The truth about the 'wave of attacks on Muslims’ after Woolwich murder
Fiyaz Mughal runs a project called Tell Mama, which receives £214,000 a year from the Government to monitor anti-Muslim attacks in Britain. In the wake of Drummer Lee Rigby’s murder, he has been understandably busy.
Fiyaz Mughal who runs the Tell Mama project. Photo: REX FEATURES
By Andrew Gilligan
9:05PM BST 01 Jun 2013
There has, said Mr Mughal, been “a wave of attacks, harassment, and hate-filled speech against Muslims … an unprecedented number of incidents”, including “a rise in street harassment of Muslims – unprovoked, opportunistic attacks from strangers as Muslims go about their lives”.
He added: “Over the past week or so, these sorts of hate crimes have noticeably increased in number and, in many instances, become more extreme.
"The scale of the backlash is astounding … there has been a massive spike in anti-Muslim prejudice. A sense of endemic fear has gripped Muslim communities.”
The media, especially the BBC, have accepted the claims without question. A presenter on Radio 4’s influential Today programme stated that attacks on Muslims were now “on a very serious scale”.
Talk of a “massive anti-Muslim backlash” has become routine. And it is that figure issued by Tell Mama – of, to date, 212 “anti-Muslim incidents” since the Woolwich murder – which has formed the basis of nearly all this reporting.
Police arrest 58 as anti-fascist protesters clash with BNP 01 Jun 2013
Lee Rigby's family urge calm 31 May 2013
Woolwich attack: Michael Adebowale charged with murder of soldier Lee Rigby 30 May 2013
Woolwich attack: police urge calm following murder of Drummer Lee Rigby29 May 2013
Mr Mughal is in no doubt what lies behind it all. As he told a newspaper: “I do not see an end to this cycle of violence. There is an underlying Islamophobia in our society and the horrendous events in Woolwich have brought this to the fore.”
And as he put it on Today, “the [Government’s] Prevent [anti-extremism] agenda, the extremist agenda, have not been good for building confidence – the sense of fear just alienates and isolates communities.”
Yet the unending “cycle of violence” against Muslims, the unprecedented “wave of attacks” against them from strangers in the street, the “underlying Islamophobia in our society” – all turn out to be yet more things we thought we knew about Woolwich that are not really supported by the evidence.
Tell Mama confirmed to The Sunday Telegraph that about 120 of its 212 “anti-Muslim incidents” – 57 per cent – took place only online. They were offensive postings on Twitter or Facebook, or comments on blogs: nasty and undesirable, certainly, but some way from violence or physical harm and often, indeed, legal. Not all the offending tweets and postings, it turns out, even originated in Britain.
Tell Mama has no written definition of what it classes as an anti-Muslim incident, but has in the past adopted a wide definition. Last November, the cross-bench Asian peer, Baroness Flather, told a newspaper it was “pointless for the Conservatives to chase Muslim votes.
They are all on benefits and all vote Labour”. Tell Mama added this admittedly crass and untrue remark to its database as an “anti-Muslim incident,” though it said it had deleted it following an explanation from Lady Flather.
Although the service says its caseworkers “carefully handle each report as it comes in, to determine whether it can be verified and justified as an anti-Muslim incident”, Mr Mughal admitted that a further 35 of the 212 post-Woolwich incidents, or 16 per cent, had yet to be verified.
He justified publishing the figure, however, saying he expected that all but a handful of incidents would be verified.
Fewer than one in 12 of the 212 “incidents” reported to Tell Mama since Woolwich – 17 cases (8 per cent) – involved individuals being physically targeted.
Six people had things thrown at them, said Mr Mughal, and most of the other 11 cases were attempts to pull off the hijab or other items of Islamic dress.
Without in any way denying the distress and harm caused by such attacks, they do stand at the lower levels of seriousness.
Seventeen is still likely, of course, to underestimate the total number of attacks. The Metropolitan Police, the only major force in Britain which breaks down “offences with an Islamophobic flag”, said there were 13 allegations of common or racially aggravated assault of Muslims reported to it in London in the week after the killing.
About 40 per cent of Britain’s 2.7 million Muslims live in the capital, so the national figure could be around 32 cases, or about one Muslim in every 100,000.
Offences of common and racially aggravated assault are typically used where there has been no injury, such as hijab snatching, or minor injury not drawing blood or requiring medical treatment, such as the throwing incidents reported by Tell Mama. The Met said there were no cases reported to it where any more serious injury resulted.
Asking other police forces and trawling local media reports, The Telegraph has been unable to find a single confirmed case since Drummer Rigby’s death where any individual Muslim has received an injury requiring medical treatment.
Tell Mama’s Twitter feed reported one such incident, of a Muslim woman “knocked unconscious” in Bolton, but the local police said they had no knowledge of this and did not believe it happened.
It is unlikely, though not impossible, that any case of serious injury could have escaped the notice of the media or police.
Perhaps the most serious manifestation of anti-Muslim feeling after the killing was a number of attacks on mosques. These are believed to total 11, though here again evidence for a “wave of violence” is lacking.
