COMMENT: Birleşik Krallık’ta İslamofobinin 20 Yıllık Bilançosu – Perspektif

perspektif_logoAs with previous months, I have today had a new comment piece published in the German-based Turkish language periodical, Perspektif. This month’s piece reflects on the 20th anniversary of the Runnymede Trust’s report, Islamophobia: A Challenge For Us All. To view the piece, click here.

For those who can read Turkish, I have reproduced the opening paragraph below.

Birleşik Krallık’ta İslamofobinin 20 Yıllık Bilançosu

Birleşik Krallık’ta 1997 yılının kasım ayında ilk İslamofobi raporu yayınlandı. 20 yılın ardından ülkede İslamofobi hâlâ herkes için önemini koruyan bir sorun.

Birleşik Krallık’ta bu kasım ayı, Runnymede Vakfı’nın “İslamofobi: Hepimiz İçin Bir Meydan Okuma” isimli raporunun yayımlanmasının 20. yıldönümü olacak. Bundan 20 yıl önce Britanya Müslümanları ve İslamofobi Komisyonu’ndan çıkan bulguları ortaya koyan Runnymede raporuyla birlikte, kamuoyu ve siyasilerin dikkati ilk kez Britanya’daki Müslüman karşıtlığı ve ayrımcılığı üzerine çekilmişti. İslamofobi’yi “İslam’a duyulan korku ya da nefretin – ve dolayısıyla Müslümanlardan korkmanın ya da nefret etmenin en kestirme yolu” olarak nitelendiren raporda, “İslamofobik söylemin, bazen apaçık ama sıklıkla da üstü örtük şekilde kendini gösterdiği ve bu söylemlerin modern Britanya’da günlük yaşamın bir parçası olduğu” ifadesi yer alıyordu.

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And so it begins: the moderate, moderate mainstream, and moderate mainstream middle-of-the-road Muslims begin to form an orderly queue

Many of those who have heard me speak or present will have heard me suggest my annoyance at the flurry of Muslim organisations that are willing to ‘apologise’ for every Muslim incident wherever it might occur around the world to appease politicians. In fact, I’ve written about it on this blog a few years ago.

Admittedly, this is not always the fault of Muslim organisations: both the previous New Labour and present Coalition Government are guilty of dangling carrots in front of Muslim organisations asking them to leap through whatever hoops are put in front of them in the hope of eventually securing some of that carrot. In other words, to get a share of Government’s funding.

Not only does this internalise the problem for ordinary, everyday Muslims – the people the organisations allegedly ‘represent’ – but so too does is smack of insincerity. As the queue forms of Muslim organisations lining up to tell government – and indeed anyone else who’s listening – that they are ‘moderate Muslims’ so the next organisation is already preparing to set out their ‘moderate mainstream Muslim’ credentials whilst the next in line has planned to state that how they represent ‘moderate mainstream middle-of-the-road Muslim’. The next in line probably deny they are Muslims at all…!!!

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Telegraph Online: “The worrying rise of attacks fuelled by hatred”

New comment piece published today on the Telegraph Online’s ‘Comment’ section. To view the article, click here.

The text of the piece is also reproduced below:

The worrying rise of attacks fuelled by hatred

Both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic incidents have risen recently as British society becomes more sharply divided, says Chris Allen.

Published: 12:27PM GMT 12 Feb 2010

Last year saw the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in the UK since recording began in 1984. In a report by the Community Security Trust (CST), a total of 924 incidents including extreme violence, threats to human life and abusive behaviour were recorded, an increase of 69 per cent from the previous year.

The true picture is much worse, as many victims of anti-Semitic attacks are either unable or unwilling to report such crimes. Perhaps the most worrying aspect of this is that attacks of this nature are even more prevalent when you consider the strong similarities between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, which is also on the rise along with its associated incidents.

