Once Hopeful for Harmony, a Philosopher Voices Discord in France

March 11, 2016

HE is the intellectual much of the French left loves to hate, the writer whose rumpled look has racked up multiple magazine covers, the bookish essayist turned omnipresent media star and boogeyman for proselytizers of painless multiculturalism. Alain Finkielkraut’s mere presence in a television studio raises temperatures and sends accusations of racism flying.

“For the good of France, shut up, Mr. Finkielkraut!” a young Muslim woman, a teacher from the suburbs, said recently on live television, throwing back to Mr. Finkielkraut his own words, after a televised harangue aimed at him several years earlier in a similar confrontation.

After several dozen books, an influential weekly radio show, frequent interview requests and his induction in January into one of French civilization’s holiest — albeit most conservative — shrines, the Académie Francaise, Mr. Finkielkraut has no intention of shutting up.

A former philosophy professor at France’s elite Ecole Polytechnique, he is arguably the most visible of France’s public intellectuals. “We have seen only you, we have heard only you, we have read only you,” the historian Pierre Nora said, as Mr. Finkielkraut listened under the academy’s ornate dome, during the traditional induction speech.

The national audience for Mr. Finkielkraut’s themes, returned to obsessively and buttressed by a seamless web of references, is now larger than ever in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 2015.

Before and after the attacks, those themes have not varied: Much of Islam is radically incompatible with French culture and society; Muslim immigrants represent a threat; French schools are crumbling under a mistaken multicultural outreach; the inherited corpus of French culture is in danger; and anti-Semitism is on the rise again, this time by way of Islam.

Many of the 2015 attackers were French. “Hatred of France is present in France,” Mr. Finkielkraut said in a recent interview. “What the attacks proved is that we have a redoubtable and determined enemy.” He has caught a national mood, bridging unease over relations with the country’s Muslim minority with a nascent renewal of national pride after the November attacks. Its expression by Mr. Finkielkraut has been delivered, over many years, with all the fervor of the immigrants’ son who has succeeded. But in Mr. Finkielkraut’s pessimistic vision this fusion is dark-robed.

His last substantial book, “The Unhappy Identity,” was a best seller in France — a compact lament over declining standards in schools, the pernicious effects of multiculturalism, the oppression of women under Islam and France’s self-alienation from its own heritage.

The book’s protest over neighborhoods where “the French feel they have become strangers on their own turf” under the weight of Muslim immigration led critics to put him in the camp of the far-right National Front — a charge he rejects.

“France is on its way to disintegration,” Mr. Finkielkraut said in the interview in his Left Bank apartment, every book-lined inch underscoring his distrust of the Internet. The prosperous, pleasant and largely white-populated streets outside are far from the troubled multiracial suburbs that are his preoccupation.

“Until recently, France was successful in integrating its immigrants — that was even its pride,” he said. “Today, it is disintegrating in front of our eyes.” The French model of integration “doesn’t work anymore,” he said. “Where one could have hoped for a certain harmony, it is hatred that prevails.”

“Today, when some, like me, speak of the problem of Islam, we are denounced as the successors of Maurras and Barrès,” said Mr. Finkielkraut, naming two influential far-right thinkers of pre-World War II France. “There is a refusal to think about this era on its own terms.”

  1. FINKIELKRAUT’S political roots are on the left, though.

His father was a Jewish leather craftsman, an immigrant from Poland who survived deportation to Auschwitz after being rounded up by the French police in 1942. Born in Paris in 1949, Mr. Finkielkraut attended the prestigious Lycée Henri-IV school, demonstrated with other leftist students during the May 1968 uprising, went on to teach French literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and from 1989 taught philosophy at the École Polytechnique, from which he is now retired.

His wife, the lawyer Sylvie Topaloff, has been quoted as lamenting the friends they have lost over her husband’s political views. Yet his ideas carry just enough of an old tradition of left-leaning nationalism in France — exemplified by one of his favorite authors, Charles Péguy — for him to be acceptable to the law-and-order faction in the ruling Socialist Party.

He writes as he speaks — carefully, precisely, with minute attention to the complicated rules of French grammar, and in a style that is never far from arch irony. It is as though he were taking special trouble to avoid the constant obsession in his books and his weekly radio program, “Répliques”: the contemporary maltreatment of the French language.

