Photo: Andrew Smith / Forbury Gardens, Reading
Long read (18 minutes)
In November, Libyan refugee Khairi Saadallah pleaded guilty to murdering three men during a stabbing spree at a Reading park last June. He also admitted three further charges of attempted murder. Yet it was not until yesterday, two months later, that he has been sentenced to life in prison. The prosecution contended that this was a terror attack, but Saadallah claimed he was not motivated by an ideological cause. A new hearing was deemed necessary to decide whether or not he was motivated by a religious or ideological cause.
Following the attack, Saadallah was heard by witnesses to shout “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest) and “victory on infidels”. The OED defines “Allahu Akbar” as meaning “‘God is (most) great’: the declaration of the Takbīr, used in Islamic liturgical forms and prayers, and by Muslims as a general exclamation of faith, thanksgiving, etc.” The judge ruled yesterday that Saadallah had committed a terrorist attack motivated by his Islamist extremist ideology. It would, of course, be jumping to conclusions to suggest that Saadallah was a Muslim. When interviewed, he described himself as “part Muslim and part Catholic”, a claim which did not fool the prosecution. The BBC News report on the sentencing does not explicitly identify the perpetrator’s faith or ideological cause; we are left to read between the lines.
Saadallah arrived in the UK in 2012, and when applying for asylum, he told officials at the Home Office that he had been in the violent Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia, claiming, “I did not shoot or use any weapons. I just helped them, plus guarded some hospitals.” So that’s okay then. A fully signed up member of a group whose name, translated from Arabic, literally means “Supporters of Islamic Law” was refused asylum twice, before being granted leave to remain for five years in 2018.
A year after this, he came to the attention of MI5, but according to the BBC, “when the information was further investigated, no genuine threat or immediate risk was identified and no case file was opened.” In the years since his arrival, Saadallah had spent time in prison for “a range of violent offences”, and he had been released just days before the Reading attack took place. Prior to this, Home Secretary Priti Patel had decided that his deportation was “conducive to the public good”, but, due to conditions in Libya, it was not legally possible.
Saadallah’s actions do not represent all Muslims, but nor do they exist in a vacuum. We have been conditioned to accept these occurrences as normal, instead of asking ourselves why jihadists have made Britain their home. Following the horrific murder of teacher Samuel Paty – beheaded for showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed as part of a lesson on freedom of speech – in France last October, a large group of angry protestors gathered at the French embassy in London, and had to be broken up by police. Their anger was not about the murder; it was directed at French President Emmanuel Macron’s defence of free speech, and part of violent global uprisings by Muslims in opposition to Macron.
But none of this was any reason for concern, because November was Islamophobia Awareness Month. Just one month? I thought it was all-year round. It certainly feels like it. The previous month, the government was “criticised by its own Islamophobia adviser” for not publishing the evidence behind Matt Hancock’s statement that July’s northern England lockdown was due to an “increasing rate of transmission in parts of northern England […] largely due to households meeting and not abiding to social distancing”.
Qari Asim is the deputy chair of a government taskforce on anti-Muslim hatred, and he says that Hancock’s words contributed to “hateful narratives”, giving “the impression that Muslim communities were not social distancing and were ignoring the government guidelines”. Hancock made this comment on Twitter, giving three hours’ notice that new restrictions would be imposed on Greater Manchester, parts of East Lancashire, West Yorkshire and Leicester from midnight on 30 July.
To add to the sense of victimhood, the announcement came at the start of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha. It was like “cancelling Christmas”. In December, 16.4m people in London, the South East and East of England were no longer allowed to mix in other households, cancelling Christmas plans for many. This was a far higher figure than the 4.8m people affected by the aforementioned July lockdown, and given that Christmas is celebrated as both a religious and secular festival, a potentially bigger blow for many.
Hancock can hardly be blamed for pointing out that people in these areas, which may have large Muslim populations, were not following social distancing guidelines. But in case he dares to stray in future, his Conservative government has appointed someone to provide “expert advice” on a definition of “Islamophobia”: Imam Asim, who is Deputy Chair of the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group. A statement on this appointment read: “The government agrees there needs to be a formal definition of Islamophobia to help strengthen our efforts against anti-Muslim hatred. But there are questions around the APPG definition, as concerns have been raised that the APPG definition could unintentionally undermine freedom of speech, and prevent legitimate criticism of Islamist extremism, or of unacceptable cultural practices.”
