Former government adviser believes warnings of extremist attacks were ignored

A former government adviser has hit out at the security agencies and the way they assessed potential extremist threats on British soil in the months and years before the killing of Lee Rigby.

Days after the conviction of Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale for the murder of the Fusilier Lee Rigby, Jahan Mahmood, a former adviser to the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) in the Home Office, has decided to speak out over warnings of potential extremist attacks on British soldiers in the UK that he believes went unheeded.

Mr Mahmood, a historian and former lecturer at the University of Birmingham, specialising in the martial traditions of Afghan and Pakistani diaspora communities, had contact with the OSCT between 2009 and 2010 on a volunteer basis. He remembered one particular meeting on 27 January 2010 at a mosque in Birmingham, which involved five young Muslim men as well as the director of the OSCT, Charles Farr, and what Mr Mahmood called “another OSCT civil servant”.

Mr Mahmood said: “One of the young men responded by saying he was angered by the death of women and children in Afghanistan and, if given half a chance, he would go abroad to fight British soldiers in Afghanistan. Another member of the group intervened and said: ‘Why do you want to go abroad when you can kill them here?'”

While there is no evidence to suggest that any of the five men were involved in terror activities of any kind, the exchange remained lodged in Mr Mahmood’s memory.

Mr Mahmood’s motivation for setting up the meeting was to explore the link between gang and jihadi culture. He said that some of the men were drug users. He said he set up the meeting after one of the young men, called Sabeel, and expressed concerns about the vulnerability of his peers and particularly the attraction of jihadist materials.

After the Government come into power in 2010, there was a change in the Prevent strategy that began under Labour and was modified in 2011 to tackle radical ideology first and foremost, rather than what Mr Mahmood described as the more important problem of grievances within the Muslim community.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/former-government-adviser-believes-warnings-of-extremist-attacks-were-ignored-9020222.html

Muslim Women more likely to suffer Islamophobic attacks than men

November 19, 2013

 

Muslim women are more likely to be subjected to Islamophobic attacks than men, especially if they are wearing the niqab or other clothing associated with their religion, a study has found.

Maybe We Are Hated, a report on the impact of Islamophobic attacks, written by Dr Chris Allen, a social policy lecturer at the University of Birmingham, will be launched in the House of Commons on Wednesday. It is intended to look beyond the statistics and, for the first time, give a voice to the female victims of Islamophobia.

Allen interviewed 20 women aged between 15 and 52 about their experiences. Fiyaz Mughal, from Faith Matters, which commissioned the report, said: “This is the first time Muslim women’s voices have been given life in terms of anti-Muslim prejudice. We keep hearing people saying: ‘What are the numbers?’ We can understand that, but it’s important to recognise the actual impact on people.”

Tell Mama, a hotline for recording Islamophobic crimes and incidents, found that, excluding online abuse and threats, 58% of all verified incidents between April 2012 and April 2013 were against women and that in 80% of those cases the woman was wearing a hijab, niqab or other clothing associated with Islam.

According to Allen, some of the women said their experiences had made them question their Britishness, with one saying her husband wanted them to leave the country. He said a refusal to take Islamophobia seriously risked giving credence to the “clash of civilisations” narrative promoted by Islamists and the far right.

“It feeds into the rhetoric of the Islamists saying: ‘No matter how hard you try, you will never belong here, they hate you,” he said. “When it comes to Muslims, they won’t tackle these issues. It adds fuel to the fire.”

 

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/20/muslim-women-islamaphonic-attacks

 

‘Why it is so important for us to wear the veil’

Amongst the 1.4 million Muslim women in Britain, Shalina Litt is one of a tiny minority who choose to cover their face entirely. This choice has come under intense scrutiny over the last few days, after a judge ruled that a 22-year-old woman from Hackney, East London, could not wear the full veil while being cross-examined in court. So when Birmingham community worker Shalina steps out in her niqab, she has come to expect the worst. “It gets a really bad reaction,” the 34 year-old mother of two says. “I’ve had glass kicked at me and when you drive people are extra aggressive. They will roll down their window to shout at you and at times like this when hatred of covered-up women becomes most heated you find that people are very aggressive,”

 

Unlike some who wear the niqab, Shalina does not feel obliged to keep it on at all non-family occasions. She explains: “Nobody is forcing me to do it and I can lift it up at any time. When I see my elderly white neighbour, I make sure I lift it up and show her my face. I actually find it cooler to wear on a hot day, but if it’s uncomfortable or I’ve got a cold and I’m bunged up, I’m not going to wear it. It’s a religious choice. Shalina, who has two young children, says she would be happy for her daughter to wear a veil, but that it would be her choice. “It’s a very liberating and empowering experience. I’m not oppressed by ageism, sexism or racism because nobody can see.”

