The Islamic Human Rights Commission and CST
17 June 2009
The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) have published a briefing paper, “Concerns regarding demonisation of Islam and Muslims by Community Security Trust publications”[i], which accuses CST of deliberately misrepresenting and demonising Islam and Muslims, in order to generate Islamophobia. By analysing a series of articles written by CST and published on the CST website, they accuse CST of using intentionally deceptive language with the “objective of distorting the image of both Islam and Muslims.”[ii]
CST wholly denies the entirely unfounded allegations made by IHRC. The IHRC briefing is full of basic errors, distortions and misrepresentations that completely alter the meaning of the articles that it claims to analyse. It contains supposed quotes and arguments in CST articles that do not exist; and omits relevant context from the quotes and articles that it claims to analyse. Worst of all, however, the IHRC makes these claims in order to accuse CST and its staff of propagating Islamophobia, when nothing could be further from the truth.
CST has, for many years, used its experience in community defence work to advise and help many other British communities, including Muslims. CST encourages Jewish participation in interfaith and cross-communal initiatives that help to break down barriers between communities and help diminish extremism. In particular, CST staff and volunteers serve alongside Muslim advisors on police advisory committees throughout the country, providing direct assistance of CST’s primary expertise. Indeed, one of the CST staff attacked by IHRC, Mark Gardner, received a personal award from the Metropolitan Police for his work in the defence of all London communities during the nail bombing campaign by British neo-Nazi David Copeland ten years ago.
CST has no direct contact with IHRC, and is concerned as to why a group that ostensibly fights racism should attack another anti-racist organisation in this manner. Of far greater concern, however, is the mischief and discord that IHRC’s briefing may cause if it is at all believed or repeated by others who are sincerely involved in the struggle against racism and extremism. The central allegation in the IHRC briefing - that CST’s writers employ deception in order to generate bigotry and hatred against Muslims - is as serious and damaging as it is possible to imagine. It is not CST’s practice to sue for libel. We are a community-based charity, and our time and money is better spent doing our job: combating racism and antisemitism, protecting the Jewish community and helping to build a more harmonious society for all. Rather, it is CST’s sincere hope that all concerned will take the time to compare IHRC’s claims with the reality of what is actually written by CST authors; and will appropriately dismiss IHRC’s claims and desist from repeating them.
IHRC’s errors and distortions are too numerous to all be included in this response. The following examples demonstrate the inaccuracy of their allegations.
Example 1: Terrorism from all religions
IHRC analyse an article by CST’s Michael Whine that describes the growing phenomenon of religious terrorism in the first decade of the 21st century. IHRC wrongly claim that Whine portrays terrorism as a solely Islamist phenomenon. They write:
“Whine’s article ‘The New Terrorism’ focuses on ‘Islamist’ terrorism while ignoring other forms of international terrorism. The article has no mention of international terrorism carried out by non-Muslims in the name of a vast array of causes, implying that terrorism carried out by Muslims is the only threat”[iii] (CST’s emphasis)
“Michael Whine claims that religion is a clock [sic] for revolutionaries who believe in violent theologies such as Islamism.” [iv]
Michael Whine wrote about “religious terrorism” in general, not specifically about Islamist terrorism, and used examples from different religions, including Judaism. This is the relevant passage from Whine’s article:
“Religious terrorism promotes either a stark and uncompromising worldview dictated by the belief that religion has the sole key to a “messianic” age, or uses religion as a cloak for its revolutionary and violent theology. It may be anti-Western and anti-modernist, as in Islamism, or it may have developed as a reactionary response, as with Jewish and Hindu ultra-nationalists (e.g., Kahane-Chai, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and Bajrang Dal).”[v] (CST’s emphasis)
It is difficult to know how somebody who read Michael Whine’s article could then claim that he only mentions Islamist terrorism. In addition to the above paragraph, much of the remainder of the article discusses neo-Nazi and other far right terrorist groups, especially in America, which are obviously not Islamist, and which the article points out are influenced by Christian Identity theology.
Example 2: Do neo-Nazis and Islamists work together?
IHRC wrongly alleges that CST’s Dave Rich, in another article, “uses ‘Islamist’ opposition to Israel as evidence of a supposed coalition between ‘Islamists’ and the far right”[vi]. Furthermore, they wrongly claim that he asserts, “many anti-Semites and far right sympathisers attend rallies campaigning for Palestinian rights”[vii].
