After 15 years and founding Faith Matters on the primary basis of building stronger relations between Muslims and Jews, the organisation has developed to provide some of the most innovative and ground-breaking projects around countering extremism and hate crimes. As part of this work, we delivered over 7 years of work on supporting social cohesion, though work on this dropped between 2012-2018 as the Coalition and the successive Government significantly reduced investment in social cohesion work. This was a mistake since it did not provide communities with resilience to challenge the rise of hatred which was at its peak between 2012-2015 and where hate groups had unfettered access to social media platforms, who did not remove content.
I am proud of what I have achieved. Having set up and run Faith Matters, I founded Tell MAMA and went onto develop the annual No2H8 Crime Awards, which are recognised by statutory and civil society bodies. That has become an annual awards ceremony honouring and motivating people to challenge hatred, intolerance and prejudice where they come across it. Furthermore, with Ghanem Nuseibeh, a British Muslim of Palestinian origin, I helped to set up Muslims Against Antisemitism, which seeks to work with Muslim communities to challenge antisemitism where they come across it. Sadly, in some instances, it is rooted within parts of these communities and therefore, Muslims themselves need to challenge it with the relevant information and knowledge that we provide. I will continue to support and advice these organisations and social projects, though after 15 years, Faith Matters needs a new leadership at the helm and such change is necessary for the health and well-being of an organisation.
It has been a roller-coaster of a ride over the last 15 years. Ensuring sustainability, challenging both Islamist and far right extremism and countering the hatred which was targeted at me for setting up Tell MAMA, means that I saw the poisonous changes that were taking place within communities. The rise of social divisions, extremism and hatred were accelerated by social media, but I also saw the kindness, humanity and deep care that many provided to the weakest in society. I am proud of this country, my country and its people and I am also tired of those who seek to ‘do it down’. There is much to be proud of and protect within our society, more importantly our social values and our caring spirit.
I was at the front-line of notifying Government in 2012 as to the rise of the far right and how social media companies were shirking their responsibilities to remove illegal hateful material. In line with this, I notified both the UK Government and the Scottish Parliament about the rise and inter-connectedness of the far right and how their hate would spread and take root if there was no robust mechanism in play. At that time, in England, there was little appetite to do more than suggest that ‘free speech’ and the market of ideas would win out and that in some form, ‘good would triumph over evil’. In Scotland, I received lectures from politicians about Scottish exceptionalism and how extremism could not take root in Scotland as if Hadrian’s wall was a natural barrier against the flow of ideas. That naivety of thinking has led to the current situation where the far right have become emboldened and even tried to move into mainstream politics. The far right’s language around ‘grooming’, ‘migration’, ‘breeding of Muslims’, ‘taqqiyah’ and the ‘takeover of the UK by Muslims’ has struck a cord in some looking to blame someone for the ills in society. Obviously, those that look different and ‘Muslim’ have borne the brunt of their ignorance and anger, including on occasions, members of the British Sikh community.
Which leaves me to say the following. I was part of the initial Working Group to Counter Violent Extremism which the Rt Hon Tony Blair brought together in Windsor, a few months after the murderous 7/7 attacks. I have worked in this area for 15 years, openly challenging Islamist and far right extremism and the previous Coalition Government and the successive Government simply failed to challenge groups fomenting extremist Islamist rhetoric. When asked about what they intended to do around openly challenging such groups, the response from civil servants and Government officials was to cite projects that sought to ‘train women in online extremism’, which was laudable, but hardy supporting those voices openly calling out and challenging Islamist extremist groups. To make matters worse, departments funded organisations ‘developing networks’ led by non-Muslims, talking about challenging far right extremism, whilst seeking to look the other way around countering Islamist extremism, since it was easier for them. The resources provided to them was to challenge all forms of extremism, including Islamist extremism.
To those people, I say, you have wasted resources that British Muslims could have used to challenge the small section of their co-religionists; Muslims taking the ideological fight to others who sought to divide communities and turn some people against the State and the social values that make up our society. No longer can Islamist extremism be overlooked since it is expedient to do so and our country deserves better.
On a final note, I have repeatedly called for tougher measures to be taken against these groups fomenting extremism whilst using the language of human rights as cover for their actions. They poisoned some sections of my co-religionists to the point that they think that the State is their ‘enemy’ and by facilitating the easy and lazy position of looking at their identity solely through the prism of victimisation. With this in mind, I commend the work of the Commission for Countering Extremism and its lead Commissioner, Sara Khan, for having the tenacity and the guts to call out such groups and to provide the evidence around their toxic hate and divisiveness. The Commission has also called for practitioners to be supported who are targeted by hate by such divisive groups. Again, the hand-wringing and inability of Government to defend their very own projects and practitioners delivering them is a stain on them and totally unacceptable. It is time that Government to grow a spine in vocally supporting its practitioners, who put themselves on the line for our country.
I will be taking the time to look at what I do and where I go now. It is essential to review my direction of travel and to focus on people and the goodness around us. I leave behind a team who are committed, dedicated and driven. In the end, we must always remember that there are more good people, than divisive extremists. But maintaining that, needs consistent work and a bold Government. If anything, this election gives this Government a mandate to be bold. Let us hope they are not meek in challenging those who seek to weaken us from within.