It is tradition that inductees into the Académie Française eulogize the deceased academician whose chair they now occupy. Mr. Finkielkraut’s detractors were delighted that he was forced to pay tribute to a man — an obscure writer named Felicien Marceau, who did broadcasts for German-controlled Belgian radio during World War II, before fleeing — accused of collaborating with the Nazis. But Mr. Finkielkraut, himself the son of a Holocaust survivor, managed to laud the man obliquely, avoiding the trap. “The past that obsessed him hid from him the awful newness of the event that he was living,” Mr. Finkielkraut said at the ceremony.

In Mr. Finkielkraut’s view, Marceau was blinded to the dangers of Hitler by the horrors of World War I; and the French left, obsessed because of fascism with the National Front, has been blind to the dangers of radical Islam. The green-and-black-uniformed academy members, most of whom labor in obscurity, were conscious that an unusual public figure was being added to their number: The historian Mr. Nora, in the induction speech, spoke of Mr. Finkielkraut’s “omnipresence” and noted that he was at the very top of a “blacklist” of those challenging the French left’s May 1968 orthodoxies.

“You are the one who breaks the public omerta, who says — and very well indeed — what the politicians can’t say, and what the journalists don’t want to,” Mr. Nora said.

BUT the historian also hinted at a weak spot in Mr. Finkielkraut’s armored suit of erudition, one that makes him the subject of constant attack in the left-leaning press. He occupies the “fragile and porous border,” Mr. Nora said, “between solid good sense and an argument that is slightly specious.”

He also made reference to a notorious 2005 interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in which Mr. Finkielkraut derided the French national soccer team for being “black-black-black” and not black-blanc-beur — black-white-Muslim — as the popular saying had it.

Mr. Finkielkraut, for all of his warnings about the difficulty — if not impossibility — of assimilating France’s approximately four million Muslims, is not advocating their expulsion. Yet he has no practical agenda for how to integrate them into French society.

He has little to say about the evident discrimination against Muslims in France today, or about the anti-Muslim violence since the attacks. The Muslim teacher who clashed with him on television, Wiam Berhouma, raised these points to no response — before telling Mr. Finkielkraut to shut up. For Mr. Finkielkraut, the problem is with Muslims, not with France. “We’ve got to fix very clear rules,” he said in the interview. “Secularism has got to prevail. And we can’t compromise on the status of women.”

He is adamant about that last point. “Everything plays out there,” he says. “People are telling us that problem comes from all sorts of oppression by the West. No. The problem comes from the oppression by Islam of women. We’ve got to help the Muslims resolve this question.”

[press release] Declaration on the occasion of International Women’s Day

March 8, 2016

The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) held a series of meetings throughout the period of several months with women, French citizens of the Muslim faith, who are engaged in their communities and in civil society.

The objective of this dialogue and exchanges is to understand the visions, the expectations, and the suggestions of Muslim women, and to examine, together, the problems linked to the condition of women within society.

At the end of the last meeting, which was held Saturday, March 5, 2016 in Paris, the CFCM and all women who participated would like to remind on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2016:

  1. That since the beginning of Islam, women acquired and merit full legal status and that the Sainted Qur’an, Message of Wisdom and Equity, confers complete equality for men and women. “Women have the same rights as the men have on them in accordance with the generally known principles.” (Coran, 2:228)
  2. That it is established in Islam, without argument, the spiritual equality between man and woman and that there can be no limits to their spiritual progress.
  3. That man and woman come from a vital essence both the same and different, they are equal in humanity. To this, the Prophet proclaimed: “Women are like men.”
  4. That the Muslim woman plays a primordial role in society, that she must assume this role, without reservation, or constraint. Also, in regards to professional life, Islam advocates for the equality of salaries for workers, men and women, who hold the same job. This underlines the notion of equality among man/woman that is actively sought today in the work and business world.
  5. That the right to express their opinions on public, social, and religious affairs was recognized by Muslims since the advent of Islam. In effect, women can share their thoughts and choices on any public position. Also, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, second Caliph after the Prophet, entrusted the position of sales manager of contracts and purchases of Medina to a woman, Shifa Bint Abdullah, one of the rare people versed in art and writing in a society dominated by illiteracy; he also entrusted a woman to run the Market of Mecca, Samra Bint Nouhayl.
  6. That Islam gave man and woman their respective rights and obligations that allowed them to live in harmony. Sadly, in many cases, the principles of equality and equity are not respected by the Men who, at times, continue to impose their point of view. It is therefore necessary to continue to support pedagogy, study, and education so that Muslim women are not the objects of discrimination and submission.

