Sadiq Khan MP had a piece in the Telegraph last week attacking an excellent piece by Charles Moore in the same paper the Saturday before. In his piece Sadiq makes a number of claims which are worth rebutting.
First is his question, ‘Would we accept the Jewish community being talked about the way the Muslim community are?’ Well, as I have written here before, that would depend, among other things, on whether or not in recent years a bunch of fundamentalist Jews had detonated bombs across the London transport system or beheaded a soldier on the streets of London. It would also depend on whether cells of Jewish extremists had been caught, tried and prosecuted on a fairly regular basis for trying to kill and maim numerous British people.
Khan goes on to ask whether anybody would talk about the Community Security Trust (which monitors anti-Semitism in the UK and protects synagogues) in the way Charles Moore describes the recently founded ‘Tell Mama’ (which purports to record anti-Muslim activity). Again that would depend on what we used to call 'facts'.
One reason few people might talk about the long-established CST in the same way that Charles Moore describes 'Tell Mama' is that to the best of my knowledge the CST has not been caught publishing misleading figures or misrepresenting information in the way that ‘Tell Mama’ has. ‘Tell Mama’ used the aftermath of the murder of Drummer Rigby in Woolwich to claim that there had been ‘a sustained wave of attacks and intimidation’ against Muslims. The organisation’s founder claimed, ‘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.’ This was not just scare-mongering hyperbole, it was incorrect.
What figures ‘Tell Mama’ released were carefully picked over by the Sunday Telegraph reporter Andrew Gilligan and shown to be wildly misleading. Among other things ‘Tell Mama’ failed to note that the majority of ‘attacks’ it was talking about had in fact taken place in online forums. What ‘Tell Mama’ does is not data collection but a form of campaigning advocacy. It remains appropriate to point that out.
But the part of Sadiq Khan’s article most crying out to be refuted is this. He writes of the extremists within Islam:
‘Not only is there no place in British society for such extremist positions, but there is no place in my religion, the religion that I share with 2.7 million others across the UK. It is incumbent on us all to root out the bad apples, and not shy away from tackling head on the very small numbers who preach hatred and violence.’
Here is the problem in a nutshell. What suspicion arises is caused precisely by comments such as these of Sadiq Khan's. For yet again a prominent British Muslim uses their voice not to admit to the scale of the problem and tackle it, but to minimise it and suggest that Muslims are already doing enough to deal with it.
Among those running against Mr Khan at the 2010 general election in Tooting was a Liberal Democrat candidate who was an Ahmadiyya Muslim. Personally I find the Ahmadiyaa among the most admirable as well as progressive movements within Islam. They are also among the most persecuted and reviled, deemed to be heretics by many Muslims. Bigotry against Ahmadiyaa Muslims was extended towards the Liberal Democrat candidate in Tooting. Indeed it was so strong that during the 2010 campaign it was reported that he was told not to come to an election hustings at Sadiq Khan’s own mosque – the Tooting Islamic Centre.
When the Conservative candidate arrived at the same mosque he was reportedly mistaken for the Ahmadiyya Liberal Democrat candidate. The Conservative candidate then had to be locked in a room at the back of the mosque by members of the mosque to safeguard him from attack.
So – here’s the thing. Sadiq Khan has attempted to patronise Charles Moore, say he knows nothing about what he is writing about and says that, in any case, it’s all in hand because although there are some rotten apples they are being rooted out. Should the rest of us – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – take Mr Khan's word for this? Is it appropriate for us to all turn away? Or would it be rather more appropriate for us to keep saying, ‘How’s the “rooting out” and “tackling” of that “very small number” of extremists going?’
Without realising it, Sadiq Khan appears to have proved one of Charles Moore's points. For once again a prominent Muslim has used what could have been an opportunity to tackle a problem to instead underplay the problem and deride legitimate concerns expressed about this. Rather than distracting people from the main problem, Sadiq Khan has merely highlighted it.