised. Noting that the member of staff “had only had a few hours’ training in December 2013”, the University added that guidance about the new duties “contains insufficient detail to provide clear practical direction”. Ironic that the University’s Masters programme Farooq was enrolled on includes a focus on “policy responses to terrorism and counter terrorism and their relationship with human rights”.

Read on by clicking here.

OPINION: “Islamophobic Hate Crime up 70% in London, Some Thoughts” – Huffington Post

huffington-post-logoFollowing the news that Islamophobic hate crime has increased by 70% in London over the past year, I wrote a short article for the Huffington Post that raises a number of timely considerations. To read the article in full, click here.

Islamophobic Hate Crime up 70% in London, Some Thoughts

Statistics released by the Metropolitan Police reveal that the number of Islamophobic hate crimes in London has increased by 70% in the past year. For the year ending July 2015, the Met recorded a total of 816 Islamophobic hate crimes; in 2014, the number was 478, itself an increase of around 65% on the previous year. Increases were evident across every London borough, the most staggering in Waltham Forest and Merton where the numbers of Islamophobic hate crimes increased by 270% and 263% respectively. Other boroughs of note include Islington (175%), Lewisham (160%), Hackney (137%) and Lambeth (135%).

Three thoughts emerge.

The first was to think about how those on the Islamophobia spectrum have sought to dismiss out of hand the very existence of the exact same phenomenon. Typically justifying such a view on a perceived lack of evidence that ‘proves’ Islamophobia exists, they point to the dearth of Islamophobia-specific official or governmental data that has been historically available. As I have argued here in the Huffington Post, a lack of evidence about ‘numbers’ alone does not mean that Islamophobia is not taking place, quite the contrary in fact. As with my own research, there is now ample qualitative evidence which poignantly illustrates the ugly realities of contemporary Islamophobia, detrimentally impacting the everyday lives of too many ordinary people who become victims solely because they happen to be identified as being Muslim. It will be interesting to see how those who reject Islamophobia will seek to counter these new statistics.

To continue reading, click here.

Oral Evidence: Radicalisation, the impact of counter-terrorism & counter-extremism measures on universities, & the challenge of protecting academic freedom of speech – All Party Parliamentary University Group

APPGAs noted previously, I was invited to present oral evidence to the All Party Parliamentary University Group (APPUG) in June this year.

In response, the APPUG has recently published notes from the meeting including an overview of the content of my evidence. These notes can be downloaded by clicking here.

An extract is reproduced below:

Dr Chris Allen focused his comments on the impact of counter-terrorism legislation on society, and in particular on Muslim students. He argued that legislators should look more closely on the social implications of further regulations and statutes before implementing them.

He described how the draft statutory guidance published in January 2015 suggested that university staff were well placed to witness any changes in students which may indicate radicalisation, but he suggested that when pushed for specifics as to what these changes might be they too often appeared to boil down to the student becoming ‘more Muslim’.

Dr Allen described that ‘Raising Awareness of Prevent’ training run by the Home Office often reduced radicalisation to visible signs of Islam such as a student adopting the veil, or a new interest in British foreign policy, for instance. He described the risk in this approach that Muslim students feel that there is tension between their identities as Muslims and as students – and particularly that there is some tension between their presence as Muslim students and the ‘liberal traditions’ of British universities.

Dr Allen described how Muslim students were notable by their absence in vocal opposition organised by students in response to some Islamophobic graffiti which appeared shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attack. When he asked some students why, they suggested they were wary of ‘putting their heads above the parapet’ on the issue – that they were unwilling to demonstrate their anger as Muslims in public for fear of being viewed as potential extremists.

He summarised his concerns about an increased focus on counter-terrorism duties on universities: that as the visibility of duties increase, Muslim students may feel increasingly marginalised on campus; that it my reinforce the (untrue) perception that university campuses are hot-spots of radicalisation; that it may increase fear and suspicion of Muslim students and staff among non-Muslim students and staff; and that as a result it may inadvertently reinforce extremists’ own narratives about the incompatability of Islam and ‘the West’, as it is represented by universities.

To download the full notes, click here.

Comment: Thinking Through Cameron’s Five-Year Counter-Extremism Strategy, HUffington Post

huffington-post-logoHere’s a piece I wrote for the Huffington Post a few weeks ago that I forgot to post here. To read the article in full, click here.

Thinking Through Cameron’s Five-Year Counter-Extremism Strategy

On Monday this week, David Cameron set out his government’s five-year strategy for defeating Islamist extremism. Describing it as an ideology that seeks to destroy nation states in order to invent its own barbaric realm, Cameron said the fight against Islamist extremism would be the ‘struggle of our generation’. Explaining how, in addition to a new Extremism Bill, the five-year strategy for defeating this ‘subversive doctrine’ would require government to:

  • Confront the ideology of Islamism
  • Tackle both violent and non-violent forms of extremism
  • Embolden the ‘Muslim community’, and
  • Build a more cohesive society

Vitriolic and at times accusatory, Cameron spoke about how the police, universities, internet companies, schools, universities, mosques, prisons and parents all needed to do more to tackle the ‘poison’ infecting young minds. The National Union of Students was earmarked for particular criticism.

Some of his speech was far from new. Claiming that ‘British values’ were the ‘strongest weapon’ available in fighting Islamist extremism, that well-oiled mantra remained as elusive as to exactly what these ‘values’ might be.

Some suggested a rethink about existing practices. It was unclear for instance how the announcement about the introduction of specific de-radicalisation programmes might differ from those that have been in place for the last five years through Channel, part of the government’s existing Prevent strategy.

