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Operation Nehemiah: News Update #238

23 June 2016

UK: MP’s murder sparks debate on political culture, but fails to address why the far right is growing

On Thursday last week the tragic news came through that a member of parliament, Jo Cox, a mother of two young children and an outspoken advocate for refugees had been brutally murdered in her constituency. Since then the headlines have been dominated by the story, campaigning in the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU was put on hold for three days and there has been a growing public debate about the culture that sees it as acceptable to disparage and abuse MPs.

That is a good debate to have and long overdue. Coincidentally, our editorial last week, which had already been written, reflected on the growing development of another political culture – that of disparaging Christians in the UK and other western countries – which has also led to violence.

We may never know exactly what motivated the murderer of this young MP. Her attacker had sought help for mental health problems, however he had also previously subscribed to publications produced by racist extremist groups. As he killed Mrs Cox he reportedly shouted words that could be taken to refer to the name of one such group in the UK.

That is not without some significance. The constituency Mrs Cox, a Labour MP, had represented since 2015 is around 75% white working class and 25% Asian, a significant proportion of whom are Muslims.  From 2002 it began to be increasingly targeted by a racist party – the British National Party (BNP). At that time the 9/11 attacks had just happened and the BNP focused on Islam, implying that all Muslims were suspect. By 2004 they had won a seat on the district council beating the previous holder, Labour, by more than 350 votes. Two years later in the district council elections they won a further council seat in the constituency and another in neighbouring Dewsbury and were second placed in five more wards. In that election a staggering 8,438 people in the Batley and Spen constituency later represented by Mrs Cox voted BNP.

Since then the mainstream parties have managed to recover some ground. While the BNP itself, which has undergone multiple splits since 2010, now appears to be a spent political force. However, that does not mean that either the twisted half-truths they have sown or the grievances they have played on, have gone away.

Just before her murder Jo Cox had contributed to a report on anti-Muslim hate crime by the charity Tel Mama, which showed an 80% increase in such attacks and warned that parts of Yorkshire such as Batley were a hotbed of far right extremist activity. Mrs Cox had commented that anti-Muslim attitudes were so bad in her constituency that “many of our young women don’t feel safe when they are out on the streets.”

So why has this been happening? There have been two opposite forces in this and similar areas that have essentially played a divisive game of identity politics.

The first of these forces is that, since the late 1990s constituencies such as Batley that have large Muslim populations have been targeted by a number of Islamic organisations effectively promising to galvanise the Muslim vote for whichever party promises to deliver most of the Islamic agenda they are asking for. These organisations which often have Islamist leanings ask candidates of each party to sign up to a specific set of issues, such as support for Palestine and state funding for Muslim schools.

In fact, immediately after the 1997 general election an editorial in the Muslim News claimed that Elizabeth Peacock the former Conservative MP for Batley had lost her seat because she had failed to support a local Muslim school. This deliberate playing of identity politics has continued with the Muslim Council of Britain in 2011 listing Batley and Spen as one of 33 marginal constituencies (Labour majority 4,406) where the claimed size of the Muslim vote (20,257) could significantly influence who was elected. In the 2015 general election all candidates in the constituency were asked to publicly sign up to support a range of “Muslim” issues, including “Actively supporting the boycott of the local traders selling the goods from the illegally occupied territories in West Bank and Gaza.” Quite how incendiary that was can be seen when one considers that such shops would almost certainly have been owned by non-Muslims – yet candidates signed up to this pledge.

Alongside this has been an embrace of political correctness by many politicians, particularly on the Left, which has refused to accept any link at all between Islam and recent acts of terrorism and has effectively sought to ban any criticism of Islam. The latter has been exemplified by the use of the term “Islamophobia” to condemn not only the stirring up anti-Muslim hatred, but also to prohibit any criticism of Islam, however legitimate.

The second of these forces, is a reaction to this effective alliance of Muslim identity politics and political correctness. This alliance has created a fertile ground of resentment and mistrust of politicians that has allowed racist political parties to sow their twisted half-truths, claiming not that certain strands of Islam support violent jihad, but that all Muslims are suspect as potential terrorists..

As we argued in our editorial last week – if you create a political culture that disparages a particular group of people, you embolden those on the extreme fringe of that culture who are inclined to resort to violence. That is true whether it is Christians or Muslims or in this case politicians who are the subject of abuse and ensuing violence.

That is why it is deeply concerning that all mainstream political parties have decided to stand aside in the by election that must now be held and allow the Labour Party to which Mrs Cox belonged, to have a free run. Not only does this imply that political parties, rather than ordinary voters can have the final say in who becomes an MP, it also risks fuelling the racist vote. Already, a racist party that split off from the BNP has announced that it will put up a candidate in the by-election. Given that a great many of the eight thousand or so who previously voted BNP in this constituency would have been former Labour voters, this is a very dangerous move. If those who feel disillusioned with the Labour Party for whatever reason, are given no other alternative, but to vote for a racist party that can only add fuel to an already smoking fire.