The CFCM and the participating women proclaim on this occasion their solidarity with all women, of any faith and belief.

They reaffirm their commitment to work for the emancipation and development of the role of women in French society for today and tomorrow.

UAMO organizes third annual meeting

March 12, 2016

On Saturday the Muslim community of Orléans gathered at the Parc des expositions for a day dedicated to “faith and responsibility.” Tariq Ramadan took part in the annual event, which included round table discussions.

The Union of Muslim Associations of Orléans (UAMO) described the day as a “cultural” event, which scholars and exhibitors attended. “Faith and Responsibility: a requirement,” was the theme of the conferences and round table discussions.

For speakers, the UAMO invited several noted intellectuals: sheikh Fatih Aksay (youth and radicalization) and Michèle Sibony, vice-president of the French Jewish Union for Peace (in Palestine) and the (very controversial) professor of Islamic studies Tariq Ramadan.

The initiative aimed to encourage “active participations of the Muslim community of Orléans.” The UAMO, created in 2013, is comprised of nine associations present at the conference for “a platform offered to those living in the Central-Val de Loire region, so that they can express themselves, share and bring about a new future.”

Fourteen arrested in far-right anti-migrant protest in Calais

March 12, 2016

French police arrested 14 people on a far-right anti-migrant demonstration in Calais on Saturday morning. The protesters, who had not notified the authorities of their plan, blocked two bridges, set fire to tires and brandished banners telling foreigners to “Go home.”

CRS riot police stopped the unauthorized demonstration almost as soon as it began and had broken it up by 9.00am, officials said.

About 80 activists from the far-right group Génération Identitaire blocked two bridges, burnt tires and let off teargas, police said.

The organization claimed there were 130 protesters and that they blocked three bridges that “gave migrants access to the town of Calais.”

Photos and video posted on Twitter shown groups of young people sitting on the ground, some of them waving banners saying “Go Home” and “No Way,” which they appeared to believe means “No entry.”

A Génération Identitaire statement accused migrants living in the “jungle” shanty town of attacking police and motorists, rioting and destroying the “martyr town’s” social and economic life.

Demonstrations by the Islamophobic organization Pegida in Calais have been banned on the grounds of being a danger to public order.

On Friday five men appeared in court, accused of assaulting migrants while passing themselves off as police officers, the latest in several cases of attacks in the area.

France wants UK border guards to tour Calais camp to deter refugees

March 11, 2016

France has asked UK border guards to make weekly tours of the main Calais refugee camp to tell people there that Britain plans to make it much harder for asylum seekers to live or work in the country.

The demand is part of a drive by French regional politicians to bring about the total closure of the camp, after part of it was demolished last month amid violence and protests. Xavier Bertrand, president of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region, predicts the Calais camp will shut in the foreseeable future as security is tightened and the British parliament is expected to pass a new immigration bill. It will impose tougher penalties on landlords and employers if they knowingly house illegal immigrants or give them jobs. The bill will also tighten asylum seekers’ right to work.

But Bertrand, who represents 6 million people since his election in December, said the UK needed to act sooner. Speaking to the Guardian, he said: “What we need now is UK border guards going through the camp at Calais every week telling the people that it is no longer the case that the UK is an El Dorado. They go there occasionally, but the message has to be sent the whole time.

“They have to go into the camps and say the rules are changing, and challenge what the smugglers have told them: that they will get benefits. No one at present knows about the changes to the rules. It is the belief that they can work illegally without papers or claim asylum that makes them want to go to the UK.”

The call for a tougher approach was made during talks this week between UK Home and Foreign Office ministers in London and Bertrand and the Calais mayor, Natacha Bouchart. Bertrand has become the driving political force in France for a tougher line on the Calais camp after the numbers swelled and the regional economy was impacted.