Dave Rich makes the opposite point - that there is no coalition between Islamists and neo-Nazis in the UK, and that it is extremely unlikely that one could emerge:
“Unsurprisingly, the history of friendly contact and cooperation between the British far right on the one hand, and either the far left or Muslim and Islamist organisations on the other, is minimal to say the least. Nor is this likely to change, given the Islamophobic nature of contemporary far right propaganda, and the centrality of anti-fascism to the far left’s self-definition. But what has happened is that the rhetoric of far left and Islamist organisations is increasingly similar to that of the far right whenever Israel, Zionism, Jewish political activity and the Iraq war are mentioned.”[viii] (CST’s emphasis)
The IHRC make no reference to this passage and instead ascribe to the article the opposite opinion, while providing no evidence.
Example 3: Who perpetrates antisemitic attacks?
Here is another example of the IHRC imputing to a CST article the opposite of what it actually means. IHRC’s “briefing” wrongly accuses CST’s Mark Gardner of trying to imply “that younger Muslims are most likely to be the perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks”:
“Gardner suggests that younger Muslims are more likely to commit anti-Semitic attacks than those in their peer group who come from other backgrounds. Before going on to write that ‘younger age cohorts are more likely to perpetuate anti-Semitic incidents as they are more likely to be on the streets,’ he states that ‘Muslim population are younger [sic] than most other ethnic groups’ implying that younger Muslims are most likely to be the perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks.”[ix] (CST’s emphasis)
IHRC’s claims relate to a section of an article in which Mark Gardner explicitly states that Muslims are not the most likely perpetrators of antisemitic attacks. Furthermore, Gardner stresses that Muslims perpetrate a smaller proportion of antisemitic attacks in the UK than some commentators allege:
“The vast majority of interlocutors who want to discuss “new” antisemitic perpetrators really mean “new” as a supposedly polite metaphor for Muslim. “New” or “different” have become coda for alleging that it is Muslims who are now largely responsible for antisemitism.
In Britain, the statistics of actual antisemitic incidents - hate crimes displaying antisemitic intent - show that Muslims are considerably over-represented as perpetrators per head of population. Muslims, however, are manifestly not the majority perpetrators. In 2006, for instance, the (Jewish) Community Security Trust knew of 205 incidents where a perpetrator had been identified. (11) In those cases, 49 percent of the perpetrators appeared to be white; 29 percent appeared to be Pakistani, Indian or Bangladeshi; 8 percent appeared Arab; and 14 percent appeared black. This suggests Muslims are approximately 10 times over-represented as perpetrators (based on the fact that Muslims comprise 3.1 percent of the UK population.)
Closer analysis reveals that Muslims are less over-represented than first appears. Most antisemitic incidents occur in neighbourhoods that are far less white than the average, as those are often the neighbourhoods in which most Jews live. For example, the highest number of antisemitic incidents occurs in the London local authority area of Barnet, where 14.8 percent of the population is Jewish, and 6.2 percent of the population is Muslim. Additionally, the Muslim population is younger than most other ethnic groups, and younger age cohorts are most likely to perpetrate antisemitic incidents, as they are more likely to be on the streets. So, Muslims are over-represented as perpetrators, but they are certainly not the majority of perpetrators. Most certainly, they are not as starkly over-represented as a superficial analysis of the UK population would initially imply - and as some commentators would like to allege.”[x] (CST’s emphasis)
Example 4: Confusing Islam and Islamism
One of the main allegations made by IHRC is that CST employs a “casual interchange of the words Islam, fundamentalist, Muslims and Islamist [which] serves to merge these labels and confuse the reader.”[xi]
CST’s analysis is very carefully focused on the political ideology and movement known as Islamism. CST’s writers take great care not to direct criticisms at Islam per se, which is a religion as heterogeneous and diverse as any other, or at Muslims as a general group.
This is explicitly set out by Michael Whine in one of the articles the IHRC analyse, where he makes it very clear that, by the term “Islamism”, he is referring to a specific political ideology and movement, and not Islam or Muslims in general:
“First, we must define our terms. I understand Islamism to mean the religio-political ideology constructed by Hassan al Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan al Muslimoon), Maulana Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat e Islami, and especially by their successor Sayid Qutb.