For many years Barnabas Fund has called for a balanced approach towards Islam that fundamentally distinguishes between on the one hand ordinary Muslims, the vast majority of whom totally reject violence, and on the other hand, Islamic ideology, some strands of which promote violent jihad. We have spoken out because we see time and time again that it is Islamic ideology with concepts such as  jihad and dhimmitude that for centuries has been the primary driving force behind the persecution of Christians in Muslim majority contexts.

However, the refusal of political correctness to accept that there is any link between Islam and violence and its attempts to suppress all criticism of Islam, however legitimate, with the use of terms such as “Islamophobia”, rather than the far more appropriate “Muslimophobia” (i.e. fear and hatred of Muslim people) is now clearly fuelling anti-Muslim hatred.


Turkey/EU/UK: Turkish government plays a game of brinkmanship with UK over EU membership – while UN secretary-general condemns its arrest of leading human rights journalists

This week the Turkish government has extended its arrests of journalists to include human rights activists. On Monday Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontiers – RSF) issued a press statement saying that they were “stunned to learn that an Istanbul court today ordered the pre-trial detention of its Turkey representative, Erol Önderoglu and two other journalists on a terrorism charge.” They added that:

“Erol Önderoglu has fought tirelessly to defend persecuted journalists for the past 20 years. He is a leader in this field because of his honesty and integrity, which are recognised the world over. It says a lot about the decline in media freedom in Turkey that he is now also being targeted.”

“For decades, RSF has been condemning Turkey’s abuse of its terrorism laws to crack down on independent journalism, and Önderoglu has of late been participating in a campaign of solidarity with the Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem, a repeated victim of this practice. He and a number of other journalists, intellectuals and human rights defenders have been taking turns to act symbolically as the newspaper’s editor. As a result, they are now being prosecuted on a charge of ‘terrorist propaganda.’”

On Wednesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Turkish government to “quickly” release Mr Önderoglu. So far the Turkish government have not responded.

Meanwhile, at the same time that this has been happening Turkey has been challenging suggestions made by European leaders that despite having been promised fast track accession to the EU – Turkish membership will not be happening any time soon.

On Monday, the chief adviser to Turkey’s President Erdogan accused UK Prime Minister David Cameron of deserting Turkey in its quest to gain ascension to the European Union. Commenting on the UK Prime Minister’s repeated comments in the run up to the referendum on Britain’s EU membership, in which he has repeatedly stressed that Turkey would not become a member state anytime soon and possibly not “until the year 3000”, chief presidential adviser İlnur Çevik told the BBC that Mr Cameron’s apparent U-turn had left his country “flabbergasted”.

“Turks felt that the British were the driving force behind our EU membership and that they were driving us right to the hilt…The way Mr Cameron put it, we feel really, really taken in. The way he’s saying it, ‘they were never going to get in anyway, we just said we’ll go along with them,’ that kind of attitude is deeply hurting the Turks.”

This is exactly the scenario that we have for some time been predicting  and which risks galvanising support behind President Erdogan and his authoritarian Islamist drive and could lead to Turkey focusing much more on developing an Islamic identity.

In what appeared to be a game of brinkmanship on Wednesday, the day before the UK voted in the referendum, Turkish Press reported that Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told reporters
“We want Britain to stay in the European Union under any circumstances” adding that “The EU should not be scared of a strong Turkey, and instead it should cooperate with a strong Turkey.” 

Later on Wednesday European News agencies began to report that sources within the EU were saying that the EU planned to start talks with Turkey on the most important aspect of its joining criteria on June 30th - seven days after the British referendum on EU membership. So, the question we posed in May remains – Will the EU compromise and move towards Turkish membership despite its rapidly deteriorating human rights situation? Or will Erdogan use its refusal to do so in the near future to galvanise support for his Islamist authoritarian rule at home and instead seek to reinvent Turkey’s role as leader of the Islamic world?


Australia: Advocates of traditional marriage condemned for saying they face abuse and intolerance

As we reported at the end of May simmering beneath the surface of the Australian election campaign is the issue of whether the state should promote a redefinition of marriage. Former Liberal Premier Tony Abbott agreed to hold a plebiscite (legally binding referendum) on whether marriage should be redefined to include same–sex couples, a pledge which has been maintained by Malcolm Turnbull who ousted him from leadership of the Liberal Party last September. However, in the federal election campaign which is currently happening the LGBT group campaigning for the redefinition of marriage has called for the plebiscite to be cancelled with parliament simply legalising same sex marriage, a stance that has also been adopted by the opposition Labor Party.

