We are at the end of Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM) – an opportunity to deconstruct and challenge negative stereotypes. But dig deeper and you find that unless you’re the right kind of Muslim, this isn’t a month for you.
IAM was set up in 2012 and has been running since then. It seeks to work with Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC), local councils, Parliament and educational establishments to raise the issue of Islamophobia and challenge it. The aim is to ensure no sector of society is excluded from doing something about negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims. A noble cause, until you find out who set it up.
One of the co-founding organisations is the controversial Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND). It boasts that it “helps empower and encourage British Muslims within local communities to be more actively involved in British media and politics”. But this in my opinion couldn’t be further from the truth.
In a report from the Commission for Countering Extremism, it was found MEND staff attacked and were hostile to liberally-minded Muslims on social media, accusing them of being ‘government stooges’ and ‘Uncle Toms’. The latter is a racially motivated term that seeks to caricature an individual as betraying his/her own ‘kind’ by going against a perceived position they should be adhering too. It also promotes the idea that if you go against ‘normative Islam’ then you are a traitor.
But MEND is not the only problematic organisation supporting this initiative. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has also embraced the month. This is the same organisation that sought to defend its position for not identifying Glasgow shopkeeper Asad Shah as a Muslim – when he was murdered for being the wrong kind of Muslim. That they appear to believe their right to deny someone’s religious identity is more important than the murder itself for being the wrong kind of Muslim, seems to suggest that their support for IAM is only for those they think are deserving of it. If Ahmadis are not Muslims, then IAM is surely not a month for them?
As a trustee for Muslims Against Antisemitism (MAAS), I too have found being attacked for supporting Jews against antisemitism is standard practice. Only recently, Miqdaad Versi, the spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, seems to have taken issue with me retweeting an Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) ruling on a personal complaint he had made against Telegraph columnist Nick Timothy for a piece he’d written headlined: ‘We’re not drifting into segregation, we’re hurtling perilously towards it’.
Timothy referenced a letter from the former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson in which he states: ‘While pupils are allowed to express political views, antisemitic language and threats must not be tolerated’.
Timothy then went on to raise his concerns that Versi seems to be accusing the government of being ‘one-sided’ on racism. In fact, the letter was not about Israel, rather the harassment of British Jews. IPSO ruled in favour of Nick Timothy and the Telegraph and threw out the complaint. That Versi thought it was a good idea to take issue with a trustee of an organisation run by Muslims and dedicated to the purpose of tackling antisemitism seems to show a lack of insight and moral compass.
Real anti-Muslim bigotry and hate exists. Dedicating a month to challenging negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims may seem a well-intentioned idea, but not when it is co-founded by an organisation that attacks fellow Muslims or supported by another that refuses to call the Ahmadis Muslim community real Muslims. Unless you’re the right kind of Muslim, this isn’t your month.
You’re excluded because of who you are. This seems a form of anti-Muslim bigotry to me.