 

Julie Siddiqi, executive director of the Islamic Society of Britain, who converted to Islam in 1995, believes the niqab is unnecessary but worries that there has been an overreaction to it. “It’s pathetic that some people are presenting this as a national issue”, she said. “This is a few thousand women and we need to keep that in perspective.

 

Rabiha Hannan, co-editor of Islam and the Veil, a book which examines Muslim women’s use of face and hair covering, believes that people’s fears about those wearing niqabs and burqas need to be addressed.

Birmingham college bans the burka

Religious veils have been banned at Birmingham Metropolitan College for ‘security’ reasons, provoking anger among Muslim students and staff. As the niqab veil leaves only a small gap for the eyes, college management has deemed it a risk, stating that individuals should be ‘easily identifiable at all times’ so that all students can study in a ‘safe and welcoming learning environment’. Other clothing to be removed on the college grounds includes hoodies, hats and caps.

 

The ban has sent shockwaves around the Muslim community, with one 17-year-old girl calling the decision ‘discriminatory’ and ‘disgusting’. Another student explained that she and her Muslim peers had offered to show their faces to security men so that their IDs could be checked, but that her suggestion had been rejected.

 

“We have a very robust Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy at Birmingham Metropolitan College, but to ensure that safeguarding is a priority, we have developed our policy alongside student views to ensure we keep them safe,” principal and chief-executive Dame Christine Braddock told the Birmingham Mail.

 

A protest against the ban, due to take place on Friday at 2.30pm, has been organised on Facebook with a statement reading: “Muslim women already face many challenges in society leading to marginalisation and discrimination. We are under-represented in education and subsequently in public life and in the workforce.

Nick Clegg ‘uneasy’ about ban on Muslim veils in school

Deputy PM says he understands teachers feeling uncomfortable about pupils wearing veil, but does not back ‘blanket prohibition’ Nick Clegg was asked about a ban on face coverings at Birmingham Metropolitan college during his LBC radio phone-in. Nick Clegg has backed teachers who feel uncomfortable about pupils wearing full-face Muslim veils, but says he is “uneasy” about a college that has brought in a blanket ban. The deputy prime minister said he could “totally understand” teachers who did not want full-face veils in the classroom as they needed to make “eye contact and face contact with pupils”. However, Clegg said these were “exceptional circumstances” and he generally supported people’s right to wear whatever religious clothing they liked.

 

“I’m really quite uneasy about anyone being told what they have to wear,” he said on LBC 97.3. “I think I’ve set the bar very high to justify something like that because one of the things that is great about our country is that we are diverse, we are tolerant.” People do dress differently, people do have different faiths, people do have different convictions and that is reflected in what they wear, in how they present themselves.”

Birmingham college reverses decision to ban Muslim face veils after protests

A college has abandoned its ban on Muslim face veils after a storm of local protest, a planned demonstration and the involvement of the prime minister. Birmingham Metropolitan College climbed down late on Thursday despite David Cameron and the Department for Education endorsing its right to have such a policy. Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, had said he was “uneasy” about the move. A Muslim women’s group called the original ban “disproportionate” and challenged the college to justify why it had considered it.

The college had originally said students must remove all hoodies, hats, caps and veils to ensure individuals were “easily identifiable” as part of keeping a “safe and welcoming learning environment”.

 

The multi-campus college, which teaches more than 9,000 16- to 19-year-olds as well as thousands of adult learners, said media attention caused by the protests might detract “from our core mission of providing high quality education”. A petition against the policy had gathered 8,000 signatures and hundreds of students had planned to demonstrate against the policy on Friday. City councillors and MPs had also protested.

 

Shabana Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood, said: “This change in policy is enormously welcome. The college has made a wise decision to rethink its policy on banning veils for a group of women who would have potentially been excluded from education and skills training at the college had the ban been enforced.”

 

Aaron Kiely, national black students’ officer for the NUS, said: “I’m delighted that the petition attracted so many signatures in such a short amount of time, which affirms just how outrageous the decision to enact this policy was.”

 

Shaista Gohir, chair of the Muslim Women’s Network UK, said: “The complete ban of the face veil on campus by the Birmingham Metropolitan College was a disproportionate response because female students who wear the veil are not only very small in number but were also willing to show their face when required so their identity could be verified.

 

Philip Hollobone, Conservative MP for Kettering, will introduce his private member’s bill to ban the wearing of face coverings in public for a second reading in February next year.

