Gilligan & the Reductionists

Context

We received a call at around 5 pm on Friday the 31st of May by Andrew Gilligan, the Telegraph journalist and the Mayor’s cycle ambassador. He asked the Director of TELL MAMA a number of questions and was provided with a range of responses, some of which were simply not included in the article.

We will go through the key elements of the article and provide some context and explanations which are sadly missing from Gilligan’s article. Also, it should be noted that throughout the last week and a half, the Director of TELL MAMA and Faith Matters – Fiyaz Mughal, was one of the first people to condemn the brutal murder of drummer Lee Rigby and to state that a ‘no holds approach’ be taken against those who seek to murder people on the streets of our country. Those comments have been reported on widely in various media sources.

What are Third Party Hate Crime Reporting Projects?

Hate crime third party reporting projects take in reports from people who perceive statements to be made prejudicially on the basis of say, their race or faith. The McPherson recommendations after the brutal racist killing of Stephen Lawrence led to the setting up of third party hate crime reporting projects, where reports of hate incidents could be made to independent organisations and who would then pass that information to police on a named or anonymous basis so that the incidents could be formally logged. It has also formed the basis of tension monitoring assessments that the police conduct. That has therefore formed the basis of the work of third party hate crime reporting projects, yet we within TELL MAMA believed that a more rigorous approach was needed, given that many would simply try and deny or erode data on anti-Muslim prejudice. Some we also believed, would try and underplay anti-Muslim prejudice in our country, others would attack the data recording and others would suggest that this was part of an ‘Islamophobia industry.’ Well, it seems that Andrew has certainly attempted to take positions along some of these lines.

So, on the basis of McPherson’s recommendations, many third party hate crime reporting organisations usually receive reports of verbal abuse and increasingly, around on-line abuse. Thankfully, many do not receive reports of very violent attacks which they suggest, should immediately be reported to the police through 999. Like other projects, the TELL MAMA national project makes this clear across the face of its web-site. Indeed, it is the first thing that is stated on the site. So the attempt by Gilligan to underplay the impact of the incidents and suggest that many were non-violent, tells us that his initial assumptions are faulty and that he reads incidents as violence incidents. Nevertheless they are recordable hate incidents and which any third party hate crime project would record. Furthermore, attacks against mosques, including broken glass and graffiti against graveyard buildings, have been recorded and which Gilligan states as being, ‘relatively minor.’ No mention is made here of the community impacts and the re-enforcement of perceptions within the minds of Muslims who worship in the mosque and the impact on whole communities who use the place of worship. Gilligan simply glibly moves on after the statement.

Verification of Data from Reports

Gilligan then goes onto infer that statements on the number of incidents were made prior to all the cases being fully verified. What he fails to mention is that during the conversation, two clear elements were explained to him. To ensure due diligence and to counter charges of accepting cases without checks and balances, caseworkers drill down within conversations to find out whether victims were targeted with anti-Muslim statements, whether oral or written and whether off-line or on-line. The context of the incident, witness details and further material are extracted to provide a detailed picture to show whether the incident was indeed anti-Muslim in nature. At this stage, if there is no corroborating information, caseworkers in conjunction with a Senior Supervisor make a decision based on the available evidence, as to whether it is an Islamophobic incident. Gilligan was clearly informed that in 2012, 50 plus cases at this stage were not marked as Islamophobic in nature since there was little corroborating evidence and the descriptions provided by the victim simply did not pan out and show targeted anti-Muslim prejudice. Gilligan then talks of an ‘Islamophobia industry’. If TELL MAMA wanted to build such an industry, would it not be easier to simply include as many of these cases as possible? He also simply fails to mention the reclassification of those cases and which was clearly mentioned to him in the telephone conversation.

So, let us further expand on the verification of cases. We welcome the fact that Gilligan mentioned the statement that 35 of the 212 post Woolwich incidents needed verification. What he fails to mention again and which was stated to him clearly in the phone conversation, was that a second stage verification is undertaken by the Director of TELL MAMA, where relatives and witnesses of the victim and other points of potential contact are liaised with. This second stage check and balance ensures that further validation takes place and with 4 staff working in the office at any one point on this project,  case-workers were simply stretched given the volume of incidents reported in post the killing of drummer Lee Rigby. By Friday the 31st of May, over 170 cases has been recorded and had been through the two step verification process with only 3 cases being re-classified as not being anti-Muslim in nature. With such limited resources and with stringent verification processes in play, the thrust of Gilligan’s argument is to cast an aspersion on the figures, yet he was categorically told that at the second stage process there was a negligible number of cases which were re-classified. He also failed to mention this in his article.

Using Police Data Alone as a Benchmark

Most of Gilligan’s article then attempts to use police data and figures on Islamophobic hate incidents and he uses them as a benchmark. What he fails to grasp is that the MET and other forces across the country clearly state that hate crime reporting is under-reported and forces are open and vocal about this. Indeed, TELL MAMA and the MET are in the process of signing a data sharing Memorandum of Understanding on the number of cases that the MET and TELL MAMA receive and this is built on the practice of the CST, (the Community Security Trust), which ensures that anti-Semitic hate incidents are recorded appropriately on behalf of Jewish communities in the UK. What Gilligan also fails to mention is that the value of third party hate crime reporting projects is due to the fact that victims may feel that they do not want to waste police team and so report to projects like TELL MAMA. Also many Muslims post Prevent, (the Preventing Extremism agenda), are fearful of engaging with police and many have reported to us that their cases have been re-classified with race hate incident flags rather than with Islamophobia flags. Internally, officers within ACPO, (the Association of Chief Police officers), admit that classification and recording of faith hate incidents is a potential issue and TELL MAMA data is showing that race and faith hate language is on many occasions, intricately linked. So Gilligan’s reliance on police data is inaccurate and simply shows a lack of understanding of what is happening at a community level.

