THE BLOG

Why I Quit the Government's Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group

30/10/2014 09:39 | Updated 29 December 2014
  • Dr Chris Allen Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Birmingham

Shortly after the re-launch of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Islamophobia in November 2011, I was invited to join the newly formed Cross-Government Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group hosted in the Department for Communities and Local Government.

My understanding was that the Working Group would work closely with the APPG on common themes - as the Anti-Semitism equivalent had done previously - and was to be made up of members from Muslim and civil society organisations plus imams and academics with relevant expertise.

With expectations high, I accepted the invitation and joined the group as an independent member, my time and involvement funded solely by my academic institution.

Three years on and having personally submitted around half a dozen briefing papers to the group and associated politicians, I have now resigned my position, disillusioned by both group and government's shared inability to even begin to move forward the issue of tackling Islamophobia.

Having always been open about being a member, I was regularly asked what the group was doing. Sadly, I always had to be hopeful rather than specific, knowing there was always very little of import in the pipeline.

While we should have been demanding politicians set out what they were intending to do about the 65% increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes recorded by the Metropolitan Police in the past year, we were instead being asked to promote the Big Iftar, Srebrenica Memorial Day or identify Muslim organisations to participate in social media workshops. Each has a value of course but none are likely - in my opinion - to change the mindset of those who think it's OK to spit at, verbally abuse or be violent towards someone just because they're Muslim.

And this is where the problem lies. Whether it was the murder of Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham last year, the bombs left outside mosques in the West Midlands, calls for a ban on the niqab in hospitals, or the hoax allegations made via Operation Trojan Horse, the voice of the group was non-existent.

Probably because some were too scared to put their heads above the parapet, others fearful of losing their seat at the government's table, the group let the politicians off the hook. It had no bite, no influence, no impact. For me, this was most apparent when some of us sent letters requesting meetings with ministers from the departments of health and education: one was ignored, the other declined.

And what of my role?

In spite of recent suggestions that the group had strengthened the evidence base relating to anti-Muslim prejudice through 'academic research', the harsh reality is somewhat different. In fact there has been no 'academic research' to have emerged from the group, let alone funded by it or indeed government. Consequently all the research I've undertaken since becoming a member was wholly independent of the group rather than because of it. The question then is what was I there for.

Combined with the impotence of the APPG on Islamophobia it now feels that the opportunities and expectations of three years ago have been sadly lost, both group and government having collectively failed to create the forward momentum necessary if Islamophobia was ever to have been realistically tackled.

Where we go now and how we go about it remains unclear for the time being at least.