Three years ago he told the Independent: “I just take what I regard as a common sense view. If you want to engage in normal, daily interactive dialogue with your fellow human beings, you can only really do this properly by seeing each other’s face.”

 

Jack Straw, then leader of the Commons, suggested in 2006 that wearing a veil might hinder community relations.

Fully veiled women hinder progressive Islam by Yasmin Alibhai Brown

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is a founder member of British Muslims for Secular Democracy and argues that when firstly a British judge and then dedicated educationalists running a British college are defeated by the aggressive guerrilla army of Muslim Salafists and their misguided allies problems arise. At Blackfriars Crown Court, Judge Peter Murphy ordered a 21-year-old, veiled defendant to show her face. The accused had been charged with witness intimidation and pleaded not guilty. Whatever the results of that case, she and her supporters certainly intimidated the judge, who backed down so the trial could proceed.

 

Birmingham Metropolitan College was similarly cowed and had to reverse a directive forbidding students from covering their faces. One hooded lady crowd sourced a protest against the college. Some overexcited student union members, Muslim objectors and online petitioners have forced a U-turn. Shabana Mahmood, MP for Ladywood, Birmingham, welcomed the capitulation.

 

Muslim women can now to go to courts and college in shrouds. That all-covering gown, that headscarf, that face mask – all affirm and reinforce the belief that women are a hazard to men and society. These are unacceptable, iniquitous values, enforced violently by Taliban, Saudi and Iranian oppressors. They have no place in our country. So why are so many British females sending out those messages about themselves?

 

Some think they are outsmarting anxious Western institutions by covering up, winning dispiriting culture wars which will give them no advantage in our fast moving world. Young women in niqabs are either testing the state as teenagers do their parents or think their garb is political action – but for what? Many women, mothers in particular, have been brainwashed by proselytisers who want to spread conservative Islamic worship across Europe and North America. They are well funded by sources based in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.

 

The woman before the judge must know that she or others like her will never be judges or barristers. Will she make her daughters do the same? The system wasn’t picking on her – a defendant in a micro mini would have caused as much disquiet. And the aggrieved college student, what future does she imagine? She denies herself jobs for the sake of what? They keep apart from fellow Britons by withholding proper human interactions. It’s not right or fair.

 

None of our sacred texts command us to cover our faces. Some branches of Islam do not even require head coverings. These are manmade injunctions followed by unquestioning women. We are directed always to accept the rules of the countries we live in and their institutions, as long as they are reasonable. For security, justice, travel, education and health identification is vital. Why should these women be exempt? We Muslims are already unfairly thought of as the enemy within. Niqabs make us appear more alien, more dangerous and suspicious. If it is a provocation for Ku Klux Klan to cover up so they can’t be recognised, it is for Muslims too. The clothes symbolize an attempted takeover of the religion just when believers are looking for liberty, autonomy, democracy and gender equality. Malala Yousafzai doesn’t hide her determined face. Nor do our female Muslim MPs and peers or civil rights lawyers.

 

Some of the bravest human rights activists are Muslim women. Take Tamsila Tauquir awarded an MBE for her charitable work with Muslims and Tehmina Kazi, director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, which I co-founded seven years ago. The two of them, with other idealists, have embarked on an “inclusive mosque” initiative, with pop-up prayers in various venues, where men and women, gays and straights, humanists and modernists can pray together.

 

Many others are trying to promote progressive Islam, which fits our times and needs.

Islamic zealots must fear these developments and want to crush them. Whether they know it or not, fully veiled women are part of this reactionary mission. Our state must not aid and abet them. The judge and the college should not have retreated and handed them this victory.

British government’s silence over attacks on Muslims is worrying, and divisive

Britain's prime minister David CameronLast week, a nail bomb partially exploded at a mosque in the West Midlands – the fourth attack in two months on mosques in Britain during Friday prayers. A suspect in one of those attacks is also being questioned in connection with the killing of Mohammed Saleem, a Muslim pensioner in Birmingham, who was stabbed to death as he returned home from prayers. The police response to these attacks has been heartening, but the silence from government and the establishment in general, has been deeply worrisome.

 

When Lee Rigby was murdered, politicians of every stripe scrambled to condemn and reassure. Cobra, the country’s top emergency response mechanism, was convened under the home secretary, Theresa May. David Cameron reassured Britons that “we will never buckle in the face of terrorism”. Compare this with near-silence that greeted the recent mosque attacks. Muslims have become accustomed, almost resigned, to media double standards – there is no example starker than the wildly different coverage of Rigby and Saleem’s killings. But the failure to mobilise, condemn and reassure on the part of the political class is potentially far more dangerous.