They made a clear distinction between what we might term fundamentalism and revivalism, which is marked by an adherence to, or return to, a strict interpretation of the Shariah.
On the other hand, the Islamists’ influences are anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism and anti-westernism fused in a symbiotic fashion with Western leftist ideologies and grafted onto a radicalised and political religious world outlook. Unlike fundamentalists and revivalists, for example the Tablighi Jamaat, Islamists they (sic) are not rejecting the ideas and symbols of modernity, they are adapting and using them.”[xii] (CST’s emphasis)
Tellingly, the IHRC omit this section from their briefing and make no mention of it, despite the fact that it answers directly their charge that CST attacks the entire faith of Islam and all of its adherents.
When IHRC try to evidence their charge, they in fact employ exactly the “casual interchange” of which they accuse CST. In this passage from their briefing, IHRC take a reference in a CST article to “Islamism” and “Islamist ideology” and use it to claim that CST deliberately attacks Islam and Muslims:
“In almost all of the CST publications, there is a wilful misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Islam that plays heavily on the post September 11 political climate. The writers utilise the violent actions of a minority of Muslims to present a monolithic and demonic Islam that stands opposed to the West. Via constructed misrepresentations and knowledgeable ignorance, their writings distort the Islamic faith and present it as being a right wing political ideology akin to Nazism, Fascism and totalitarianism.
The Runnymede report on Islamophobia asserted that integral to Islamophobia was a deliberate attempt to depict Islam as being a political ideology, used for political or military advantage. Throughout the CST articles there is a conscious attempt to compare Islam, a 1430-year-old faith of over 1.4 billion adherents to racist and intolerant modern political ideologies. In his article ‘Islamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differences,’ Whine via a comparison of the two subjects, draws the conclusion that the ‘Islamist’ ideology is akin to Communism and Fascism.(xiii) He bases this conclusion on the works of Martin Kramer, a right-wing Zionist who directed the Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African studies at Tel-Aviv University.”[xiii] (CST’s emphasis)
Despite the number of quotes cited by IHRC on other issues, it is telling that they could not find a single quote from a CST author that criticised “Islam”. Instead, they quote Michael Whine analysing “Islamism”, and present it as a criticism of “Islam”, which it is not. In doing so, IHRC therefore equate “Islam” and “Islamism”, while wrongly accusing Michael Whine of maliciously conflating the two subjects.
As an anti-racist organisation, CST distinguishes scrupulously between Islam and Islamism. IHRC, however, appear to do no such thing.
Example 5: Does CST accuse Islam of being a violent faith?
IHRC accuses Michael Whine of promoting the idea that Islam is a violent faith and Muslims are disloyal citizens:
“In this same article, Whine defines jihad, a word that translates into struggle and striving as being a religious war against the West. This blatantly incorrect definition and explanation of jihad serves only to portray Islam as an agent for violence. ‘Calls for jihad,’ writes Whine, ‘and the recent revelations of a worldwide Islamist network… suggest that Islam has declared a religious war.’ Such alarming claims and conclusions based on severe generalisations serve to represent Islam as being engaged in a war against the West, and by extension in a war against ordinary innocent people. This representation of Islam plays on post September 11 fears, and positions Muslims as being dangerous ‘fifth columnists’.”[xiv] (CST’s emphasis)
Taking the relevant paragraph in full, it is clear that Michael Whine is making the opposite point to that ascribed to him by IHRC. Whine’s final sentences, which are omitted by IHRC, explicitly state that it is inaccurate to view Islam as a monolithic or violent faith; and show that fundamentalism and Islamism are distinct from Islam per se:
“Threats of jihad (religious war) against the West, or statements supporting Islamist supremacy over other religions provide a picture of an Islam almost at war with itself, and in conflict with the rest of the world.(1) Expressed in harsh and uncompromising language these threats convey an impression that Islam is a monolithic triumphalist creed. Certainly, the spread of Islam across Arabia, the repulsion of the Crusades and the occupation of southern Europe in the latter part of the first millennium were all achieved by force of arms, marking out Islam as an agent for violence, at least in Christian eyes. Calls for jihad and the recent revelations of a worldwide Islamist network dedicated not just to removing the US presence in the Middle East, but also to attacking the very symbols of 'Western economic and political supremacy in the West itself, suggest that Islam has declared a religious war. Osama bin Laden's networked mutual aid umbrella for Islamist terrorism is also called The Front For Jihad Against The Crusaders and the Jews, harking back to an earlier age when Islam fought religious wars against, or defended itself against, Christianity and Judaism. The impression, though, is an incomplete one, the historical perspective seen through Western eyes is a skewed one, and Islam is not the monolithic religion that some of its spokesmen would argue. However, it is fundamentalism and Islamism rather than Islam the religion which concerns us now.”[xv] (CST’s emphasis).
