Robin Richardson – An interview with Q-News


Below is a conversation with Robin Richardson, the man behind the Runnymede Trust Report with Fuad Nahdi, Q-News. The report is entitled Islamophobia – A Challenge to us all (1997).  A summary of the report on this link.

Apologies for poor copy as its very old newspaper print. 

RR1 1
Q-News May 1998
Q-News May 1998



Trevor Phillips & the Runnymede Trust’s Islamophobia report – what really happened

By Khalida Khan, Director, An-Nisa Society

Trevor Phillips Survey

(Image from the Daily Mail)

Trevor Phillips, is presenting a controversial documentary on British Muslims on Wednesday 13th April 2016 on Channel 4, where he has been asked to analyse the findings of a major survey on Muslim attitudes in the UK. This will form the basis of the documentary, What British Muslims Really Think.

While the inaccurate and inflammatory contents of this survey and documentary as reported in the media need to be unpicked and analysed, I am putting the record straight on the history of the Islamophobia campaign and focusing on why Trevor Philipps was the wrong choice to present and analyse this flawed programme that purports to go into the minds of 3 million Muslims. 

Phillips has presented himself as an ‘expert’ on British Muslims because while he was the chair of the Runnymede Trust, a groundbreaking report was commissioned entitled Islamophobia – A Challenge for us all (1997).  A summary of the report on this link.

“Twenty years ago, when, as chair of the Runnymede Trust, I published the report titled Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, we thought that the real risk of the arrival of new communities was discrimination against Muslims. Our 1996 survey of recent incidents showed that there was plenty of it around. But we got almost everything else wrong.” Trevor Phillips, The Sunday Times (London) April 10, 2016 ‘What British Muslims Really Think’

So when Phillips makes these claims, it is assumed that this background gives him a deep insight into British Islam and that if someone ‘behind’ this report could now ‘change’ his mind and do a ‘U” turn, this blatant vilification of a community and scaremongering must be taken very seriously indeed.

However, Phillips has never been an advocate for British Muslims or for anything to be done about Islamophobia. Indeed, some sources say that it was he who made sure behind the scenes that the report got nowhere with Jack Straw and New Labour. (see Q-News piece below)
In his Sunday Times piece (also see below) he gives himself credit for publishing the Runnymede Trust’s Islamophobia report back in 1997. The truth however is not as he presents it. He may have been chair of Runnymede at that time but it was Robin Richardson, the director of Runnymede and Kaushika Amin, a researcher, who took the report forward. This was following extensive discussions with us at Q-News and articles that were written in Q-News campaigning against anti-Muslim discrimination,
Robin Richardson and Kaushika Amin were behind the Report not Trevor Phillips.

From the mid 1980’s An-Nisa Society started the campaign against anti-Muslim discrimination and the recognition of ‘religious discrimination’ – it was totally unrecognised then. This was led by myself as the director. I was working in local government and race relations and saw first hand how Muslims were falling through the net in terms of equal opportunities and health and social welfare provision. They were faced with Islamophobia and institutional Islamophobia in all areas of life, including employment and so on. However, a race-focused approach to Britain’s diverse communities meant that Muslims became socially excluded. This is an area which still needs to be fully investigated – that is, the failure of government to address Muslim issues and needs as citizens for decades resulting in their social exclusion. 