 

It suggests not only that a Muslim life is less sacred than a non-Muslim one, but that Muslims do not have the same rights as others to be reassured. That attacks on them are attacks on a minority, and not on British citizens. Muslims are not members of a minority that should be grateful Cameron magnanimously declares it not a threat. They are British citizens who are increasingly under more urgent and immediate risk of terrorist attack than others.

 

These are not the everyday hate crimes that we have sadly become inured to, and which are faced by all religious minorities. Jews in the UK, for example, have for years experienced anti-Semitic attacks including desecration of holy sites and abuse of religious figures. In this most recent wave of targeting Muslims, however, we are not simply talking severed pig’s heads and swastikas, but violent terrorist crime that aims to maim and claim lives. To some extent the disproportionality of the response can be attributed to the fact that Britain has suffered a scarring terrorist attack perpetrated by Muslims, and foiled others in the making. But the government is there to serve its citizens equally. The constant refrain is that Muslims are an insular minority that poses an integration challenge, existing on the fringes of British life. But when they are consistently treated by different standards in terms of their rights as citizens to security and succour, it only confirms that the fringe is where they belong.

 

Suspected bomb found near Wolverhampton mosque

A suspected bomb has been found near a Wolverhampton mosque, making it the third explosive device targeting Muslims in the West Midlands in a month. Police said traces of an explosion and debris consistent with a detonation were found close to Wolverhampton Central Mosque on Friday. Two Ukrainian engineering students aged 22 and 25 respectively on work placements at a hi-tech computer company were being questioned yesterday after police revealed they had uncovered evidence of a third bombing close to a mosque in the West Midlands.

 

Police evacuated streets near the Wolverhampton Central Mosque on Thursday night after receiving information about “a possible device activation”.

 

An officer had spotted and arrested one of the men in Small Heath, Birmingham, which led to the arrest of the second man nearby and the sealing off of roads for searches to be carried out by bomb disposal teams. The pair were being held on suspicion of being involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism. The arrest of the two men was followed by searches of their home and work addresses on Thursday afternoon.

 

“The investigation is being led by specialist officers and staff from our counter-terrorism unit who are being supported by a range of departments from across the force.

Parenting courses for Muslims aim to untangle culture from religion

Family Links scheme addresses concerns among parents of how to reconcile western values with their religious upbringing. Ifat Nisa feared her teenage son was hanging out with “the wrong crowd”, drinking, smoking or experimenting with drugs – but when she questioned him, they always argued.

 

Brought up not to challenge her own parents, Nisa was confused about how to parent an apparently disrespectful teenager. She heard about a parenting course at her mosque in Slough, Berkshire, and despite initially dismissing it – “My reaction was ‘it’s not Islamic'” – when she discovered it was tailored for Muslim parents, decided to try it out. Family Links realised that the course concepts were in tune with Islamic religious ideas but that Muslim women were reluctant to attend. To engage them, the course’s core principles (self-awareness or empathy, for example) were matched with religious verses.

 

One concern among parents is how to reconcile western values and life with their religious or cultural upbringing. The course, as Naeem says, supports parents towards adopting positive practices consistent with Islamic religious values, helping them be “good Muslim British citizens”.

 

Now Family Links is rolling out this version of its course, Islamic Values and the Parenting Puzzle, and partnering with the charity UK Islamic Mission (UKIM) to reach families who might not join mainstream programmes. The organisations ran the first training in Birmingham last year, teaching 21 volunteers to deliver the course, and a second course took place in London last month. The courses train parent leaders to deliver the programme to others. Evaluations have yet to be published, but Family Links says it could reach 200 people a year.

The courses involve roleplay and discussions about concepts such as praise and positive discipline. Participants use various approaches in different scenarios, from dealing with uncommunicative teenagers to discussing sexual issues.

 

Naeem’s aim is to untangle culture from religion, encouraging participants to realise that some of their parenting has little to do with Islam, but are learned cultural practices. She recalls dealing with misconceptions about discipline; when several participants on one course discussed smacking, suggesting that bearing punishment was a virtue, she told a religious story about oppression to reinforce messages about fair treatment.

 

The plan is soon to to train a group of Muslim fathers so they can deliver the programme to their peers, countering any assumptions that domestic life is solely the remit of the mother. As one father recently told Naeem: “No one ever asks us how we feel as a parent … [there are] so many cultural things – you can’t cry, you can’t feel sad, you have to be strong.”