Muslim ‘hate’ monitor to lose backing
Ministers end funding for body that claimed ‘wave of attacks’ against Islam
09 Jun 2013
A controversial project claiming to measure anti-Muslim attacks will not have its government grant renewed after police and civil servants raised concerns about its methods.
The project, called Tell Mama, claimed that there had been a “sustained wave of attacks and intimidation” against British Muslims after the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby, with 193 “Islamophobic incidents” reported to it, rising to 212 by last weekend.
The group’s founder, Fiyaz Mughal, said he saw “no end to this cycle of violence”, describing it as “unprecedented”. The claims were unquestioningly repeated in the media.
Tell Mama and Mr Mughal did not mention, however, that 57 per cent of the 212 reports referred to activity that took place only online, mainly offensive postings on Twitter and Facebook, or that a further 16 per cent of the 212 reports had not been verified. Not all the online abuse even originated in Britain.
Contrary to the group’s claim of a “cycle of violence” and a “sustained wave of attacks”, only 17 of the 212 incidents, 8 per cent, involved the physical targeting of people and there were no attacks on anyone serious enough to require medical treatment.
There have been a further 12 attacks on Islamic buildings, three of them serious, including a probable arson attack on a Muslim community centre in north London, which burned it to the ground.
Tell Mama supporters launched a furious campaign of protest against The Sunday Telegraph after it disclosed the breakdown last week, with round-robin emails to the newspaper accusing it of behaviour “better suited to the days of 1930s Germany”.
However, The Sunday Telegraph has now learned that even before Woolwich, the communities minister, the Liberal Democrat MP Don Foster, called Mr Mughal to a meeting and said that Tell Mama’s grant would not be renewed.
The organisation has received a total of £375,000 from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) since last year.
“Mr Mughal was giving data on attacks to DCLG which wasn’t stacking up when it was cross-referenced with other reports by Acpo [the Association of Chief Police Officers],” said one source closely involved in counter-extremism.
“He was questioned by DCLG civil servants and lost his temper. He was subsequently called in by Don Foster and told that he would receive no more money.”
A senior Liberal Democrat source confirmed the sequence of events, saying: “There was a bit of a spat. He was called in and told that Acpo had cast doubt on his figures. He was told that he would be closely monitored for the remaining period of the grant and that there would be no more money.”
A DCLG spokesman confirmed that Tell Mama’s funding would not be renewed and refused to deny that officials had raised concerns about its methods.
Tell Mama claimed in March that anti-Muslim crime was “rising”, even though the group had only been in operation at that stage for a year and had no previous figures to compare with.
Other figures, collected by the police, show that hate crime in mainly Muslim areas has fallen in the past 10 years. The only large force that collects figures on specifically anti-Muslim crime, the Metropolitan Police, reported an 8.5 per cent fall in such crimes between 2009 and 2012.
There was a spike in anti-Muslim incidents after the killing of Drummer Rigby. However, contrary to Tell Mama’s claims that it was “unprecedented”, the Met’s assistant commissioner, Cressida Dick, told MPs last week that it was “slightly less” than after previous terror attacks.
“There has not been such a very big increase in attacks as we might have feared,” she said. Mr Mughal himself has now admitted to the BBC that the number of physical attacks was “small”.
Tell Mama has also been using its budget to threaten members of the public with libel actions for criticising it on Twitter.
In mid-May, before Woolwich, one Jewish activist, Ambrosine Chetrit, received a threatening letter from solicitors after she tweeted that “Tell Mama are sitting on Twitter on the EDL hashtag, threatening anyone and everyone whose comments they do not like about Islam”.
Tell Mama also objected to a tweet in which Ms Chetrit said it was “trying to close down pro-Israel [Twitter] accounts daily”.
Other recipients of legal threats at the same time include Atma Singh, a former race adviser to the then Labour mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who received a legal letter from Tell Mama after tweeting that it “gives a platform to Islamists”.
Tell Mama did not claim that either of these individuals was ‘racist’ [whatever this may mean] or anti-Muslim. But it said their tweets were false and “defamatory” of Mr Mughal, had “damaged” his reputation, causing him “distress and embarrassment”, and demanded immediate apologies and damages. Up to four other people are believed to have received similar threats.
The letters were written by Farooq Bajwa, a solicitor who has acted for a number of Islamists and Islamist sympathisers, including the Palestinian radical leader Raed Salah and the Respect MP George Galloway.
The letters to Mr Singh and Ms Chetrit were sent to their private home addresses, neither of which are in the public domain. Ms Chetrit’s lawyer, Mark Lewis, who has acted for many phone-hacking victims, has reported Mr Bajwa and Tell Mama to the police after they refused to say how they obtained the information.
“I have been instructed to resist the claim,” said Mr Lewis. “It has no merit. I have not had any response as to how my client’s name and address were obtained.”
Mr Singh said: “I find it absurd that someone can threaten people on this kind of basis and use libel in this political way. This is nothing to do with Islamophobia – they are just trying to shut down debate.”
Ms Chetrit said: “It is very worrying and scary. All the people who have been threatened by Tell Mama are pro-Israeli.”
The DCLG claimed that Tell Mama’s funding was always due to cease in September 2013 and that Mr Foster was “very impressed” by the “progress” the group had made.
However, the funding of Tell Mama was described as “ongoing” in the Government’s “hate crime action plan” last year and only in November Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, announced that £214,000 of “new” and “further” funding had been granted to Tell Mama.
Mr Mughal said: “The meeting with DCLG officials related to the publication of 2012 anti-Muslim prejudice figures and having an independent review of those figures, which is good practice.
“This was agreed and has always been part of the process. The ‘loss of temper’ did not relate to the methodology of data collection.”
Mr Mughal said that no public money had been used to issue the libel threats.
He said: “We will defend the right of all people to express their identities and their support for countries and groups freely.
However, we have the right to defend the integrity of our work when people broadcast [on Twitter] comments that are simply untrue and highly damaging about us.”
He declined to explain how the private addresses had been obtained, but said it was “within the law.”