Douglas Murray has been at it again. In a December piece in the Spectator he attacked myself, and others, by suggesting we were opposing the Government's recent Extremism Task Force report. Describing how some are opposed to the 'prevailing common sense' about the need to overcome 'reticence' which has held back the 'challenge to extreme Islamist ideologies in the past' he says that this (apparent) reticence has led to an environment 'conducive to radicalisation in some mosques and Islamic centres, universities and prison.'
What follows from Murray is what may be called a Potomac two step: he completely side-steps his initial topic - the Extremism Task Force's recommendations on extremism - and instead launches a frontal attack on the work taking place to chart, and fight against, anti-Muslim prejudice. His piece is laced with attacks on myself and the project I run, Tell MAMA, which documents anti-Muslim hate crimes and incidents.
Murray quoted part of an Independent article in which I said I "feared Mr Cameron's announcements would reinforce negative perceptions of Muslims", something Murray called "most revealing." Yet what he didn't inform the reader was that we had broadly welcomed the Prime Minister's new recommendations, in this statement.
Murray then quotes two highly contentious June 2013 Telegraph articles by the journalist Andrew Gilligan (the subject of a Press Complaints Commission complaint as we speak) as a means of trying to validate his point. He fails to mention that Gilligan's articles, which suggested we had exaggerated anti-Muslim incidents (bearing in mind a Muslim man was killed, and three bombs set off against mosques, by a neo-Nazi in the West Midlands around the same time), are regularly used by far-right and anti-Muslim sympathisers. Sadly many of these groups self-reinforce their twisted beliefs about Islam and Muslims by looking for pieces that either validate their views or undermine wider views about Islam and Muslims. Our responses to the Telegraph article can be found here and here.
Murray himself is no stranger to controversy. The Conservative Party front bench publicly broke off relations with him in 2011. Former Tory MP Paul Goodman of Conservative Home said that Murray was not able to distinguish between 'Islamism' (political Islam) and Islam itself. Goodman quotes a very telling statement that Murray made in a speech to the Dutch Parliament in 2006, 'What are we to do about Islam?', in which Murray stated: "Conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board: Europe must look like a less attractive proposition."
Douglas Murray has also shared some choice platforms. Here is a You Tube video that shows that he shared a platform with the notorious counter-jihadist Robert Spencer, who was denied entry into the United Kingdom by our Home Secretary last summer (Spencer frequently rails against all things Muslim and has been frequently exposed for his anti-Muslim stance). Meanwhile, here is Douglas Murray stating that the "Muslims of Europe have let down Europe." He makes no effort to delineate all Muslims from that statement which was made at an Intelligence Squared debate. Here he is again, in late 2011, when he was asked whether people should support the far-right, anti-Muslim street thugs of the English Defence League (EDL). Murray appears to act as an apologist for this vile organisation, many of whose members have been jailed for violence, criminality, even paedophilia as well as drug use. According to Murray "what do we expect people to do on the ground?" Well Douglas, for one, not to join an extreme group whose leadership has even left the EDL en masse because the group was too extreme. He then states that "(the EDL is) a grass roots movement and has learnt from mistakes as they go along." A quick look at some of these mistakes shows a history of violence, intimidation and targeted anger towards Muslims, as well as leading to huge policing costs and heightened community tensions.
On many occasions, the thrust of Murray's arguments is that Islam - and Islam alone of all faiths, it seems - does not allow for homosexuality. Also that women's rights are curtailed and that liberty itself is under attack. What Murray seems to forget or conveniently disregard is that for many Muslims (including myself), all of these core rights he says are threatened must be protected: they can sit side by side with my Islamic religious beliefs which teach me first and foremost to treat others with dignity, respect and integrity, irrespective of who they are. I and many other Muslims welcome the diversity of people, lifestyles, cultures, races and faiths that make up great cities like London, Manchester and Birmingham. So what does Murray say about Muslims who actively support equal rights, are willing to challenge patriarchy, homophobia and neo-conservatism and extremism where we find them? Well, he does not seem to acknowledge that they exist, beyond a tiny coterie of examples. He shows an erratic and illogical attitude in cherry picking rights.
In his latest stomach-churning piece in the Spectator, Murray projects a sense of implicit threat from rising Muslim birth rates and changing demographics. In fact, one really has to ask whether Murray actually has anything constructive to say about Muslims at all. His views seem eagerly lapped up by those on the extreme Right and in anti-Muslim/counter jihadist organisations.
On a final note, there is one thing that we agree on (though it may surprise him). We, all of us, have to tackle extremism and violent extremism, wherever it originates. Whilst the greatest threat still comes from al-Qaeda-based narratives which influence young, mainly disaffected Muslim men, the widening of Prevent to focus on far right extremism is to be welcomed. It is imperative that we redouble our efforts to challenge, disrupt and tackle head on, those who harbour extreme views, their handlers and those who believe in social change through violence. But we must do so on an evidential basis, too, not pander to ideological bias which sees the bogeyman around every corner.
Lee Rigby's murder in Woolwich last was a turning point - a wake-up call that showed that extremism was still (sadly) alive and well within the heart and minds of some of our young men. It also showed that cohesion between communities is fragile. However, where I diverge from Murray is that there are ripple effects from such brutal acts: we must ensure that we do not poison future community relations, and peace and stability at local levels, by unwise words and actions.
Fiyaz Mughal is Director of the anti-Muslim hate crimes project, Tell MAMA (@tellmamauk)