Anorak News | Tell Mama: using the ‘truth’ to attack Muslim victims in light of the Woolwich murder of Lee Rigby

Tell Mama: using the ‘truth’ to attack Muslim victims in light of the Woolwich murder of Lee Rigby

by | 3rd, June 2013

TEll MaMa

WHAT is a hate crime? The Home Office defines it as:

[crimes] committed against a person or property that is motivated by hostility towards someone based on their disability, race, religion, gender-identity or sexual orientation, whether perceived to be so by the victim or any other person.

After the murder of Lee Rigby, the Guardian reported that anti-Muslim hate crimes were suddenly on the rise:

Sharp rise in reported cases, including attacks on 10 mosques, raises fears of sustained targeting of Muslim communities

We were told that in the week following Lee Rigby’s murder in Woolwich, there were around 200 Islamophobic incidents reported. They were not all reported to the police. The petrol bomb attack on a mosque in Grimsby was reported to police. Stuart Harness, 33, and Gavin Humphries, 37, have been charged with arson with intent to endanger life.

The cast majority of incidents were recorded by Faith Matters’  Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks):

The TELL MAMA national project can support and assist individuals if they have been subjected to anti-Muslim prejudice or Islamophobia, whether through a street-based, on-line or institutionally based incident. 

It invites Muslims to tell them if they have been a victim of any of the following:

What are the classifications of attack?

Attacks are classified as follows:

1. Extreme Violence – i.e, a violent attack on a person / property that has the potential to cause the loss of life or Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH).

2. Assault – i.e, a physical attack against a person which does not pose a threat to their life and is not GBH. This includes objects being thrown at someone, even if the object misses.

3. Damage and Desecration of Property – i.e, this includes anti-Muslim graffiti being daubed on Muslim property and damage to vehicles motivated by anti-Muslim hatred.

4. Threats – Any clear and specific threat, whether physical, verbal or written. If the threat is not clear and specific then the incident should be recorded as Abusive Behaviour.

5. Abusive Behaviour – Verbal or written anti-Muslim abuse.

6. Anti-Muslim Literature – Mass produced and mass mailed literature with anti-Muslim content.

How high or low they set the bar will be interesting.

Its parent outfit Faith Matters is:

Faith Matters is a not for profit organisation founded in 2005 which works to reduce extremism and interfaith and intra-faith tensions and we develop platforms for discourse and interaction between Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jewish and Hindu communities across the globe. We have offices in the United Kingdom, Pakistan and the Middle East (Jerusalem)

It’s an interesting group. In 2011, Faith Matters launched a paper on Secular reforms of the Ottoman Empire:

The Ottoman Empire is often presented, by such groups as a model political system upon which to re-build a global Caliphate. Osama bin Laden marked the decline of the Ottoman Empire as the fall of Islam – that the Islamic world “has been tasting this humiliation and this degradation for more than 80 years” and that “the righteous Khilafah will return with the permission of Allah”. Through the implementation of an Islamic legal and political system, extreme groups who mis-use the Islamic faith call for the rejection of liberal values and the current systems in place, which do not fundamentally clash with Islam.

The short paper authored by Ishtiaq Hussain who has long studied such ideologies, offers a new challenge to these claims, arguing that the Ottoman Empire bares little resemblance to the model proposed by such groups.  In focusing on the period known as the Tanzimat (1839-1876), Hussain shows that the Ottomans were in fact attempting to secularise their laws and state institutions rather than implementing religious laws into State laws.

These are some of the key findings in the report which show that:

• Homosexuality was decriminalised
• Ottoman society in general moved away from punishments such as stoning
• The death penalty for Apostasy was not implemented

Islamists often bypass these facts and use a warped interpretation of history in order to weave their own narrative into mainstream debate; using their own projected picture of a perfect Ottoman society living under a deeply rigid interpretation of Shariah Law in order to argue for the building of a modern day Islamic Caliphate. Those who spin this historical account help to prop up a narrative used as an ideological basis for extremism. The attacks of 9/11 were even marked by Bin Laden as “a great step towards the unity of Muslims and establishing the righteous caliphate”.

All valid work, then.

Tell MAMA’s co-ordinator, Fiyaz Mughal, was quoted on the post-Woolwich violence:

“These things are cumulative and I do not see an end to this cycle of violence. There is an underlying Islamophobia in our society and the horrendous events in Woolwich have brought this to the fore and inflamed the situation.”

But not everyone is a bigot. Far from it.

The Guardian then followed up with a pieced called “Attacks on Muslims: numbers in detail”:

It’s been almost a week since the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich. During that time, many have considered the consequences of the two attackers’ actions for Britain’s crime policy, its foreign policy and its media.

