By Fiyaz Mughal
Over the last three years, I have been involved in formulating, implementing and managing the TELL MAMA project that has built up a substantial amount of information and expertise in the monitoring, mapping and measuring of anti-Muslim hatred or Islamophobia. Our work has supported over 2,000 people nationally since mid-2012 and has also filled a much needed gap for victims of anti-Muslim bigotry.
The last three years have been an exhilarating and gruelling set of experiences, where the personal safety of my colleagues and I have been affected. Far right extremists, anti-Muslim ideologues, on-line bigots and those who dislike religion have used every opportunity to smear, intimidate, lie and spin against the work of TELL MAMA and against the leadership of the project in the hope that by doing so, the data that we have collected will be seen as 'suspect.' You see, for them, there is nothing of value in Islam or Muslim communities and any material or information which shows the experiences of Muslim communities is to be smeared to ensure that 'no sympathy' builds up for victims of anti-Muslim hatred. Victim blaming has become, in their minds, normal on the basis of their bigoted prejudice.
Yet after all of their disinformation they have failed to damage the work and this also includes some within Muslim communities who wanted to run such a project and who simply failed to organise and implement a monitoring project on a national basis. Their tactic has therefore been to snipe from the side lines. So, the last three years have seen my colleagues and I develop skins of steel in our desire to do what is right and that is to support victims of Islamophobia and to map, measure and monitor incidents in the UK. That has been our objective and we have taken a laser like approach to the task at hand with all of the background noise of detractors, social media intimidation and abuse that we have received on virtually a daily basis.
As I have suggested earlier, there has been a small section of detractors from within Muslim communities. I have outlined an element of this, though more recently, there have been those who talk about Islamophobia and repeat the issue again and again in social settings, yet, they have campaigned against us for our outspoken views on the need to counter bigotry in general. For example, anyone who publicly promotes or supports views around homophobia, trans-gender or anti-Semitic bigotry has no moral authority to campaign or speak about the need to tackle Islamophobia.
This simple message and the highlighting of a handful of public figures within Muslim communities for their openly homophobic views led to a libellous campaign against me in early 2014. For a period of time it seemed that homophobes were too busy developing a campaign against me, rather than informing members of Muslim communities where they could report in hatred and bigotry. You see, I have a strong feeling that a vast majority of those involved in the campaign were men who cared very little to ensure that visible Muslim women, who are the target of anti-Muslim hatred, get access to information on how they can report in and seek redress on Islamophobic incidents. It seems that what really mattered to them was why two consenting adults of the same sex should sleep together and anyone standing up against such public bigotry was to be hung, drawn and quartered as a 'heretic.' Such people, frankly, belong to the days when stocks were used to punish people and they belong in that era, yet they head up and control networks and organisations which is deeply damaging to the image of Muslim communities.
This campaign showed what we are up against. As the only project methodically analysing anti-Muslim hatred with an independent oversight body - Teesside University, you would expect support from certain quarters though egos, self-interest, ultra-conservative religious circles and bigots have sought to control the agenda. We simply cannot allow this happen for the sake of those victims who rarely have a voice and many of whom suffer in silence. Many of these women victims simply want access to justice and there have also been individuals from Ahmadi and LGBTQ Muslim communities who have reported anti-Muslim hate to us showing us that they trust the neutral and non-judgemental roles that we take in our work.
You see this is why this work is important. 40 years ago, bigots railed against African Caribbean communities, Ugandan Asian communities and then Turkish speak communities and so the list goes on. Today, that bigotry has turned full circle against Islam and Muslims. It does not matter whether you have been in the UK for three days or 30 years, the target for far right groups and some on the political right, are Muslim communities. Some of what they say may have an ounce of merit whilst a lot of it comes from a place of knee jerk reactionism and prejudice. Leaving this work to those small numbers of detractors in Muslim communities would be disastrous for this area of work given some of their backgrounds and their lack of understanding of basic recording mechanisms and in working with communities such as LGBTQ, Jewish and non-faith communities. This is why we continue to move forward on this much needed work and why TELL MAMA has gained support from a wider range of Muslim and non-Muslim circles. It is also why I feel proud to head up a project with all of the threats and abuse that we receive.
We simply exist for the victims and their voices. We hope that those who seek greater glory and honour by making out that they are specialists in 'Islamophobia' take heed of this. Remembering the victim and their honour and dignity are fundamental in hate crime recoding work and that is why we get up, baton down the hatches and remain vigilant in the face of aggression, paranoia and hate.
Fiyaz Mughal is Director of Faith Matters and the Tell MAMA project