No other male led organisation had taken this up this as frankly they had no understanding of the processes taking place that had rendered Muslims an underclass. (I would argue that most still do not). They were too busy campaigning for the blasphemy law to include Islam! We campaigned by writing in MuslimWise, which we helped found and in Q-News. This campaign was highly influential in the debate around Islamophobia. These articles came to the attention of Robin and Kaushika.
I also spoke to great academics and legal experts such as the late Sebastian Poulter and the late Professor John Rex who were very supportive of what we were doing. We brought the issue to the attention of Tariq Modood who was a researcher at the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) at the time and Khurshid Drabu, who was head of Legal there and who later went onto join the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Iqbal Sacranie, who was later the General Secretary of MCB used a report I had written (with my permission) about the inadequacies of the Race Relations Act 1976 as an appendix to one of the reports by UKACIA (the precursor to MCB who were campaigning for the blasphemy law). The male led organisations, who had little idea of the issues, muscled in. They cut us and Q-News out and it’s they that the government chose to take on board.  And the result is there to see. The issue was not taken seriously by the government and it took years for ‘religion and belief’  to be included in the Equality Act 2010. Meanwhile the community continued to suffer, with the added complications of 9/11 and 7/7 ensuring that anything done around Muslims was now security driven.
“Up until about 1990 the dominant terms in Runnymede’s discourse were race, race relations and colour – the Trust was imbued, at both staff level and trustee level, with the consensus established by the Race Relations Acts of the 1960s and 1976. Everyone, in the world constructed by such discourse, was either white or coloured – or, as terminology developed in the eighties – white or black. (Latterly, since about 1998, white or BME – black and minority ethnic.) The world-view reflected in this language was derived in part from the United States and in part from Britain’s experience as a colonial power. Alternative world-views were in due course advocated within the Runnymede staff team by one of the researchers, Kaushika Amin. She for her part was influenced by the magazine Q News and its predecessors; by the work of the An-Nisa Society, based in Brent in north west London; and by the writings of someone who in those days was an officer at the Commission for Racial Equality, Tariq Modood. She was supported in her advocacy by Runnymede’s new director from 1991 onwards.”

Challenging the Race Relations Consensus – the Runnymede Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia, some notes and memories – Robin Richardson, Insted Consultancy, 2004 

We at An-Nisa Society are used to having our work hijacked or appropriated, not only in this instance but as also happened with our work on Prevent and when ‘Islamophobia issues, challenges and action A report by the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia’ was published in 2004. Although, with the latter we provided material and advice, the credit was often given to MCB or not given at all. Something we complained about in a piece in Q-News. As women in particular, this happens all the time. Even Kaushika’s role in the first Islamophobia report has not been adequately acknowledged. In the Muslim community this problem is rife. Everyone wants to be the ‘expert;’  everyone wants to deliver the Muslim community to the government. We will never get the change we want in our community if this keeps happening. 
Robin Richardson and Kaushika Amin’s pivotal role in the crucial report Islamophobia – A Challenge for us all needs to be put on the record.

Why is this important? Is it simply because people want acclaim and kudos. No, it is because when people who don’t understand the issues use other people’s work and ideas so they can be seen as  the ‘experts,’ facilitated by the media and government, we will get people like Trevor Phillips claiming to speak about something they don’t understand or perhaps even want to misrepresent, for what ever reason. 

Q-News on Jack Straw 
 The directors of Runnymede
  • Sukhvinder Stubbs 1996 – 2000
  • Robin Richardson, 1991–1996

Daily Mail 11 April 2016

An-Nisa Society responds to Dr Musharraf Hussain on Prevent


By An-Nisa Society

First published on 18 Feb 2016

On 11 February Dr Musharraf Hussain posted an article on his blog which he stated was a ‘spiritual response’ to Prevent, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, and in which he singled out An-Nisa Society for its work on Prevent. In his confused piece, Dr Musharraf seems to imply that An-Nisa Society has acted in violation of Islamic guidelines by calling for the scrapping of Prevent in its robust dialogue with Brent Council. Dr Musharraf believes “that Muslims should protest little but work harder at winning the trust of the wider society by: Not having a sense of victimhood due to current events; Make less use of the term “Islamophobia” since the issue becomes desensitised”
We felt that this lack of understanding by many scholars and ‘leaders’ about what it means to be an engaged British Muslim citizen, their lack of insight into the issues that really affect us and their inability to constructively challenge government is an intrinsic part of the problem we face in the community and needed to be responded to. In our response we state:
“We believe Muslims communities should engage with the statutory sector and government with confidence and that it is not incumbent on us to accept these polices without question. Any leader that expects passive acceptance does not do justice to the British political system or British Muslim communities. Consequently they fail to understand the very nature of the grievances that makes young Muslims in particular vulnerable to charismatic and exploitative preachers and completely dismiss as irrelevant anything that comes from what they consider to be ‘sell-outs’. Young Muslim are looking for a leadership that is batting on their side, who understands the nature of the discrimination they face day in and day out and who do not accept the premise that we need to act as ‘spies’ on our own children. Our young generation deserve better from us.”