The media cry against giving terrorists the oxygen of publicity whilst broadcasting graphic pictures and giving weight to one of the two alleged killer’s words, elevating him from a psychotic, happy-slapping jihadi nutjob to an expert on British policy, religion, war and race relations.

The Guardian noted:

Individuals are able to report Islamophobic incidents in a number of ways: by filling in an online form, phoning their helpline, sending a text, email, tweet or message via Facebook. It’s not clear how these reports are verified but Tell MAMA does explain how they classify attacks which include anti-Muslim graffiti, verbal threats and physical attacks against people or property.

Other sections of the Press were more sceptical. The Telegraph and Daily Mail both produced the same headline:

The truth about the ‘wave of attacks on Muslims’ after Woolwich murder

TRUTH. As opposed to a lie?

The Telegraph said:

Tell Mama confirmed to The Sunday Telegraph that about 120 of its 212 “anti-Muslim incidents” – 57 per cent – took place only online. They were offensive postings on Twitter or Facebook, or comments on blogs: nasty and undesirable, certainly, but some way from violence or physical harm and often, indeed, legal. Not all the offending tweets and postings, it turns out, even originated in Britain…

Fewer than one in 12 of the 212 “incidents” reported to Tell Mama since Woolwich – 17 cases (8 per cent) – involved individuals being physically targeted. Six people had things thrown at them, said Mr Mughal, and most of the other 11 cases were attempts to pull off the hijab or other items of Islamic dress.

Without in any way denying the distress and harm caused by such attacks, they do stand at the lower levels of seriousness…


Two other sets of figures are available. According to the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), forces nationally reported 71 anti-Muslim hate crimes or “incidents of note” to the National Community Tensions Team in the week after the murder of Drummer Rigby.

“That would cover everything they feel has a link to Woolwich, though an incident of note would not necessarily be a crime,” said a spokesman.

The second set of figures is from True Vision, an online hate-crime reporting tool operated by Acpo. There were 136 reports of anti-Muslim activity – internet or physical – received via this website in the week after Woolwich, overwhelmingly in the first few days, though Acpo said that not all were crimes and some reports were duplicates.

As for the claim that there is “no end” to the cycle of anti-Muslim activity, it has substantially ended already. According to police, there was a sharp spike in reported incidents in the day or so after the killing, but they have already subsided to pre-Woolwich levels…

What the data broadly show, in short, is that Drummer Rigby’s killers have failed. The breakdown in community relations has not come. There has been a rise in incidents, but it appears to be very short-term, overwhelmingly non-violent and even then almost entirely at the lower end of the scale.

The Mail is, however, darker:

But more than half of the incidents reported to the Tell Mama hotline related to offensive messages on Twitter, Facebook or online blogs, and only a tiny minority were physical attacks, it has emerged.

Tiny. Seventeen people being attacked, allegedly. The Mail then delivers its thrust in bullet points:

More than half of incidents reported to hotline were internet comments

Questioned raised about the way Tell Mama project presented figures

The Mail and to lesser degree the Telegraph appear to be undermining Tell MAMA, which has been running for just over a year. It is a useful tool to counter anti-Muslim violence and bigotry. It’s wrong that the organisation should be looked at only in light of the Woolwich murder. Anti-Muslim attacks do happen, as the BBC has reported:

“I started wearing the hijab at university in 2006 but last summer I decided to take it off because I didn’t feel safe after someone tried to pull it off my head, said Alisha, a student from Middlesbrough.

She and her husband were targeted because they were Muslim, she believes.

“I started to get panic attacks. I never thought I’d feel like this, but everyone is so afraid.”

Her husband was also attacked on his way to work.

“He was verbally abused, called a ‘Paki’, ‘terrorist’, and he was spat on. When he confronted the men, security guards tried to arrest him until an old man pointed out who the attackers were,” she said.

Another victim, Usman Choudhry, an IT manager in Salford, said he has suffered at least one incident of abuse per week over the last five to six years. “I haven’t reported it to the police,” he said, “because I am not sure they could have caught the offenders.”

I for one am glad that such an outfit exists. It aims to do something about a problem. The Press were full of praise for the few people who helped Lee Rigby. But overlooked were the scores of others who just stood about taking photos and tweeting. You can’t blame them. What would we have done? Maybe nothing. Maybe we’d have been heroes. Maybe at least recording the offence is a start. The world about us is mediated by technology. But rather than saying ‘I was there’, Tell MAMA helps us realise that someone else really is there on the sharp end of abuse, that the snippet of news, tweet or camera  phone footage reflect people’s real, everyday existences.


Posted: 3rd, June 2013 | In: Reviews Comments (2) | TrackBack | Permalink