Example 6: Definition of jihad
When IHRC write, above, that “Whine defines jihad, a word that translates into struggle and striving as being a religious war against the West”[xvi], they make no mention of the more extensive definition of jihad he provides in the relevant footnote to that very sentence. The footnote also reinforces Whine’s distinction between Islamists and Islam and Muslims per se. The footnote is as follows:
“Jihad (holy struggle) has two aspects: the mystical act of sacrifice as an act of devotion; the struggle for an Islamic state. It is not counted among the Five Pillars of the faith (profession of faith, prayers, fasting, almsgiving, pilgrimage) but to Islamists it now constitutes an additional sixth pillar. For them jihad almost invariably means armed struggle against the impious, the heretic or the declared enemy. Jihad need not operate within a territorialised state; it applies throughout the ummah.”[xvii] (CST’s emphasis)
Example 7: The invented quote
The IHRC briefing includes the following passage, which appears to quote from one of the articles by Michael Whine on the CST website:
“By continuously interchanging terms and playing on Islamophobic stereotypes, Whine presents Islam as the antithesis to democracy. He compares Islamism to totalitarianism and argues that they are similar as ‘both seek to mobilise- both aim at the elimination of opposition- and both believe in sacrifice, either for God or for the process.’”[xviii] (CST’s emphasis)
The quote highlighted in bold, which clearly appears in quotation marks in the IHRC briefing, does not appear anywhere in the article referenced by IHRC, nor in any of the other articles reviewed in their briefing. It appears to have been invented by IHRC.
Example 8: The Nation of Islam
The IHRC claim that “Mark Gardner’s article entitled ‘“Old” and “New”, Contemporary British Anti-Semitism,” presents the racial views of the Nation of Islam as being representative of the majority Muslim view”.[xix] (CST’s emphasis)
The article by Mark Gardner, which is given as a reference by IHRC for this allegation, does not contain any mention of the Nation of Islam or any similar group.[xx] It is very difficult to know where the IHRC got the idea that it does. It is possible that it is a misattribution, as one of the other articles they analyse, by Michael Whine, includes a comparison of the racial segregation policies of American neo-Nazi groups and the Nation of Islam[xxi]; however, even this would not fully explain the IHRC’s error, as Whine’s article makes no mention of the “majority Muslim view” and does not present the Nation of Islam as representative of that majority. Otherwise, it appears that, as with Example 7, this allegation has simply been invented by IHRC.
There are many other, smaller distortions, omissions, misrepresentations and plain errors of fact in the IHRC briefing; so many that it is not possible to list them all here. For the record, though, the following should be noted:
- IHRC mistakenly name Mark Gardner as the author of the article 'An Unholy Alliance - Nazi Links with Arab Totalitarianism' which is in fact written by Mike Whine.[xxii]
- IHRC name both Michael Whine and Mark Gardner as authors of 'Islamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differences', while only naming Whine as the author in the relevant endnote. Michael Whine is the sole author of this article, not Mark Gardner.[xxiii]
- The IHRC briefing references a quote to the article 'The Aftermath of 7 July: New Trends in Terror' that in fact appears in 'The New Terrorism'.[xxiv]
As shown above, the IHRC “briefing” repeatedly inverts the meaning of what CST’s authors have written and even attributes quotes and ideas to the relevant articles that do not exist. The “briefing” is full of errors, distortions and misrepresentations. This is ironic, given that IHRC accuses CST of writing with “little academic rigor”[xxv] (sic) and produce work “steeped in ungrounded allegations and weak evidence.”[xxvi]
Given the hostile thrust of the “briefing”, it is no surprise that IHRC should ascribe hateful motivations to CST’s authors. These hateful motivations are the opposite of what the authors believe, and indeed, are the opposite of what they are on record as having written and said.