The government has spent millions in the past few years on tackling anti-Muslim hatred, including £2.5 million for the third-party reporting organisation Tell Mama, to “raise awareness on anti-Muslim hatred and to increase reporting of hate crimes.” “Raising awareness” seems to have a strong whiff of that now-familiar refrain to “educate yourself”. Targeting money to increase reporting of hate crimes means you’re looking for a problem; the desired outcome will also create a new problem for lobbying groups to get on their soapbox about. Both will perpetuate a sense of victimhood, and help the grievance industry to flourish.
In addition, the Conservative government has also ensured that for the first time, police forces are “required to disaggregate religious hate crime data to allow us to better identify Islamophobia”. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a phobia as a “fear, horror, strong dislike, or aversion; esp. an extreme or irrational fear or dread aroused by a particular object or circumstance.” What happened in Reading may not have been classed as a “hate crime”, but the three murdered men were all gay. Perhaps if they had any fear of Islam, it was just “irrational”.
In any case, a group of gay men would have had enough reasons to be fearful when going about their lives. Labour MP Afzal Khan, the chair of the Labour Muslim Network, claimed in his Islamophobia Awareness Month propaganda sermon that “once again Home Office figures show that the highest number of hate crime offences committed this year were against Muslims”. When compared to other religions, he is correct. But when compared to all hate crime strands, ‘Race’ is the strand responsible for the vast majority of hate crimes recorded by the police from 2019 to 2020. This is followed by ‘Sexual orientation’, then ‘Disability’, then ‘Religion’. ‘Transgender’ is behind ‘Religion’, in last place. The only category with a falling rate was ‘Religion’, which saw a 5% decrease.
The biggest increase was in ‘Sexual orientation’, which has had a disturbing 19% increase. Sexual orientation was responsible for more than double the number of offences compared to those attributed to religion.
Despite protestations to the contrary, Islam is a religion, not a race. In December, a 29-year old white British man named Daniel Horton was jailed for an attack on a mosque’s prayer leader. The attack took place on 20 February 2020, in that strange time just before Covid-19 changed everything. Commenting at the time of the attack, Mohammed Shafiq, CEO of the Ramadhan Foundation, said: “Whilst we await the full facts, one thing is clear Islamophobia is real and a threat to cohesive communities.” Yet on 14 December, in a report on the sentencing, it turned out that Horton had converted to Islam, and worshipped at the mosque. Horton and the victim were known to one another, because Horton, who was homeless when the incident occurred, “had been attending the mosque for a number of years.”
The figures for hate crime offences based on religion encompass nine categories: Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, ‘other’, ‘no religion’ and ‘unknown’. Once you take these into account, anti-Muslim hate crime is responsible for 50% of the ‘Religion’ strand, which leaves it trailing all other categories except ‘Transgender’ for offences recorded. Offences based on disability or sexual orientation vastly outnumber those which target Muslims. So why are we not hearing about those forms of discrimination on a regular basis? Why has the liberal left not taken up their cause recently? I suspect it is because of the power of Muslims as a voting bloc, which explains why the Conservative government is also keen to placate them.
I somehow think that heterosexuals face little discrimination throughout England and Wales (where the figures come from), so it’s clear that ‘sexual orientation’ can be largely read as meaning gay, lesbian or bisexual. It is perhaps no coincidence that Islam is deeply antipathetic to homosexuality, as evidenced by the troubling protests against LGBT lessons at schools in Birmingham and Nottingham, which were led by Muslim parents of primary school pupils. They weren’t homophobic, you see, they just didn’t want their children to learn that “it’s okay to be gay” – despite the fact this is essentially the law of the land.
Naturally, the MPs representing those Birmingham schools are all Labour. With the honourable exception of Jess Phillips, the other MPs appeased the protestors, whose votes they rely on; one even supported them (Roger Godsiff, who was then barred from standing as a Labour candidate).
During the last Labour leadership election, all of the candidates signed up to the Muslim Council of Britain’s “Ten Key Pledges to Support Muslim Communities”. This included adopting the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims’ definition of Islamophobia – “defining Islamophobia as being rooted in racism” – across the UK; encouraging the resettlement of refugees across the UK (presumably giving preference to the believers?); ensuring all counter-terror legislation is “non-discriminatory”; and “a fair approach to educational provision for all children, with a syllabus that reflects the diversity of communities, with appropriate parent involvement”. All these pledges require us to read between the lines, and look beyond the seemingly harmless platitudes. A syllabus that “reflects the diversity of communities” is a step towards removing any reference to those distasteful things like gay parents. Such kowtowing to a religious minority is a concerning move for our official opposition party; its leader – who could one day become prime minister – Sir Keir Starmer, was one of those candidates who signed up to the MCB pledges.