With only two exceptions, a mosque in Grimsby into which firebombs were thrown and another one in Essex where a man entered with a knife, all the incidents were relatively minor, such as window-breaking or graffiti.
According to the Charity Commission, there are between 1,100 and 1,500 mosques in the UK, so the number attacked is less than 1 per cent.
Two other sets of figures are available. According to the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), forces nationally reported 71 anti-Muslim hate crimes or “incidents of note” to the National Community Tensions Team in the week after the murder of Drummer Rigby.
“That would cover everything they feel has a link to Woolwich, though an incident of note would not necessarily be a crime,” said a spokesman.
The second set of figures is from True Vision, an online hate-crime reporting tool operated by Acpo. There were 136 reports of anti-Muslim activity – internet or physical – received via this website in the week after Woolwich, overwhelmingly in the first few days, though Acpo said that not all were crimes and some reports were duplicates.
As for the claim that there is “no end” to the cycle of anti-Muslim activity, it has substantially ended already. According to police, there was a sharp spike in reported incidents in the day or so after the killing, but they have already subsided to pre-Woolwich levels. Acpo said that by last Wednesday, a week after the murder, the number of incidents reported to True Vision had fallen back to four a day.
The claim that the spike and numbers were “unprecedented” is wrong, too. After the 7/7 attacks in London – admittedly more serious than the killing of Drummer Rigby – there was a far bigger and more prolonged rise in faith-hate crimes. According to the Met, 269 were recorded in London alone in the three weeks after the 2005 attacks, compared with 40 for the same period the year before.
What the data broadly show, in short, is that Drummer Rigby’s killers have failed. The breakdown in community relations has not come. There has been a rise in incidents, but it appears to be very short-term, overwhelmingly non-violent and even then almost entirely at the lower end of the scale.
Yet this is not a message the Islamophobia industry wants heard, now or ever. Two months before the Woolwich killing, Tell Mama was already claiming that anti-Muslim incidents were “rising”, on the basis of reports made to its service. But at that point it had only been going for a year, so it had no previous figures to compare.
In 2010 a report for the Islamist Cordoba Foundation, described by David Cameron as a “political front for the Muslim Brotherhood”, said there was already what it called a wave of “terrorism” against British Muslims, with an “alarming rise” in hatred of Islam.
What evidence there is simply does not support the claims. There is anti-Muslim hatred in Britain, and it is disgraceful. But nearly all the evidence shows it is diminishing. In 2009 there were 368 anti-Muslim crimes in London; in 2012, there were 337. In the first 11 weeks of 2013, there were 64 crimes, equating at that point to 303 across the year, though the Woolwich attack will drive that up.
Hate crime in London’s main Muslim area, Tower Hamlets, has dropped by almost half since 2003 (though it rose slightly this year). Outside London, faith-hate crimes reported to the main forces with big Muslim populations – West Midlands, Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire – have fallen, too.
Broader political developments suggest a country increasingly at ease with Muslims. In 2009 the main anti-Islamic party, the BNP, had 55 councillors. Now it has two. The number of Muslim MPs doubled at the last election, some elected for entirely non-Muslim seats such as Bromsgrove, Gillingham, or Stratford-upon-Avon with no backlash whatever.
Continental campaigns to ban minarets and the niqab have gained absolutely no political traction in Britain.
Opinion polls after the Woolwich attack showed rising positive sentiment about Muslims – though, as with so many of these exercises, the answers can depend on the questions you ask.
Yet broader politics are also driving the Islamophobia industry.
For Islamists such as the Cordoba Foundation, the narrative of British Muslims under attack, increasingly hated and feared by their fellow citizens, is essential for recruitment, and for furthering their central lie that different races and faiths cannot coexist.
“Islamophobic” is also a handy charge to throw at anyone who questions Islamist ideology.
Tell Mama is not Islamist, though Mr Mughal has written in the Cordoba Foundation’s journal (he says it was a “mistake” which he will not repeat).
But part of its motivation appears to be an attempt to draw some of the sting from Islamist terrorism by equating it with the work of anti-Muslim extremist groups such as the English Defence League.
As Tell Mama’s Twitter feed puts it, “whilst we need to tackle the narrative of hate inspired by al-Qaeda, we also need to tackle the thuggery and hate of the EDL”. Mr Mughal insists that “both groups are significantly problematic”.
Loathsome as the white extreme Right is, however, there is clearly no comparison. No one in Britain has been killed by the EDL; 53 people have been killed by Islamist terrorists. White racists, unlike their Islamist equivalents, do not control key religious institutions or have a significant presence in British universities.
Over the past decade, half a dozen or so white British Right-wingers have been convicted of possessing explosives and other weapons. But all were loners not acting in concert with any group.
In contrast, there have, over the same period, been 150 convictions for Islamist-related terrorism in the UK, many relating to serious, carefully organised, often multinational plots against specific targets involving substantial numbers of people.
For some quarters of the Islamophobia industry, it has now become Muslims who are the main victims of the Woolwich horror.
But while some innocent Muslims have of course become victims, the main victim was Drummer Lee Rigby. And in overhyping the backlash, some in the Muslim community are playing right into the hands of his killers.