The National Secular Society – Rehashing the Old Narrative

Well, just as you thought that Far Right EDL sympathisers (and those who believe that anti-Muslim prejudice does not exist), had finished retweeting the Gilligan article, we have the National Secular Society that has decided to wade into the argument. Having casually and carelessly done so, let us look at the main thrust of Terry Sanderson’s blog piece. The title starts of with, ‘Muslims must be protected, Islam must not.’ So far so good, except that they simply fail to understand that some, like EDL sympathisers, attack Islam as a way of undermining the rights of believers, i.e. Muslims. For example, having failed to cite this independent report from Teesside University on TELL MAMA data from April 2012 to April 2013, a very good example to substantiate this claim can be found on the Teesside report on page 26, reference 378.

The piece then strongly suggests that Muslims in some way, shape or form, want special treatment so that their ultimate goal becomes the protection of Islam. To us, these assertions leave the reader with the perspective that Muslims are also wanting special treatment, whining again and dare we say, attempting to bring in protections for Islam as some form of ‘creeping Shariah.’ Now where did we hear that statement?

Setting Things Straight

Before we continue though, we wanted to set out some clear parameters for the National Secular Society. For example, we are not the MCB. Second, we believe that religion should not be protected, though people should be free to live their lives free from fear. Are we some secretive bunch of Islamists, no! In fact, in our heart beats liberal values based on the right for people to live their lives how they want and with as little Government intrusion as possible, as long as lifestyles do not impact on the lives of others. Now having got that straight, we wanted to add that the piece promoted by the National Secular Society is lazy and relies on one source of comment and reporting.

The Press Complaints Commission

Apart from promoting the notion that the MCB is on a mission to promote some form of ‘creeping Shariah,’ the piece disregards the recent backlash against Muslims post Woolwich. What does the piece by the National Secular Society base this on? Obviously the two Gilligan articles on which we, TELL MAMA, have launched a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission on. This was even mentioned to the officer that we spoke to at the National Secular Society today (25/07/13), though obviously, they have not included this or corrected their article. Neither have the National Secular Society chosen to list our responses to the Gilligan pieces which are listed here and here, since it would start to unravel the simplistic arguments put forward by Terry Sanderson.

Thrust of the Argument by the National Secular Society

The initial piece put out by the National Secular Society stated in a matter of fact way, that the MCB had no leg to stand on regarding its call to the Government to do more on anti-Muslim prejudice. This was because, according to the National Secular Society, commenting on 2 articles by the same author, TELL MAMA data was somehow unreliable. So the whole piece by the National Secular Society is based on Andrew Gilligan’s articles and as we suggested, it also misses out the independent Teesside report on TELL MAMA’s data. Nor do the National Secular Society have any comment to make on these independent mapped reports of attacks on mosques and Islamic institutions post Woolwich. In fact, contrast the Gilligan articles to these academics and the lazy commentary of the Terry Sanderson commentary piece is evident. Take for example, this piece from Dr Matthew Feldman of Teesside University. Naturally, the National Secular society also forgot this piece by Dr Chris Allen of Birmingham University. In fact, just yesterday, the following piece was released by the New Statesman outlining responses by five Muslim women on anti-Muslim prejudice that they suffered.

Well we could list the various articles that have highlighted anti-Muslim prejudice, such as here, here and here. However, we are going to move to data from the MET which also corroborates our findings of a spike and anti-Muslim backlash post Woolwich. On the 11th of June 2013, Commander Simon Letchford, in charge of the MET’s response post the brutal murder of drummer Lee Rigby, stated that there had been an 8 fold increase in anti-Muslim incidents post Woolwich. The Met Police has also released crime statistics for year-end May 2013, revealing that there was a +31.1% increase in Islamophobic crime in London. Figures for May 2012 versus May 2013 only reveal that there was a large +145.7% increase in Islamophobic crimes. In addition, ACPO announced that it had received 136 complaints of anti-Muslim hate incidents in the week following Lee Rigby’s murder. These were reported direct to ACPO (not regional police forces) via its True Vision reporting site for hate crimes and included “physical offences and internet material.” Furthermore, if the National Secular Society had looked at these figures and then looked at page 28 of the Teesside report, they would have realised that there was a post Woolwich backlash, even though the two figures cannot be directly comparable, for a number of reasons.


The Terry Sanderson article is a knee jerk reaction to comments made by the Muslim Council of Britain yesterday. Whilst the National Secular Society may have an issue with the MCB, (note the following statement, “Fortunately, the MCB fell out of favour with the Government in 2009 and all links were severed after much criticism of its members and activities,’) we are not the MCB! Nor does the National Secular Society understand the method of recording and the caveats and nuances around third party reporting; if this was understood, relying on the Gilligan articles would have been seen to have been relying on shaky ground.

Furthermore, the flippant manner in which anti-Muslim prejudice is discarded, does a dis-service to victims such as this woman, or this one. What is the worst element of all of these discussions, is that the victim’s voice is drowned out by figures, numbers and statistics. It would do the National Secular Society a world of good, if they simply took a few minutes out to listen to the stories of these Muslim women. For Amina, she is starting to put her life together against after 14 months of anguish. For Jamilah, the scars will never heal.

So if the National Secular Society was looking for the ‘money shot’ in the Terry Sanderson piece, they woefully missed it. Maybe doing some better research in the future may help.