“The people of Calais are exasperated. It is not sustainable for the region,” he said. “I do not want a drama, it’s what I want to avoid, but it’s possible someone will be killed unless we make progress.” Bertrand said Britain would also need to deal with the issue of unaccompanied children. “They have to be looked at differently on a case by case basis. It is a very difficult issue [and] we need a made-to-measure response. We have to look to see if they have relatives in the UK,” he said.

“But some people use the issue of unaccompanied children to say we cannot do anything. It cannot be an excuse for inaction. The population will not tolerate this all continuing.”

He also insisted he will not allow the refugees to leave Calais to set up new camps at Dunkirk, also in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie region, as some have predicted. “I will not accept the problems of Calais simply being shifted to somewhere else in the region,” he said. Bertrand said the Belgian port of Zeebrugge was in danger of becoming the next gathering point for refugees trying to reach Britain via ferries. “Zeebrugge is going to be Britain’s next problem,” he said. “In Calais, the tunnel is now absolutely protected, and in a few weeks, now that we have the money agreed, the port at Calais will also be protected.” A 4km long fence near the port is to be constructed either of concrete or wire, partly funded by the UK.

Bertrand also predicted no candidate from the right hoping to run for French president in 2017 will gain support unless they take up the issue of Calais and state clearly that if the UK votes to leave the EU, there will be consequences for the continuation of the bilateral agreement that allows the UK to place border police on French soil. David Cameron has warned that a vote to leave the EU would mean the border would return to the UK. Francois Hollande failed to make this explicit threat at last week’s Anglo-French summit, but Bertrand said: “If Britain votes for Brexit there will have to be a renegotiation of the agreements on the borders negotiated at Le Touquet.

“In the event of Brexit, I will call on the next French president in 2017 to renegotiate the treaty, not to scrap it, but to amend it in order to ensure the issue no longer affects the daily life of the population of Calais. The UK will have to finance the cost of any disruption on local businesses, transport industry and regional economy.”

He also stressed: “I do not want to be at war with my British colleagues. I want to preserve the Anglo-French relationship, as well as the transport routes between Calais and Dover.”

France awarded top honor to Saudi prince ‘at his request’

March 11, 2016

What wouldn’t we do to please a future Saudi king? Contrary to the official version, the awarding of the Légion d’Honneur to the Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Nayef was made “at his request,” concerned as he is – as a future king of Saudi Arabia – to “strengthen his international stature”. Therefore, the matter was handled “very, very urgently (VVU) by the Elysée and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An exchange of diplomatic emails (reproduced in full below, misspellings included) fell into Causette’s handbag. And it’s scandalous.

Wednesday, 2 March, at 7.04 am, France’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia since 2007, Bertrand Besancenot, wrote to François Hollande’s adviser for the Middle East, David Cvach. In this exchange, there is no shortage of fine arguments, liberally sprinkled with cynicism. Seriously, are we to be taken for a bunch of numbskulls?

Excerpts :

From Ambassador Besancenot: “Of course, the kingdom doesn’t get good press, but I’m afraid that the improvement of its image will take some time…”

Given the treatment it reserves for women, opponents, journalists and bloggers plus the beheadings, torture and whatnot… that’s quite likely! But it is absolutely necessary to please the little prince, so Jérôme Bonnafont, director of the North Africa and Middle East section of Jean-Marc Ayrault’s office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explains the technique: “[…] it must be discreet with regard to the media without looking like a cover-up, if we don’t do it, it will be seen as a snub, and if we get asked, we’ll say it’s to do with the fight against Daesh and economic and strategic partnership. Just for good measure, let’s add a bit about human rights to the language of the discussion.” How convenient, Daesh and Human Rights!

At 12.53 pm, barely six hours later, the matter is wrapped up by the Élysée Palace: David Cvach relays François Hollande’s decision to all, first questioned by Jacques Audibert, his diplomatic adviser: “In fact – I suppose it’s time to buy MBN’s [Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, ed] actions…”. On 4 March, just two days later, the Prince was discreetly decorated. Diplomacy is so easy in realpolitik mode!