To read on, click here.

LETTER: PREVENT will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent – The Independent

Indy_Eagle_RedCircle_850Here’s a public letter I was one of many signatories to voicing our concerns about the new PREVENT duties. The letter was published in the Independent at the weekend and can be found by clicking here. The letter is also available via the website Protecting Thought.

PREVENT will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent

We, the undersigned, take issue with the government’s Prevent strategy and its statutory implementation through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 for the following reasons:

1. The latest addition to the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism framework comes in the form of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTS Act). The CTS Act has placed PREVENT on a statutory footing for public bodies to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism by tackling what is claimed to be ‘extremist ideology’. In practice, this will mean that individuals working within statutory organisations must report individuals suspected of being ‘potential terrorists’ to external bodies for ‘de-radicalisation’.

2. The way that PREVENT conceptualises ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’ is based on the unsubstantiated view that religious ideology is the primary driving factor for terrorism. Academic research suggests that social, economic and political factors, as well as social exclusion, play a more central role in driving political violence than ideology. Indeed, ideology only becomes appealing when social, economic and political grievances give it legitimacy. Therefore, addressing these issues would lessen the appeal of ideology.

3. However, PREVENT remains fixated on ideology as the primary driver of terrorism. Inevitably, this has meant a focus on religious interaction and Islamic symbolism to assess radicalisation. For example, growing a beard, wearing a hijab or mixing with those who believe Islam has a comprehensive political philosophy are key markers used to identify ‘potential’ terrorism. This serves to reinforce a prejudicial worldview that perceives Islam to be a retrograde and oppressive religion that threatens the West. PREVENT reinforces an ‘us’ and ‘them’ view of the world, divides communities, and sows mistrust of Muslims.

4. While much of the PREVENT policy is aimed at those suspected of ‘Islamist extremism’ and far-right activity, there is genuine concern that other groups will also be affected by such policies, such as anti-austerity and environmental campaigners – largely those engaged in political dissent.

5. Without due reconsideration of PREVENT’s poor reputation, the police and government have attempted to give the programme a veneer of legitimacy by expressing it in the language of ‘safeguarding’. Not only does this depoliticise the issue of radicalisation, it shifts attention away from grievances that drive individuals towards an ideology that legitimises political violence.

6. PREVENT will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent. It will create an environment in which political change can no longer be discussed openly, and will withdraw to unsupervised spaces. Therefore, PREVENT will make us less safe.

7. We believe that PREVENT has failed not only as a strategy but also the very communities it seeks to protect. Instead of blindly attempting to strengthen this project, we call on the government to end its ineffective PREVENT policy and rather adopt an approach that is based on dialogue and openness.

Continue reading

Comment: An Ideological Struggle Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ – JUST West Yorkshire

JUSTHere’s a piece I wrote for JUST West Yorkshire’s newsletter last week (apologies for the delay in getting it posted on here. To read the original piece, click here – to read the newsletter, click here.

An Ideological Struggle Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’

The tenth anniversary of 7/7 rightly drew our attention to the sheer horror of the terror attacks, the carnage and chaos that resulted in 52 civilians being killed and more than 700 being injured. From memorial services attended by the British political hierarchy through to more people-led initiatives such as #WalkTogether, the day’s focus was on remembrance and commemoration.Aside from this, it is necessary to reflect on the legacy of 7/7, the profound changes it wrought and how this has impacted on the way we live our lives, as individuals and communities and also a nation.On one level, this can be seen in the relatively mundane, for example in the form of increased security checks at airports, more CCTV cameras in our towns and cities, and the reinforcing of public buildings. 7/7’s legacy has a much greater reach however, seen in how new counter-terror legislation has placed a duty on public sector workers to spot ‘tell-tale signs’ of extremism or how schools are required to promote a greater sense of ‘British values’.

The ‘tell-tale signs’ also illustrate the rather more insidious legacy of 7/7. Having been first posited a decade ago by the then Home Secretary, John Reid, he told Muslim parents that they needed to be more vigilant in looking out for the ‘tell-tale signs’ of extremism in their children. Oft repeated since, no politician has yet been able to produce a definitive list of what these might be. Unsurprisingly, neither does the new PREVENT guidance.

Such an approach is, of course, as naïve as it dangerous in that for some, the ‘tell-tale signs’ of extremism will be largely equitable with being ‘more Muslim’. Whether visual – in growing a beard or wearing the hijab for example – or vocal – being more religious or speaking out about British foreign policy or Palestine for instance – those who just look ‘Muslim’ may find themselves increasingly being perceived to be extremists.

This is borne out in the findings of a YouGov poll published this week which showed that more than half of Britons now regard Muslims as posing a threat to the UK. Worryingly, this is higher than it was in the immediate aftermath of the 7/7 attacks. In trying to explain this one must go back to the fact that the bombers were British born, popularly referred to as ‘home-grown’. Because of this, especially in the wake of the botched 21/7 attacks a fortnight later, the threat felt much closer and far more real. Prompting an initial backlash where British Muslims were treated with greater suspicion and mistrust, this has since been allowed to ferment not least through political discourses that have routinely reified the notion that extremism is inherent within Britain’s Muslim communities. So much so that accept without question the view that Muslims and Islam pose a direct threat to ‘our’ culture, ‘our’ values, ‘our’ institutions and ‘our’ way of life. ‘They’ are clearly against ‘us’.

To continue reading, click here.