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Why oh why…? “Muslims must combat hate speech” take two

print_quilliamFurther to yesterday’s post and my observation that “Since 9/11, Muslim after Muslim after Muslim organisation have fell over themselves to apologise and distance themselves from a whole raft of incidents that have been perpetrated by other Muslims with whom they have no association with whatsoever except that they hold the same yet differently interpreted set of beliefs”, I opened my inbox this morning to find that the Quilliam Foundation – the world’s first self-proclaimed counter-extremism think tank – had decided to go one further.

Instead of disassociating themselves from the events in Texas – something that they clearly have no association with – they have named and shamed a handful of Muslim organisations that have failed to disassociate themselves from either the actions of Major Nidal Hassan or “the engineer-cum-cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki” who has apparently been outspoken in his support of Hassan.

Whilst Quilliam begrudgingly praises the disassociation offered by Jamiat Ihya Minhaj al-Sunnah (JIMAS) and the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB) from al-Awlaki, they declare that the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE), the London Muslim Centre, the Islam Channel, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) and the Cordoba Foundation through their lack of vocal disassociation from al-Awlaki are sending “a message of hostility towards our country, armed forces and American allies”.


Continue reading “Why oh why…? “Muslims must combat hate speech” take two”

“Muslims must combat hate speech”: Why…?

hate-speech-not-freeIt is sometimes far more interesting to read the comments posted in response to articles on the Guardian’s, Comment is Free than it is reading the articles themselves. This is not to say that the articles are poor, but rarely do they pose really challenging questions. Instead, they typically say what might be expected and ‘fit’ the generic message of particular writer (as indeed this blog does of me).

This is true of Inayat Bunglawala’s latest post on Comment is Free, ‘Muslims Must Combat Hate Speech’. Well written? Yes. Challenging? Not really.

In fact after every ‘Muslim’ incident since 9/11, one or more Muslim organisation, spokesman (rather than spokeswoman), scholar and/ or commentator has written something similar, stressing the need for ‘true’ scholars to preach ‘true’ Islam. Indeed, many have themselves reinforced the notion that only ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Muslims exist – and never the twain shall meet.

In response to Inayat’s article – which draws a little to heavily on the opinion of his ‘friends’ for my liking – 1830 responded:

The idea that Muslim associations should be praised for dissociating themselves from the actions of the lunatic at Fort Worth is utter nonsense. Its what any decent, rational person would do.

This dissociation in itself no more deserves praise than the man who never beats women deserves praise for never beating women, or footballers deserve praise for not cheating. Not beating women and not cheating are (or should be) the norm – we do not praise people for not doing them any more than we praise people for not robbing banks.

And they have a point don’t they…???

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The Jewel of Medina: light the blue touch paper, step back and wait…

I’ve referred to the publication of ‘The Jewel of Medina’ previously, suggesting that the response from some Muslims and Muslim organisations seems to have completely overlooked the fallout and legacy of ‘The Satanic Verses’ affair. In fact, on the day that I posted a twenty year reflection on the publication of ‘The Satanic Verses’ a week or so ago, the Islington offices of Gibson House publishers were firebombed. This is only the tip of the iceberg. It is likely that over the next few months, numerous others – both here and elsewhere around the world – are going to be undertaking similar campaigns and protests without any consideration whatsoever of the potential or actual ramifications. Not just for them but for all Muslims without differentiation.

For those fortunately unaware, ‘The Jewel of Medina’ is a historical novel by the author, Sherry Jones. The novel tells an entirely fictionalised account of the life of Aisha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad and the person who accompanied him as he received most of his revelations. The novel sets out to tell Aisha’s story from the age of six when she was betrothed to Muhammad, through to his death.

It was originally scheduled for publication in the United States by Random House earlier this year but was duly canceled amid fears of a ‘Rushdie’ style backlash from Muslims. This was not because the publishers received any complaints from Muslims themselves. But instead from Denise Spellberg, an associate professor of Islamic History at the University of Texas, who condemned the book as ‘offensive’. Random House immediately dropped it. Since then, it has been subsequently announced that it would be published by Beaufort Books in the US and by Gibson Square here in the United Kingdom later this month.