CST does not know why IHRC should misrepresent its staff in so comprehensive a manner, and does not accuse IHRC of intentionally misconstruing our work or of racist motivations, as they accuse us. Nevertheless, those who now choose to spread IHRC’s allegations should be aware that they are inaccurate; and that there is no longer an excuse for being ignorant of this fact.
[i] Islamic Human Rights Commission, “BRIEFING: Concerns regarding demonisation of Islam and Muslims by Community Security Trust publications” 19 May 2009; available at http://www.ihrc.org.uk/show.php?id=4112 (accessed June 2009)
[ii] IHRC Briefing, section “CST Language: A Deceptive Tool” paragraph 1
[iii] IHRC Briefing, section “Islam: A Religion not an Ideology”, paragraph 4
[iv] IHRC Briefing, section “Islam, Muslims and Anti-Zionism” paragraph 1
[v] Michael Whine, “The New Terrorism”, Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Antisemitism and Racism 2001; http://www.tau.ac.il/Anti-Semitism/asw2000-1/whine.htm (accessed June 2009)
[vi] IHRC Briefing, section “Islam, Muslims and Anti-Zionism” paragraph 2
[vii] IHRC Briefing, section “Islam, Muslims and Anti-Zionism” paragraph 3
[viii] Dave Rich, “The Barriers Come Down: Antisemitism and Coalitions of Extremes”, 2004; http://www.thecst.org.uk/docs/rich_essay_nov_04.pdf (accessed June 2009)
[ix] IHRC Briefing, section “Islam, Muslims and Anti-Zionism” paragraph 6
[x] Mark Gardner, “’Old’ and ‘New’: Contemporary British Antisemitism”, Engage Journal issue 5 September 2007; http://www.engageonline.org.uk/journal/index.php?journal_id=16&article_id=65 (accessed June 2009)
[xi] IHRC Briefing, section “CST Language: A Deceptive Tool” paragraph 4
[xii] Michael Whine, “Islamist Recruitment and Antisemitism on British Campuses”, RUSI Homeland Security & Resilience Department Workshop 23 January 2006; http://www.thecst.org.uk/docs/RUSI%20Homeland%20Security.doc (accessed June 2009)
[xiii] IHRC Briefing, section “Islam: A Religion not an Ideology” paragraphs 1 & 2. This analysis of these two paragraphs was first made by The Spittoon blog at http://www.spittoon.org/archives/543
[xiv] IHRC Briefing, section “CST Language: A Deceptive Tool” paragraph 2
[xv] Michael Whine, “Islamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differences”, Totalitarian Movements and Political Religions vol. 2 no. 2, p.55 Autumn 2001 (Frank Cass, London) http://www.thecst.org.uk/docs/Islamism_and_Totalitarianism.PDF (accessed June 2009)
[xvi] IHRC Briefing, section “CST Language: A Deceptive Tool” paragraph 2
[xvii] Whine, “Islamism and Totalitarianism: Similarities and Differences”, p.71, footnote 1
[xviii] IHRC Briefing, section “Islam: A Religion not an Ideology” paragraph 5
[xix] IHRC Briefing, section “Islam, Muslims and Anti-Zionism” paragraph 2
[xx] Gardner, “’Old’ and ‘New’: Contemporary British Antisemitism”
[xxi] Michael Whine, “An Unholy Alliance - Nazi Links with Arab Totalitarianism”, Antisemitismus und radikaler Islamismus, Wolfgang Benz, Juliane Wetzel (Hrsg.) 2007 Klartext (Essen); http://www.thecst.org.uk/docs/An%20unholy%20alliance%201801%20original.doc (accessed June 2009)
[xxii] IHRC Briefing, section “CST Language: A Deceptive Tool” paragraph 4
[xxiii] IHRC Briefing, section “Islam: A Religion not an Ideology” paragraph 5
[xxiv] IHRC Briefing, section “Islam, Muslims and Anti-Zionism” paragraph 1 and Endnote (xxv)
[xxv] IHRC Briefing, Foreword paragraph 1
[xxvi] IHRC Briefing, section “Islam, Muslims and Anti-Zionism” paragraph 2