The resignation of Dr Chris Allen from the Cross Government Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred, (which was set up by the Department for Communities and Local Government some 3 years ago), is a wake up call regarding the direction of work and travel of the Group.
What is also noticeable is that members of the public and many organisations who work with Muslim communities are not aware of the Cross Government Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred, nor are they aware of who the members are or whether the Group has an elected or selected Chair, or whether it even has a Chair?
Approximately a year ago, the Director of TELL MAMA, Fiyaz Mughal OBE, resigned from the Cross Government Working Group on anti-Muslim Hatred and the recent resignation of Dr Chris Allen should set off alarm bells as to the future existence and efficacy of this Group. Whilst the Group’s aims and objectives were substantive, Dr Allen makes clear that the Group attempted to tackle anti-Muslim bigotry by discussing projects such as the Big Iftar and Srebrenica Memorial Day, both of which are laudable, yet tangential to real problems around anti-Muslim hatred affecting the lives of people here in the UK.
The loss of two active ex-members of the Group who have significant experience in various areas of research, mapping, measuring and monitoring of anti-Muslim hatred cannot be simply brushed aside. In fact, Dr Allen brings with him over a decade of research experience in the media and anti-Muslim hatred and is one of the leading academics in this area. Yet his comments are damning on the Group and he goes onto state:
“And this is where the problem lies. Whether it was the murder of Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham last year, the bombs left outside mosques in the West Midlands, calls for a ban on the niqab in hospitals, or the hoax allegations made via Operation Trojan Horse, the voice of the group was non-existent.”
The following statement (below) from Dr Allen goes onto suggest that some on the Group had no stomach to stand up and be counted in this area of work. Which begs the question. If this was the case, why were participants not removed and effective members placed in the Group who were willing to speak and go public on issues. Part of the work around tackling anti-Muslim hatred is speaking publicly about it, yet it seems that this was not the case with some members on the Group.
Additionally, Dr Allen also hints that the Cross Government Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred had no political buy in and had been rejected by a number of key Governmental departments. The Department for Education and Health are cited for their lack of response on correspondence written by members of the Group and simply seemed to brush off requests.
“Probably because some were too scared to put their heads above the parapet, others fearful of losing their seat at the government’s table, the group let the politicians off the hook. It had no bite, no influence, no impact. For me, this was most apparent when some of us sent letters requesting meetings with ministers from the departments of health and education: one was ignored, the other declined.”
The Way Forward
Over the last 36 months TELL MAMA has been pro-active in mapping, measuring and monitoring anti-Muslim hatred whilst supporting over 2,000 affected individuals. During that time, actual support from the Cross Government Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred has been inconsistent and extremely patchy with a lack of direction and focus on core issues around tackling anti-Muslim hatred. Getting people round the table to break a fast around Iftar are useful ways of bringing communities together, though we fully support Dr Allen in his call that tackling the motivations and actions of anti-Muslim hatred are fundamental to addressing the problem. This, he suggests, is where the Group has failed and has not even acknowledged this most basic of facts. Instead, tangential activities have taken up their work themes.
Whilst we support the existence of a Cross Government Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred, we make the following call to the Department for Communities and Local Government:
– Anti-Muslim Hate cannot be tackled by supporting secondary and peripheral projects that do not tackle the central hub of the problem. This includes highlighting who is promoting the bigotry, how they are promoting it and ensuring access to justice for victims.
– The names and details of people on the Group should be published for transparency. Keeping the Group and its members private, fuels the far right ideology of a shadowy ‘Muslim’ group at the heart of Government. If people sit around the table with Government and who are willing to support work on tackling anti-Muslim hatred, they have in effect, taken the position to place themselves in the public interest sphere.
– The Department should also cite key office bearers such as the Chair and Vice Chair and publish work themes to ensure transparency at the heart of Government.
– The impact of the Group should be measured and results published annually. To date, not a single annual report has been published, given the fact that the Cross Government Working Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred has been active for well over 2 years.
Lastly, the loss of Dr Chris Allen is no light matter for the Working Group. Serious reflection and public engagement are needed to show the value of this Group. At this point, the Group is largely irrelevant which is a real shame. An opportunity to co-ordinate action against anti-Muslim hatred has been squandered and if anything, this does a dis-service to the victims of Islamophobia who are not interested in breaking Iftars, but in ensuring that they and other Muslims are not targeted and affected by vile bigotry, hate and intolerance.