In the twenty years since the publication of ‘The Satanic Verses’, we seem to have internalised what can only be a sense of ‘self-censorship’. Nowadays publishers drop books, theatres are uneasy about staging certain plays, opera houses cut productions and art galleries censor shows. And on the whole, these things are all done before any Muslims complain, let alone whether or not they were even going to do so. An example of this was when Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council ‘banned’ toy pigs just in case they offended Muslims during Ramadan.

What seems to be the victim of all this is ‘free speech’ – to some extent, freedom per se.

Even this doesn’t seem to be enough for some, and so when ‘self-censorship’ doesn’t work, legislation seems to fill the void, not only outlawing hate speech but also such things as the defamation of religion and saying just what you believe. And before others jump to say that it is not only those against Islam and Muslims that are allegedly being silenced by these processes, our British laws against the glorification of terrorism also impact upon Muslims and indeed others.

Having attended a ‘Leaders Summit’ in Westminster earlier this week – supported by the likes of Sadiq Khan MP – on the issue of ‘security and community cohesion’ (clearly a euphemism for ‘terrorism’ and ‘preventing violent extremism’), there were a small number of Muslim ‘representatives’ that were peddling these type of arguments. Look slightly beyond the limits of their at times irrational rhetoric and you will see that restrictions of ‘free speech’ are being imposed on us all. It’s not just Muslims: is it not only a one way process.

More worryingly, I was concerned to hear a handful of those same Muslim ‘representatives’ voicing their anger about the book’s proposed publication and calling for ‘action’. Most worrying was one representative – whose name I did not hear – who stated that he was from the UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs (UKACIA), an organisation I thought had long been wound up. As one reputable Muslim website describes UKACIA:

[UKACIA] were instrumental in convening a meeting of over twenty like-minded Muslim organizations…on 11 October 1988 in order to mobilize public opinion and coordinate actions against The Satanic Verses

And what a good job they did then. If they have reformed, or even felt merely reinvigorated by the thought of doing ‘the same again’, then of course this is extremely worrying – and completely unnecessary. Doing the ‘the same again’ – angry Muslim men and women shouting on the streets, carrying offensive banners, burning books, burning effigies and so on – will be a massive own goal for all concerned. It will further impinge upon the bounds of free speech for all of us and will reinvigorate the vilification and stereotypification of Muslims and Islam for at least another twenty years. It will further increase ‘self-censorship’ also.

It will – to the greater anger of those Muslims engaging in public displays of outrage – also send the book to the top of the bestseller charts and make both the author and the publishers a huge amount of money. Imagine though without the protests and without the outrage, how the book would have – like numerous other poorly written novels today – have been published, remained unread and made a loss for the publishers who were no doubt hoping for a ‘controversial’ impetus to boost its returns.

If no-one made a profit, wouldn’t that soon stop this type of thing happening again? I’m certain that it would.

Nonetheless, the madder members of society will continue with the shouting and barracking, lacking any apparent reason, rationale or responsibility in the process. The Muslim Council of Britain are meeting this weekend to orchestrate a response. Let’s hope that they have some influence and can halt the drive towards even greater restrictions on our free speech.

Light the blue touch paper, step back and watch…

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The Satanic Verses: a 20th anniversary retrospective

Last Friday marked the 20th anniversary of the publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses. The ‘affair’ that ensued was, as the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia stated some years later, “one of the formative, defining events” in shaping how Muslims and Islam are understood in British society today. As such, I thought that I’d (belatedly) mark this anniversary with a short retrospective.

As Rushdie’s fourth novel, ‘The Satanic Verses’ was understood to be constructed around stories from the life of the Prophet Muhammad, the title referencing Ibn Ishaq’s biography of him. Causing some controversy at the time of its publication, it was interpreted by many Muslims as blasphemous with many of its analogous storylines allegedly denigrating Muhammad and his prophethood as well as his wives. Similar denigrations were also alleged against some of the theological tenets and beliefs of Islam. Following India’s lead in banning the book, in early 1989 the Ayatollah Khomeini took the matter to an unprecedented level at the time by issuing a fatwa in Iran that called for the death of Rushdie, claiming that it was the duty of every Muslim to obey his pronouncement. Despite this, at no time in his life did Khomeini read the book.