Grégory Lassus-Debat

We asked the adviser to François Hollande as well as France’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia if they (seriously) imagined that people would consider it appropriate to honour Saudi Arabia. At the time these lines are published, we are still awaiting their answers…

Below are the emails in full, minus the email addresses:

Wednesday, 2 March at 7.04 am 
From: Bertrand Besancenot [France’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, ed]

To: David Cvach [François Hollande’s adviser for the Middle East, ed]

Cc: Laurent Stefanini [Chief of Protocol at the Elysee, ed], […] Jérôme Bonnafont [director of the North Africa and Middle East section of Jean-Marc Ayrault’s office, Foreign Ministry, ed], […]

Subject: VVU: decoration of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

Dear David, I’m sending you the attached copy of the decoration proposal for Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.

I know people are wondering about the idea of decorating the Crown Prince, shortly after the media campaign against Saudi Arabia in France. Of course, the kingdom doesn’t get a good press, but I’m afraid that the improvement of its image will take some time…

However, the welcome of Prince Mohamed bin Nayef to Paris is important for several reasons:

– Confirmation of the continuity of our strategic partnership at a sensitive time in the Middle East situation

– Recognition of the outstanding personal role of the prince in the fight against terrorism, which is a shared national priority

– The need to maintain the momentum of strengthening our bilateral cooperation to bolster our civil and military prospects

It is also a gesture to the next King of Saudi Arabia. It is in this context that it seems essential to me respond to his request to receive the Légion d’Honneur, at a time when he wants to strengthen his international stature. It would be a good incentive to get him to play ball with France.

Thank you for your understanding, David.

Warm regards

Bertrand

2 March 7.14 am From: Jérôme Bonnafont 
To: David Cvach and Bertrand Besancenot 
Cc: Laurent Stefanini, […]

Subject: Re: VVU: decoration of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

NA-ME’s view [North Africa – Middle East section of the Foreign Ministry, ed] no reason not to do it: it must be discreet with regard to the media without looking like a cover-up, if we don’t do it, it will be seen as a snub and if we get asked, we’ll say it’s to do with the fight against Daesh and economic and strategic partnership. Just for good measure, let’s add a bit about human rights to the language of the discussion.

2 March 7.21 am

From Laurent Stefanini

To: Jerome Bonnafont, David Cvach, Bertrand Besancenot, […]

Cc: […]

Subject: Re: VVU: decoration of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

No objections from Protocol either. It’s a question of political expediency. I understand that the award will be of Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur. LS

2 March at 9.43 am 
From: David Cvach 
To: Laurent Stefanini, Jerome Bonnafont, Bertrand Besancenot, […] 
Cc: […]

Subject: Re: VVU: decoration of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

Bertrand – as you know, but to keep everyone in the loop, Jacques [Audibert, diplomatic advisor to François Hollande, ed] is questioning the PR [President of the Republic, ed]. I’m giving you the verdict. D

2 March at 12.53 pm 
From: David Cvach 
To: Laurent Stefanini, Jerome Bonnafont, Bertrand Besancenot, […] 
Cc: […]

Subject: Re: VVU: decoration of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia

In fact – I suppose it’s time to buy MBN’s [Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, ed] actions…

Ministry of Justice looks set to target Muslim prison chaplains

A forthcoming Ministry of Justice report will argue that Muslim chaplains are part of the radicalisation problem in UK prisons. Quoted in the Sunday Times, an anonymous Whitehall official has described Deobandi Sunni chaplains as holding views “contrary to British values and human rights” and as “unlikely to aid [in] deradicalisation”, with the potential to make “radical Islamists” firmer in their beliefs.

The Prime Minister has signalled his willingness to implement the report, and the appointment of Peter Clarke, Scotland Yard’s former head of counter-terrorism, as the Chief Inspector of Prisons, demonstrates the Ministry’s determination to tackle “extremism”. The spotlight will widen beyond terrorist offenders to include Muslim inmates without terrorism offences and Muslim chaplains.

The Ministry’s leaks to the Sunday Times and the Mail on Sunday play the sectarian card and ignore sober academic research, and leave British Muslims with little optimism that the report will be fair. The Deoband school is portrayed as stuck in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, in the context of its anti-colonial origins, ignoring massive changes since. And the findings of a major study on Muslim chaplaincy carried out by the University of Cardiff have also been ignored.