Cycle of Anti-Muslim Activity

Referring to the statement made that there is ‘no end’ to the cycle of anti-Muslim activity, a full and detailed description was provided to the reporter and which has widely been reported in media sources throughout the crisis. Before the brutal murder of drummer Lee Rigby, we received on average, between 4 – 8 cases a day of Islamophobic incidences. The Woolwich murder caused a major spike in Islamophobic hate incident recordings which has started to drop and this would be expected. Yet the background noise of Islamophobic hate incidents rumbles on and this was made clear to Gilligan. What we need to keep a watching brief on is whether the baseline daily figures start to rise and whether there are cumulative effects caused by incidents such as Woolwich. This will take time to assess in the future.

Moving onto the online world, Gilligan regards on-line hate incidents as being minor or peripheral in nature and he refers to them as such within the article. He does not describe the impact they have on people, the emotional disturbance that they may cause and the distress that they clearly cause to many victims. Here for example, is what is reported into us and which Gilligan attempts to downplay.

 anti-Muslim tweet

This material is pervasive in the on-line world and if we attempted to trawl through such postings, we would simply be inundated. Furthermore, we made clear to Gilligan on the phone that whilst people from overseas countries fed in incidents to us, (which amounted to no more than 10-20 cases last year, out of approximately 650 incidents), we are able to filter these out when exporting the data into an Excel file for evaluations to be made. Once again, he failed to state this in the article.

Countering Far Right & Islamist Based Extremism

Yet, there are more worrying elements in his article. He states that ‘part of its motivation appears to be an attempt to draw some of the sting from Islamist terrorism by equating it to the work of anti-Muslim extremist groups such as the English Defence League.

At no point would we argue that the Islamist threat should be downgraded or attention be diverted from it. Indeed, the Director of TELL MAMA has been involved in working through Prevent for over 6 years and was initially appointed after 7/7 in 2005 onto the Task Force set up by the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair. His engagement has been consistent in working on projects to counter violence and extremism coming from the small number of individuals within Muslim communities. Additionally, Gilligan was also told in the course of the conversation about the recent work that TELL MAMA did with a Shia member of the public who had been assaulted by a group around Anjum Choudhary, (the ex-leader of Al Muhajiroun), on Friday the 10th of May on Edgware Road in Central London. That work involved trying to ensure that legal and criminal action was taken against members of Anjum Choudhary’s gang. Yet, once again, this was not mentioned in the article.

We also made clear that TELL MAMA and Faith Matters would continue to tackle extremists whether from the Far Right and from Islamist circles and that anyone fomenting hate within communities, would be seen as a threat to the peace and cohesion in our country; for Gilligan, the laser type approach on the Islamist threat which seems to be all encompassing, may also means that organisations which raise other societal threats, are seen negatively, possibly as if they ‘take away’ from the main focus which, it seems, Gilligan strongly believes is a pervasive Islamist threat. Yet the question is, why would he raise this point about TELL MAMA when many other organisations work on countering hate from both such elements within our country? Examples of such organisations involve Hope Not Hate. So why focus on TELL MAMA?

Definitions of Islamophobia

Definitions of Islamophobic incidents were also discussed and we made clear that the body of work on Islamophobia or anti-Muslim prejudice was still developing and that the phenomena was only categorised since 1997, when the Runnymede Trust published its groundbreaking report. We therefore took in reports based on perceived prejudice which we then verified and which may not be crimes and others which may have criminally infringed on existing public order offences for example. What we made clear to Gilligan, since he mentioned the work of the CST (Community Security Trust) and its classification of Anti-Semitism, was that we were some way away in setting a definition since the body of work was growing and it was one area where the All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia would also be involved in. We also mentioned the fact that the work of the CST had spanned over 30 years and it had taken a long period of time to develop a robust, all encompassing and tangible definition, something that could not be expected of a project within a year of its launch.

Safety of Communities in the UK

Finally, we made clear to Gilligan that the United Kingdom was still the safest place to live in and that it was one of the best countries for faith communities to be in. We re-iterated this twice, yet he chose to make no mention of this. We also mentioned the fact that thankfully, there is something inherent within the British public which detests violence and this may be why we had not seen an orgy of violence after the murder in Woolwich. We have also gone on various news sources and stated that insults, abuse and attacks against Muslims and mosques simply play into the narrative of the two murderers of drummer Lee Rigby who wanted to start ‘a war.’ Once again, these comments are strangely missing from the article.

Don’t mention Islamophobia

There is one comment that we want to make and something that was mentioned to us by Gilligan. He asked us whether reporting anti-Muslim incidents played into an Islamist victim mentality. We have also heard this argument from others. In other words, do we keep issues private so that extremist narratives of victimisation are not re-enforced? Well Andrew. Just one thing to say on that. We must not forget the killing of Lee and the brutal manner in which it was carried out by two extremists purporting to come from Muslim communities. But we cannot hide from society and the wider public, the phenomenon of anti-Muslim prejudice which is unfortunately alive and well in our country and which needs to be tackled. You can either chose to acknowledge that or focus on one area at the expense of another, hence the reductionism. It is as simple as that.