In Britain, the response to the book was overwhelming. On the 14 January 1989, a large number of Muslims took to the streets of Bradford and publicly burnt copies of it. Whilst the local and national press initially showed little interest, a small group of protesters videotaped the proceedings, later distributing it to various news agencies. Despite being poorly produced, shortly afterwards images of Muslims burning books on the streets of England were broadcast around the world. Evoking comparisons to the Reconquista, the Inquisition and the Reformation, the most damning comparisons were those that recalled Hitler’s Nazis less than a century beforehand. In what was an attempt to gain publicity, the images evolved into little more than a PR catastrophe that inadvertently signaled the beginning of much wider processes: of the widespread condemnation of Muslims and their indiscriminate vilification.

The presence of Muslims in Britain (and by default Islam too) was brought sharply under the public and political gazed, framed and informed by history and its various legacies about Islam and Muslims. More importantly, it was also informed by what had gone before and what was yet to come. Given that Muslims and their presence in Britain had previously been somewhat unacknowledged – most had previously been collectively defined within the homogenous marker of ‘Asian’ – so the first formal recognition of British Muslims and the presence of Islam in Britain was a highly politicised one and through the association with Khomeini, one that was largely indistinguishable from the ‘fundamentalist’– to employ the terminology of the day – forms of Islam that had initiated revolution in Iran.

The protests went global and within a month of the events in Bradford, similar protests had taken place in Bombay, Kashmir, Dacca and Islamabad, the latter seeing five protesters killed and hundreds more injured. Unsurprisingly, these protests were also broadcast around the world and were uncannily similar to those associated with the protests that followed the second publication of the Prophet Muhammad cartoons in the Danish newspaper, the Jyllands-Posten in early 2006. Both events were highly mediatised and to a great degree, hyper-real.

As with the Danish cartoons furore, so the Satanic Verses affair was seen to present a direct challenge to many of the deeply held values of Britain and ‘the West’ per se: freedom of expression, disagreement, equality, democracy and tolerance. As Elizabeth Poole has since wrote, the Satanic Verses affair was represented by the media as posing a serious threat to liberal and progressive British and Western values: threatened by archaic, retrogressive and irrational Muslims, adherents to an outdated and outmoded religious belief system that history had shown us was inherently violent, barbaric and intolerant.

Despite twenty years having passed, some Muslims, some Muslim organisations and some parts of the media appear to have learned nothing. In February this year I wrote how I was increasingly distressed by knee-jerk reactions by some Muslims and their organisations that afford the media far too many opportunities to show pictures of Muslim men or angry niqabis with placards shouting abuse whilst commentators warn of the impending clash of civilisations at the same time as opinion polls pit sharia law against democracy. Those same Muslims and their organisations then turn on the media and denounce them for further vilifying and stereotyping them. It’s a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle that neither ‘side’ seem to want to break and for whom all are equally to blame.

And it is this, for me, that perpetuates and reinforces the legacy of the Satanic Verses Affair and why this legacy continues to inform much of how all Muslims and the entirety of Islam continues to be indiscriminately presented and perceived.

Next month will see the publication of a new novel, ‘Jewel of Medina’ and the potential for a whole new’ Satanic Verses affair’ to unfold in front of our very eyes. The book is said to be about the Prophet Muhammad’s relationship with his youngest wife, Aisha, and has been described as a “soft-porn” novel. Already it is believed that emails are being circulated calling on British Muslim organisations to act now to stop its publication.

If the necessary lessons have been learned from the Satanic Verses affair, neither individual Muslims nor Muslim organisations will take the bait. If the lessons haven’t been learned, then we will see history repeat itself and the legacy of the Satanic Verses affair will likely continue for at least another twenty years also.

If however the lessons have been learnt, then we will see the beginnings of a far more mature and confident approach that may will contribute to the right to freedom of expression, the right to disagreement, the right to equality and the right to democracy that all of us have.

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This work by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. Based on a work at