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‘Equality means Equality for all’: Nick Cohen and Fiyaz Mughal

Anti-Muslim bigotry is a very real concern which manifests itself in many different ways – recent tensions in Northern Ireland, the intimidatory tactics of Britain First, endless foul online abuse and more minor or marginal examples, such as the Daily Mail’s Great British Bake Off story.  Although in a sense this last example is trivial, it’s very unwelcome that this kind of thoughtless journalism should be so easily found in a mainstream, popular newspaper. To illustrate the problem here’s a further offering from yesterday’s Mail – directly beneath an article about ISIS Peter Hitchens turns to what is apparently another existential threat to Western civilisation.

A hijab-wearing model, Mariah Idrissi, has been chosen for a new advertisement by the fashion chain H&M.

I think we will be amazed at how quickly this becomes normal. It won’t be long before we have veiled Muslim Cabinet Ministers, TV newsreaders and judges. It is all part of a slow but unstoppable adaptation of this country to Islam.

In my view it will eventually mean that non-Muslim women will come under pressure to conform.

If you doubt the power of this huge change, consider this. There are archive films available showing women in Afghanistan and the Arab Middle East dressed in Western styles. It has taken only 40 years for them to disappear beneath scarves and shrouds. The process may be quicker for us.

Tell MAMA was set up to monitor and measure anti-Muslim attacks in much the same way as the CST tracks antisemitic incidents and discourse.  As Nick Cohen reports in a strong piece in the Guardian, the organisation, and its founder Fiyaz Mughal, have received criticism and abuse from both sides.   The far right attacks are to be expected.  Another class of critic, Islamosceptic rather than far-right/racist, scrutinises Tell MAMA for any shortcoming, real or imagined, without acknowledging its very many positive achievements.

And of course Tell MAMA comes in for plenty of criticisms from other Muslims.  There are many things reasonable people may disagree about and not all such criticism is bigoted.  For example some Muslims expressed concerns about Peter Tatchell becoming a patron of Tell MAMA, not because of his gay rights activism, but because of pictures which seemed to show him holding a sign saying ‘Islam Nazis’.  But others actively disapprove of Tell MAMA’s opposition to all forms of bigotry, in particular antisemitism, homophobia and intra-Muslim sectarianism.  Nick Cohen gives an example:

In November, MEND’s chief executive, Sufyan Gulam Ismail, announced to a Manchester mosque: “We don’t want the government to fob us off with some phony thing called Tell MAMA, which has got a pro-Zionist pretty much heading it, or in a very senior capacity, and is making all sorts of comments we might not agree with when it comes to homosexuality, to be recording Islamophobia.”

Tell MAMA has published a piece – ‘Equality means Equality for all’ – countering this bigoted attack, aimed at its co-chair Richard Benson:

Coming onto the issue of ‘pro-Zionists’, this is a charge that is the most corrosive of all within Muslim audiences. We have worked with the Community Security Trust in setting up Tell MAMA and we are both independent organisations. We are proud of our ability to work with our Jewish brothers and sisters in the fight against prejudice and bigotry and that relationship remains unshakeable.

… Richard Benson advocated that anti-Muslim hatred should receive the same attention that other hate crime strands do and has forcefully spoken out for Muslim women who suffer street based incidents. He has spent his time and effort standing up for what is right and has never in any meeting mentioned the Middle East. A consummate professional, he is an asset to any organisation and we are extremely lucky to have our co-Chairs at the helm of Tell MAMA. The statement from the CEO of MEND is therefore tiresome, inaccurate and an affront to those willing to do the right thing in countering prejudice, in this case, anti-Muslim hatred.

Another bone of contention for some is Tell MAMA’s support for Ahmadi Muslims – here’s a recent post from them condemning sectarian abuse. A good example of this problem is 5pillars’ coverage of the mosque fire in Morden.  If 5pillars don’t think Ahmadis are Muslims – and one can hardly legislate for such theological opinions – why could they not ignore the fire rather than concoct a post which seems designed to insult them by its pointed use of sneery scare quotes around ‘mosque’? Why draw attention to the sectarian divide, rather than express sympathy following this serious incident?  To move back quickly to a quite different kind of Tell MAMA critic, Douglas Murray is in similar sneer mode here, in an article about sectarianism from earlier this year.  It would have been nice if he could have acknowledged that some (non-Ahmadi) Muslims are engaging wholeheartedly with this serious problem.

In a piece on his personal blog, Fiyaz Mughal also criticises the use of terms such as “House Muslim’ to denigrate liberal Muslims.

There are those who think that calling individuals ‘House Muslims’ who are in the public domain and who work on issues affecting Muslim communities, a perfectly normal and acceptable statement. There are those who believe that by Muslims trying to give people the best opportunities through equality, they automatically become Muslims who serve the ‘white master’ and who promulgate the ‘slavery’ of Muslims.

[W]e  have people living in the heart of our capital and in our country, who regard wider communities as subjugating them, when they themselves promote a state of division. It seems that the people with a closeted and imprisoned mind-set are these young men who think that they live in a state of perpetual separation and as though anyone beyond the circle of whom they find acceptable, is a cultural, societal or even religious threat.

Tell MAMA is right to insist that tackling anti-Muslim sentiment is only credible when other kinds of bigotry are acknowledged – just as those who are concerned about Islamist extremism also need to counter genuine anti-Muslim bigotry.

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