That study acknowledged the conservative orientation of Deobandi chaplains but found that pastoral practice and working within a multi-faith chaplaincy team had a transformative effect. Muslim chaplains learnt new attitudes in the workplace, leaving aside a focus on rigid orthodoxy and their own faith community for empathy and open-mindedness, while working in a multi-faith environment.

When called to do so, Muslim chaplains provided genuine pastoral care for non-Muslim inmates. Furthermore, the study established that Muslim chaplains’ pastoral training and experience had an impact on the mosque imamate in Britain, giving more profile and credence to the pastoral dimension in serving local communities.

The Government leaks indicate that the preponderance of Deobandis among Muslim prison chaplains is seen as a bad thing, with questions being asked about their appointment. However, their domination is largely due to the huge investment in imam training Deobandis have made in Britain, more than any other group. Secondly, after 7/7, the government sought Muslim prison chaplains with theological training to encourage more professionalization of the sector, which favoured Deobandi applicants who already had the necessary qualifications to hand.

It is hard not to see this attack on Muslim chaplains as anything other than institutional Islamophobia, which could have very damaging effects. Getting rid of this experienced cohort of chaplains will place the pastoral care of Muslim inmates, who sadly now make up nearly 15% of the prison population, in peril.

Meet the British Muslim who wants to lead an Islamic reformation

When Adam Deen agreed to join the Quilliam Foundation in November 2015 it caused a stir among politically engaged British Muslims. By becoming Quilliam’s head of outreach, Deen is now a key member of staff at the world’s first self-styled counter-extremism think tank. And in the same vein as Quilliam’s founder Maajid Nawaz, Deen’s personal journey as a Muslim is seen as one of extremist activist turned counter-extremist campaigner.

Deen joined al-Muhajiroun while studying at Westminster University in 1995 and would stand on street corners denouncing non-Muslims to hell and accusing fellow Muslims of being sell-outs. He supported the group’s call to establish a global Islamic state but he left al-Muhajiroun in 2003 – two years before the group was banned for links to violence – after a former member encouraged him to seek out a different understanding of Islam.

Nearly a decade later in 2012, he established the Deen Institute, a Muslim debating forum named after the Arabic word for religion, which aimed to promote critical thinking among British Muslims that would reflect his own journey away from extremism.

In joining Quilliam Deen has moved on to work at an organisation which has sought to place itself at the forefront of the debate around Islamic extremism since its founding in 2008, during which time it has often courted criticism for its perceived closeness to British government counter-terrorism policy.

Deen, who is from London and has Turkish parents, joined Quilliam after months of negotiations with its leadership, and despite holding reservations about the organisation’s past actions, he concluded that it has an “honourable premise” which is to challenge ideas he believes have hijacked Islam.

Nearly six months on from joining Quilliam, Deen sat down with Middle East Eye at a coffee shop in Russell Square, to discuss his opinions on problems impacting British Muslims and to outline his vision for a reformed understanding of Islam. Throughout the 90 minute discussion Deen passionately warned of grave problems facing British Muslims, most of which are rooted in what he views as a puritanical understanding of Islam. He believes the religion has become “divorced from ethics” and while he is proud of being a Muslim he feels disconnected from his community.

“Confucius said he loves humanity but hates people. If I could borrow from his sentiments I love Islam, but I have a big problem with Muslims,” he said. “Most Muslims are good people, most Muslims are helping their neighbour. I’m talking about those voices – the self-proclaimed vanguards of our faith – as being the ones with a problem.”

Deen’s strident belief that ideology is the root cause of extremism led him back to an argument about what he views as a problem within Islamic theology and its relationship with ethics.

“There’s a major crisis in our theology that supports the view that our ethics are only derived from the Quran and Hadith. That’s a major problem because what that means is Muslims in society operate outside of the ethical sphere.”

Medway councillor Mike Franklin sparks investigation over ‘offensive’ tweets about Islam

Comments by a Conservative councillor on social media are being investigated after being described by his opponents as “extremely offensive”.

Several other messages, some of which have since been removed from his account, promoted anti-Islamic views, which opposition councillors said were inappropriate, particularly from someone representing a socially and ethnically diverse ward.