In the latest twist in this story Labor frontbencher Penny Wong attacked the plans for a plebiscite on the grounds that a national debate on same-sex marriage could stoke hatred and homophobia. In response federal Treasurer Scott Morrison has stated that advocates for traditional marriage also have to endure hatred and bigotry. Mr Morrison said:

"I understand the concern that Penny is raising I know it from personal experience, having been exposed to that hatred and bigotry for the views I've taken, from others who have a different view to me."

"Frankly people of very strong religious views have been subject quite dreadful hate speech and bigotry as well, it's not confined to one side of the debate."

However, he added that he was confident that the Australian public could conduct a civilised debate on the issue if a plebiscite was held saying:

"I have a bigger view of the Australian people more broadly … I think the best way is for us all to have a say on this deal with it and move on."

However, opposition Labor Leader Bill Shorten condemned Mr Morrison’s comments describing them as unwelcome and unnecessary.

Mr Morrison has raised an incredibly important subject, which should not be brushed under the carpet. Indeed, it is one which we raised in our editorial last week. This is that those such as Christians who hold to traditional family values are increasingly subject to intolerance and bigotry. That culture of disparaging Christianity and values derived from it such as support for traditional marriage is currently being fuelled by a significant number of politicians. However, creating a culture that disparages one particular group of people or their beliefs inevitably emboldens those on the extreme fringe of that culture who are prepared to resort to violence.

As we reported in that editorial, we are now seeing violence against Christians in the West. No-one is disputing the fact that the gay community have suffered discrimination and sometimes extreme violence. However, there is a very real problem that governments and politicians are refusing to address, which is that a significant part of this growing intimidation and violence against Christians in the West is related to some, though by no means all, gay right activists. Indeed, some of the incidents of intimidation and violence being used against Christians such as the violence and death threats issued against Ashers bakery that we reported last week – appear to have occurred precisely because they supported traditional marriage and in doing so disagreed with attempts of gay rights activists to redefine it.

All prejudice, hatred, intimidation and violence, whoever it is directed against, is to be abhorred. However, politicians need to stop pretending that it is only certain communities that are victims of it – and as we argued last week, stop fuelling the culture which disparages Christians and traditional Christian beliefs, which is the seedbed from which such acts of intimidation and violence emerge.


Australia: Two weeks before election PM Malcolm Turnbull invites extremist to dinner

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has come under sustained criticism just two weeks before the Australian general election after inviting a leading Islamic extremist to a Ramadan dinner.

Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman has in the past urged his followers to pray for “Allah to destroy the enemies of Islam”, “to give victory to the Muslims in Afghanistan and Chechnya [and] to all the Mujahideen all over the world”. While in 2010 he organised a youth lecture at a Sydney mosque via phonelink from Anwar al-Awlaki, an al-Qaeda recruiter, ideologue and bomb making instructor in Yemen, who the US was then describing as its “No. 1 terrorist threat” and who was killed in a US drone strike the following year.

Although Mr Turnbull blamed his staff for not vetting the guest list carefully enough, there is a wider issue here. Both Mr Turnbull, who replaced Tony Abbott as leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister last September, and Labor opposition leader Bill Shorten have a very different view of Islam to Mr Turnbull’s predecessor. Whereas Tony Abbott recognised that certain strands of Islam were linked to violence and called for a reform of Islam, neither Mr Turnbull nor his rival, Mr Shorten seem to want to recognise that there is a real problem with some historic interpretations of Islam.


USA: Department of Justice airbrushes references to Islam out of transcript of Orlando killer’s phone call to police

The US department for Justice has come under fire for deleting references to Islam when it released transcripts of the call made to police by Orlando nightclub killer Omar Mateen. The transcript released by the FBI read:

“I pledge allegiance to (omitted) may God protect him (Arabic), on behalf of (omitted).”

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch claimed that this was done because “we are trying not to revictimize those who went through that horror.” The absurdity of that claim while releasing a partial transcript was self-evident. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan emphatically condemned the partial release saying:

"Selectively editing this transcript is preposterous…We know the shooter was a radical Islamist extremist inspired by ISIS. We also know he intentionally targeted the LGBT community. The administration should release the full, unredacted transcript so the public is clear-eyed about who did this, and why."

While Representative Jeff Duncan tweeted that this was far from being the first time that the White House had published selectively edited transcripts – posting a link to its deletion of references French President Hollande made to “Islamist terrorism” in a Washington meeting with President Obama in April.

The issue is significant because President Obama has repeatedly refused to use the words “radical Islam” or link Islam with terrorism. Although Hilary Clinton has tentatively indicated her willingness to use the term radical Islam, the US presidential race is in danger of becoming polarised between those who are reluctant to admit that violent jihad is an Islamic concept that has historically been followed by some Muslims and those who want to treat all Muslims as suspect.