Secretary of State, Minister of State, Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for attending our second annual fundraising dinner for the TELL MAMA project. The core principles of the TELL MAMA project include measuring, mapping and monitoring anti-Muslim incidents both off-line and on-line. Our work also involves supporting victims of anti-Muslim hate and ensuring access to justice by ensuring that police forces have relevant evidence and statements from victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes. Additionally, partnerships with agencies like Victim Support, who are strongly represented here, local police forces, Citizens Advice Bureaux local offices and local civil society groups up and down the country, have assisted our work. But the greatest asset to our work has been the British public, a public who inherently dislike hate, intolerance and injustice. That has been one of the greatest assets to our work and we must celebrate this important fact that is so left out of discussions on hate crime work. Take for example, the 58-year-old woman who was worried about her Somali neighbours and the abuse that they were getting. Edith picked up the phone and called us to inform us that she was worried about her neighbours who happen to be Muslim and who were being repeatedly abused. Or talk Elizabeth, a young 28 year old who stopped and assisted a young Hijab wearing woman who had been spat at and who was shaken up by the experience. Or take John, who dropped us an e-mail to tell us that he was worried about a Far Right web-site that was promoting vile anti-Muslim hatred and violence. These are very real examples where you, the British public have made a real difference to the lives and dare I say, to the perception of victims.
Yet, for all that is good, there is also a downside. Before, I go into this further, I also must add that today, in a Europe where the Far Right are making gains in places like France and where in Germany, Turkish Muslim people have been targeted and killed, or in Italy where Far Right fascist groups hang around railway platforms in major exit and entry points into the city, we should be truly grateful that we live in the United Kingdom. You see, I travel and speak in Europe on the mapping, measuring and monitoring of anti-Muslim hatred and the stories that I hear of attacks on Muslims on the European mainland are shocking. Inverting the remark made against Michael Howard, as an island nation, there is something, not of the night about us as citizens, but of something of the day. It seems we are intrinsically built to reject hatred and to rejecting the narratives of hate. This is a strength, a resource, an asset and something that can be built on and this is something we should not forget. In this sense, I think that we are unique in Britain and this should be celebrated, instead we have some people who consistently put down our country.
So what have we achieved?
Our achievements have been many this year, from assisting over 800 people in the last year through casework, advice and assistance, signposting and working with police, through to over 120 arrests that we were involved with, directly or indirectly. We have provided training to police forces in London and beyond on understanding the language and rhetoric of anti-Muslim hatred and we have been working with some police and crime commissioners in working through their hate crime plans. Furthermore, we have held over 80 community information sessions since we also fully understand that there are no real legal remedies in many cases and results can be achieved by people helping themselves. This means that we have directly reached out to about 2,000 people in our front-line community engagement work.
Community engagement work has therefore been at the forefront of our work and this is something that we will be widening in 2014 depending on resources. In particular, raising the confidence of Muslim women in something that is a key target for us in 2014, since our data and other external triangulating data sets show that visible Muslim women are the ones that are targeted at a street level. For Muslim men, anti-Muslim hatred seems to be more at an institutional level from the cases that we have come across, though again, informing them of their rights can significantly create change through self-empowerment. We have also worked with local taxi associations and in Rotherham for example, we worked with the local authority, local taxi associations and late night catering outlets. Many of these individuals and workers have suffered anti-Muslim and racist abuse from people who have had too much to drink and who cannot wait in line to get that take away after a heavy night of drinking. In fact, many taxi drivers and fast food workers simply shrug off the abuse and hate and carry on knowing that their income or their job may be at stake if they respond. Many also do not have the time or the inclination to report into the local police. You see, this is the cycle that many live through and I commend Rotherham Borough Council under the leadership of Cllr Mahroof Hussain for producing a Taxi Driver’s Handbook which is a useful guide to drivers. It provides information on hate crime reporting and reflects on what to do if taxi drivers come across vulnerable young people. In fact, Rotherham has become one of the beacon areas where we have seen collective and well-co-ordinated action from the South Yorkshire Police force and the local authority to stamp out hate crimes by raising reporting-in levels. TELL MAMA has been one of those key partners over the last year and the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Shaun Wright, has led the way on hate crime action with Cllr Hussain.
At the on-line level, one of the most difficult and complex pieces of work have been troll accounts on Twitter, set up to harass and consistently promote anti-Muslim hate. When TELL MAMA started in March 2012 we came into a ‘free for all’ in the Twitter sphere where hundreds of Twitter accounts were pouring out anti-Muslim hatred on a daily basis. After two years of meetings and talks with Twitter, we have seen a significant change in their position which we commend and welcome. Twitter have become far more receptive to suspending or shutting accounts that consistently violate their rules and we have seen a marked shift in the speed of their action and the receptiveness of them to organisations like TELL MAMA. This is a significant change from the initial starting position that they had 2 years ago when we repeatedly heard that it was the belief of key people in Twitter in San Francisco, that the internet and social media police itself. This change has come about not only because of our engagement, but because of co-ordinated civil society action. Saying this, freedom of speech must be protected and it is the ‘freedom to hate’ and the consistent misuse of Twitter accounts to continuously promote hate, which we have challenged through some social media accounts. So free speech purists – take some heart, this fundamental right is not being threatened, nor should it be in a pluralistic and open society.