The Luton and Wayfield councillor took to Twitter a few months before his election in May last year and has since drawn attention for a number of tweets – prompting the online blog The Political Medway to publish a collection of them in January under the title The Troubling Tweets of Conservative Councillor Michael Franklin.

Speaking this week, Cllr Franklin admitted some of the tweets had gone too far.

“I may be what you call a veteran councillor, and I’m naive to Twitter,” he said. “A couple of judgements weren’t perhaps right. I don’t even remember more than one about Justin Trudeau.

“I’ve said nothing that implies that I hate anybody or that I’m racist,” he said. “It’s a political argument used to attack me.”

One of his retweets showed a photo of Muslim political activist Anjem Choudary, captioned with: “Westerners need to accept the fact that Islam will dominate all lands it touches! The holy Koran teaches us that where we put our feet we shall rule that land, it’s that simple.” Cllr Franklin retweeted that with his own comment: “Anyone still have doubts?”

Labour councillor Tristan Osborne, who also represents the ward, said he was unsure what Cllr Franklin meant by his exclusion and that residents and groups were entitled to communicate with whoever they wanted.

“The fact is his tweets were inappropriate,” he added. “He’s someone who has been in politics for many years – he was on Rochester council for many years – and he should have a common-sense view about what is appropriate.”

How British Organizations Are Tackling Islamophobia

In a chintzy banqueting hall in Wembley, London, soft boos punctuate the loud chatter. A 300-person strong crowd, ranging from an Anglican vicar to former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, have gathered for the third iteration of the satirical Islamophobia Awards. The crowd’s tepid response to the announcement that British Prime Minister David Cameron has won the U.K. category for Islamophobe of the year is explained partly by the distraction of dinner at the event organizers like to call ‘the racism awards.’

Saturday’s event, held by the U.K.-based Islamic Human Rights Council (IHRC), is one of the many initiatives aimed at spreading awareness of Islamophobia, which is on the rise in the U.K.. London’s police saw a 60% rise in Islamophobic offences in 2015, from 667 offences recorded in 2014. Tell MAMA, an organisation that monitors Islamophobia, counted around 2,500 incidents for the whole of the U.K., but believes the number may be in the tens of thousands as studies have shown that the majority of hate crimes go unreported.

Fiyaz Mughal, who heads Tell MAMA, believes that the Islamophobia Awards, “trivializes” what should be a serious matter. “Some people may not like what the Prime Minister does but this is not the way to deal with it. These are senior political members of our country and our job is to lobby them, our job is to speak to them and give them the facts and hopefully build better, cohesive societies” he says. “Our job is not to mock them and by doing so create a ‘them and us.’” His organization has been working with police forces around the country to help collate data that will, hopefully, inform future policy on Islamophobia.

The police have taken steps to bring awareness to the issue: in 2015, David Cameron announced that anti-Muslim hate crimes, which had previously not been distinguished from wider hate crimes, would be recorded in their own separate category. Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer of London’s Metropolitan Police says they are working on raising awareness around Islamophobia with young Muslims, who tend to shy from reporting anything to the police. “We have a large number of schools officers and their role is to engage with young people” he says. “I would argue it has resulted in an increase in hate crime reports.”

According to Miqdaad Versi, spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Islamophobic attacks can range from “verbal assaults and attacks on social media on the lower end… to a more violent situations and attacks on mosques.” In February, the MCB, one of the country’s biggest umbrella groups for Muslim organisations, organised ‘Visit my Mosque Day,’ which saw thousands of people visit some 80 mosques across the country. The day was organized with the aim to allow Muslims “explain their faith and community beyond the hostile headlines.” Positive and high-profile campaigns like that is what works says Miqdaad, by demystifying the other side and nurturing social acceptance among communities.

Versi believes that strong leadership from public personalities is also needed to publicize the issues of Islamophobia. He describes the controversy surrounding the contentious headline published by the Times of London on Feb. 20, which read: ‘Imam beaten to death in sex grooming town.’ More than 400 complaints were made over what was seen as the paper conflating the faith of the now deceased Jalal Uddin with the town’s past child abuse scandals, reports the Guardian. In response, Manchester’s police Force, Ian Hopkins, wrote a public letter to the Times demanding an immediate apology for offending “the thousands of peaceful, law-abiding Muslims and non-Muslims living in Rochdale.”