Not that this has placated Muslims, since 55% of respondents to the Labour Muslim Network’s Islamophobia survey said that they do not “trust the leadership of the Labour Party to tackle Islamophobia effectively”; 44% do not believe the party takes the issue of Islamophobia seriously; and 48% of Muslim party members and supporters do not have confidence in the party’s complaints procedures to deal with Islamophobia effectively. According to 5 Pillars UK, the “most consistent trend informing this position was the belief that there exists a hierarchy of racism in the Labour Party”. The report made several recommendations, including that Labour should adopt the APPG definition of Islamophobia.
However, the party has already adopted that definition of Islamophobia, seemingly without fuss. “No member of the Party shall engage in conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is prejudicial, or in any act which in the opinion of the NEC is grossly detrimental to the Party,” the Labour Party Rule Book states. This includes any incident which could be seen to “demonstrate hostility or prejudice” based on “religion or belief”, and refers to “incidents involving […] Islamophobia”. Elsewhere, it says that “The Labour Party is an anti-racist party, committed to combating and campaigning against all forms of racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia” and “Any behaviour or use of language which targets or intimidates members of ethnic or religious communities, or incites racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia, or undermines Labour’s ability to campaign against any form of racism, is unacceptable conduct within the Labour Party.”
But what if it’s your honest belief that Islam itself is deeply problematic? Well, I suppose you better keep your mouth shut, or accept that Labour is not the party for those who value free speech or real liberalism. Because there is nothing liberal about an ideology which rejects free love, or which pressures girls and women to wear a headscarf covering their hair or faces (not to mention children going hungry in the name of their faith, otherwise known as “fasting”). Perhaps the left might want to think about the indoctrination of young children in terms of child abuse, or the fact that it is near-impossible to be openly gay in such communities. Unlike Labour Party members, Muslims cannot just fill out a form and cancel their direct debits.
This could, of course, apply to any fundamentalist religion, but there is only one which stands out above all in the UK, and whose adherents walk around advertising their 7th century beliefs. It is richly ironic for an organiser of the Birmingham protests to object to the aforementioned lessons on the grounds that it is “proselytising a homosexual way of life”. Amir Ahmed also complained that it was about “indoctrination and recruitment”, claiming that “you can condition them [children] to accept this as being a normal way of life”. The protestors carried placards exclaiming “let kids be kids”. Are they letting their kids be kids? The protests succeeded, once again, in making Muslims and Islam the centre of attention. The main organiser of the protests, Shakeel Afsar, said that “the behaviour of the school and towards parents is coming across as Islamophobic”. There’s that word again. The real issue, which got lost in all this, is the right of children to grow up free from shame and guilt. Owing to the coronavirus, the requirement to teach Relationships and Sex Education in schools has now been delayed until next summer, so perhaps we’ll see more protests then, though it would be stirring up “hateful narratives” to speculate on the areas where they might occur. I would be willing to bet against the Cotswolds being one of them, though.
Meanwhile, despite the Equalities and Human Rights Commission wisely deciding that the issue of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party did not warrant an investigation, the ever-reliable HOPE not hate has wasted no time in polling Conservative Party members to interrogate their views on Muslims. Amongst the “alarming” results, it found that “57% of party members had a negative attitude towards Muslims”. One wonders what proportion of party members would have a negative attitude towards Labour supporters – or, for that matter, how many Labour members would have a negative attitude towards Tories. The latter’s ideology is only about 800 years younger, but the free market is nearly as sacred as anything in the Quran. Yet even they eventually dropped their outdated clothing and learned to embrace women in positions of power. In other “depressing” findings, 47% of Conservative Party members believe that Islam is “a threat to the British way of life”. I want a second vote on that (although, encouragingly, just 27% think it is “compatible”, with the rest being “neither”, “don’t know” or “prefer not to say”; for the British population at large, only 32% think it is “compatible”).
When left-wing activists write “no Tories” on their dating site profiles, and shout “Tory scum” on demonstrations, it’s fine; if those statements were about Muslims, they would rightly be deemed offensive. Both are political ideologies, yet there is a curious double-standard at play on the left. Religion – particularly Islam – gets a free pass, simply because it has been around a lot longer. That’s a strong argument against the 2010 Equality Act covering religion as a “protected characteristic”. The Liberal Democrats are a minor but long-established ideological grouping; perhaps they need protecting from jokes about wearing socks with sandals.
Not that Labour is without sin in this regard. In April 2020, an internal report into how the party handles anti-Semitism, entitled “The work of the Labour Party’s Governance and Legal Unit in relation to antisemitism, 2014–2019” was leaked, to widespread consternation. The dossier included several alleged examples of Islamophobia, such as that of a staffer in Labour’s policy unit sharing a video featuring author and Spectator columnist Douglas Murray.