So what do we know over the last 12 months? Well we know that:
- International or national incidents spike anti-Muslim hate, whether off-line or on-line and this was evident after the brutal murder of drummer Lee Rigby. (This will be further highlighted in our forthcoming 2013 /2014 annual report released in early July which will show the significant spike and Teesside University have been independently number crunching and analysing the data. We should also note that this corresponds to what the Community Security Trust saw when the attack on Gaza took place in 2009 – a significant rise and spike in anti-Semitic attacks in the United Kingdom and Europe.)
- We know that at a street level, visible Muslim females are the ones targeted and those wearing the Hijab or the Hijab and the Niqab. Worryingly, women who wore the Niqab stated that they had suffered repeated anti-Muslim hate incidents and where minor assaults had also occurred.
- We know that there is a high volume of anti-Muslim hatred on-line and through social media sources. Far Right groups now fixate on Islam and Muslims and have replaced their hatred of anti-Semitism. Yet scratch the surface and the anti-Semitism rears its ugly head from them, so it is not hard to find. We also need to put this into context and mention that there is also a high amount of misogyny through social media platforms like Twitter and women are repeatedly targeted.
- We know that after the murder of Lee Rigby in May 2014, within 8 weeks over 30 mosques in England and Wales were attacked. Visible Muslim institutions became a focal point, yet the police and law enforcement agencies worked tirelessly in patrolling key mosques.
- We know that Pavlo Lapshyn, a Ukrainian self-radicalised neo-Nazi, killed Mohammed Saleem in April 2013 and placed 3 bombs in mosques in Walsall, Tipton and Wolverhampton. Bizarrely, Pavlo’s father claims that one of Pavlo’s grandmothers was a Tatar, a Turkic group who are predominantly Muslim.
Our latest Teesside University report will also show two further indicators from the data over the last year. It will show that about 30% of the cases received last year involved a perpetrator who was from a Far Right group and this once again brings into focus how a small group of activists can create a higher impact than their presence through the use of the Internet. This is worrying.
Additionally, the Teesside report will show that out of the cases last year, about 1 in 6 people reported to the police and to TELL MAMA. This means that 5 in 6 did not report the incident to the police and this is worrying. Yet, taken together, the police data and data from TELL MAMA are still not an accurate representation as to the actual amount of anti-Muslim hate crime taking place; they are merely indicators due to high levels of under-reporting.
So what does the future hold?
The TELL MAMA project has not been an easy concept to start and to maintain, especially when other Muslim groups have accused us of being too liberal since we have advocated for gay rights, against anti-Semitism and when you here, today reflect our vision. In this room today, we have Shia, Sunni, Ahmaddiya and Ismaili Muslims, straight and gay Muslims, Christians, Jews and those of no faith. We have members of our armed forces, police officers who happen to be Muslim and many others. You make up society and this is why 2014 will be a year where we mainstream work on anti-Muslim prejudice by placing anti-Muslim hatred work in the same umbrella as other protected strands. This is also why we have reached out to great campaigners like Peter Tatchell and where our co-Chair is one of the most respected and experienced hate crime specialists we have in the country today. We are honoured to have Richard Benson lead and head up our team and we applaud the support that the Community Security Trust have given to us. Hats off to our Jewish brothers and sisters for their inspiration, their strength and their courage. Thank you Richard, Mike and Dave.
And for those out there who think that ‘we’ are some shadowy organisation planning an ‘Islamic takeover’ by stealth, the ‘we’ are 4 people. Yes, 4 people covering the whole country and who have committed themselves to building the foundations of this work. In the process we have been libelled, smeared, abused, threatened, spat at, maliciously trolled and hated by the Far Right and others.
With limited resources, we have striven to do the right thing, but this is not about us. This work is about those victims, it is about Khadija, Zuleha and Shazia and their experiences listed in the booklet on your tables. It is also about ensuring that we try and build a better society, one in which no-one has to suffer because of their identity.
And there is a further call from us. This work has involved one step forward and 2 steps back. It has been a huge learning curve for us, not made easier by a small number within Muslim communities adding to the paranoia of Far Right sympathisers who believe that there is a secret Islamic take-over of this country. Calls for the ‘flag of Islam’ to fly over buildings, calls for beheadings, abuse at so called ‘apostates’ and threats around cartoons do not help anyone and are simply disgraceful and are fuel for the conspiracy theorists of the Far Right.
We have also learnt that taking on the Far Right head on does not achieve anything nor does taking on a handful of press outlets who have remained sceptical and on occasions hostile to our work. To them, we say, let us turn the page and work together to get this work right since if we do that, we can challenge real notions of victimhood and anger that can isolate the person feeling them from their local communities.
Most of all, if there is anything that the last year as taught us, it is that there is a great deal of work to be done. The murder of Lee and Mohammed Saleem should be a wake-up call for us, that there are those who hate enough to murder on our streets. Their zeal and hate may be strong but collectively our purpose is greater and stronger. We have good on our side, a desire to protect dignity and life and a purpose based on equal rights for all. So our message to those who believe that they are superior, that they have a right to abuse others is this. You are the tiny minority in our country, you are part of the problem and not the solution. Collectively and only through collective action can we challenge these people, whether inspired by hate for a faith or believers of that faith or through hate for our free and liberal society. So, my team of 4 will continue on that journey, and we hope that is a journey we can do together. THANK YOU