Following the Manchester terror attack in 2017, James McBride at Labour’s Policy Unit shared a clip of Murray on the BBC’s Daily Politics programme, in which Murray commented “our politicians, I think, from all parties, are very reluctant to even name the ideology in question… we don’t want to recognise where it comes from… it comes from the religion, it is the worst possible interpretation of the religion, but it comes from it, and we are very reluctant in our society to face up to that”.
In a WhatsApp conversation for staff, McBride commented on this by saying “find it difficult to disagree with this”, noting that the terrorist ideology behind such attacks derived from the same ideology as Islam. He claimed that “Western liberal ideology is reluctant to take it on” and “expose its roots”, as it would inevitably involve “hard questions – even for so-called moderate Islam”. MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) – an NGO which lobbies for Britain’s Muslim community, and has promoted Islamophobia Awareness Month in parliament – naturally seized on this angle of the Labour dossier story. Murray has been an articulate and intelligent critic of Islam, yet was traduced as a “notorious Islamophobe” by MEND.
This minor part of the report into how Labour had dealt with complaints of anti-Semitism – one page amongst 851 – was also homed in on by the hard-left Morning Star and Novara Media; the latter said it was “holding Muslims to a level of collective responsibility that, under Labour’s later adopted IHRA definition, would be considered racist if applied [to] Jewish people”. The clear difference is that Muslims – that is, those who actually practice the religion – adhere to a set of collective beliefs. Ethnic Jews do not: there are Jews who are highly observant of Judaism; atheist Jews; Zionist Jews; and anti-Zionist Jews, to give just a few examples. Yet those who have stayed in the Labour Party did have to suffer the implicit accusation of “collective responsibility”, particularly from other Jews outside the party who wondered how on earth they could stay. But surely anyone committed to a political party or religion should be able to answer questions about their choice.
But this is small fry for opponents of our prime minister. The anti-Islamophobia industry spends copious amounts of time dredging up past comments made by Boris Johnson – chiefly, the fact that he made some light-hearted comments about the choices of clothing made by Muslim women. A garment like the burka (or niqab, which is what he meant) leaves only the eyes on display, and is alien to British culture, but Johnson’s point was that he opposed a ban, as implemented elsewhere (including parts of the Muslim world). You see, he’s really a wet liberal Tory at heart. But it doesn’t stop the liberal left trying to portray him as “far right”. As soon as he became party leader, Tan Dhesi, the Labour MP for Slough wasted no time in reeling off these remarks at Johnson’s first Prime Minister’s Questions. In an unusual break with Commons convention, Dhesi’s grandstanding was met by rapturous applause from the Labour benches. This moral posturing and attack on free speech was a sure sign that the party was on its way to a drubbing at the next General Election.
So much time is spent dwelling on the offence caused to a small minority of the population – most of whom are relatively new to these shores – that too little time is spent considering the offence taken by the established native population when its values and traditions are openly disrespected. When your community changes beyond recognition, your neighbourhood is taken over by people who don’t speak your language, and you are surrounded by women wearing the hijab, you will naturally feel a sense of cultural dislocation. You may wonder what country you are living in, and find you have no one to talk to.
What is forgotten is that these changes largely impact the white working-class, who have been made to feel outsiders in the towns and cities they considered their home. The middle-class Anywheres (as David Goodhart would put it) can sell up and move to a new area which more closely resembles the England of days gone by. The working-class Somewheres tend not to have this luxury, but more importantly, they have an attachment to place, and do not see why they should have to move from their roots. For the liberal left, it is perfectly acceptable for Muslims to live together in close proximity by clustering in urban ghettoes, protecting their way of life; for the native British to wish to protect theirs leads to the charge of “Islamophobia”.
But let’s remember that Islamophobia can easily be directed at those who aren’t even Muslim: the APPG definition says it “is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. Those from Muslim backgrounds who reject their faith, or who simply have Muslim names, will suffer from the assumption that they hold certain views and behave in a particular way. The issue of Islamophobia – so often used to shut down any legitimate criticism of the religion – is effectively used to normalise Islam in the UK, and advance the interests of Muslims. They do not care one jot about a gay ex-Muslim called Mohammed who might experience discrimination because of his name. He is an apostate, and their homophobia is holy. To object to their moral values or belief systems is to be Islamophobic. If you find it scary that your local streets are filled with women dressed from head to toe in black gowns, whose eyes peer out at you under a cloak of anonymity, you are Islamophobic. If you feel more comfortable around people who share your cultural background, then you are Islamophobic. Except if you’re Muslim, that is, in which case it is to be celebrated.
So I’m no longer talking to liberals about Islam – because the truth is, they’re no longer liberal.