Read more on this link


Thoughts On The Hijab Poppy Appeal

By Humera Khan, An-Nisa Society

Nov 2014hijab_poppy

“Learn, Unlearn and Relearn” was quoted at a conference I attended many years ago and which affected me then as it does now as a concept that should be applied in all that we do. It came to my mind very strongly yesterday as we heard of the launch of the ‘Poppy Hijab’ by an organisation called British Future and the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB).

Sughra Ahmed, President of the Islamic Society of Britain, is quoted in the Independent (30 October 2014) as saying “It’s a simple way to say you’re proudly British and proudly Muslim.”and also quoted in the British Future website as saying that the Poppy headscarf is a “symbol of quiet remembrance” and “the face of everyday British Islam”. 

 The ‘Learn’ part of this is that the Poppy campaign has a narrative about honouring our ‘fallen heroes’ who died defending the country during the 1st World War (and later including the 2nd World war) and the appeal is to raise money to support current and former military personnel. Yes, this is a well-intentioned aim and the added ingredient in the ISB initiative is the recognition that not only white British men fought in this and subsequent wars, but also thousands of men from Muslim backgrounds (and it must be added, from other commonwealth countries) and died defending the British Empire. Something usually conveniently forgotten and may I add they never received any compensation or support. So, this point has been made – good!  It should be mentioned here that Jahan Mahmood, a military and community historian, with an expertise in Muslim martial traditions, has been in the forefront of highlighting this contribution and the sacrifice of Muslim soldiers and their families.

Today, however, the appeal is mainly used to commemorate servicemen and women who have been killed in all conflicts since 1914.

The ‘Unlearning’ part of this issue is that the Poppy Appeal in recent years has become controversial because it has been seen as something that digressed from its original purpose and used by some to elevate war and perpetuate colonial and post-colonial ideologies.  Lindsey German (Independent Thursday 23 October 2014) explains this in the following way:

“But instead of starting a period of peace, the war marked the beginning of a century of war and the development of nuclear weapons. This country has been involved directly in wars for the past 13 years, wars which have become increasingly unpopular at home, and which have failed even in the most basic of their declared aims.”

 The ‘Relearning’ part is that those who have studied the most basic modern history at O Level or GCSE will have been taught that the First World War resulted due to the scrambling for power and resources by European colonial governments, who drew in their colonies and the rest of the world into the conflict. So, if we look at this history from another angle it can also be seen as a symbol of oppression for those who were colonised and continue to suffer in the post-colonial era. Therefore for it be said that it is a ‘symbol of quiet remembrance’ – seems to forget that there is a flip side to this too – a need to ‘unlearn’ the selective narrative we have been taught.

Having relearnt history or re-contextualised it, there are other questions that need to be thought through. Public rituals, however important they are and relevant in their origin, change their meaning and significance over time and it is not unreasonable for subsequent generations to see the world differently as suggested by Lindsey German (Independent, Thursday 23 October 2014)

“Many of us instead wear a white poppy, the symbol of peace. We do so not because we feel the suffering of those who died or were bereaved any less, everyone agrees that we should commemorate the sacrifice. But we fear that in remembering the First World War, too many people in government and military are using the compassion that people feel to justify present and future wars. While many people buy the red poppy to support soldiers returning from war, the best way of protecting their interests is to stop sending them into these disastrous conflicts in the first place.”

Considering the wider issues ISB/British Future Poppy Hijab campaign should have been more sensitive to the nuances of this debate as well as to the implications of linking it to the battle against extremism.

In the Daily Mail article “ Ms Ahmed said:Thousands of British Muslims already wear a poppy in November. This is just another way for them to show they remember those who gave their lives for their country. It’s also a way for ordinary Muslim citizens to take some attention away from extremists who seem to grab the headlines. This symbol of quiet remembrance is the face of everyday British Islam – not the angry minority who spout hatred and offend everyone.”

 This coupling of the campaign with the need to disassociate from the extremes in our communities opens up the initiative as one to prove Muslim loyalty to the state, playing into the hands of the notorious Daily Mail:

“British Muslims are being urged to wear a new ‘Poppy Hijab’ – as a challenge to extremist groups who ‘spout hatred’ about the Armed Forces.”

 The Muslim backlash was inevitable as this initiative seemed to be projected as if it has some greater intrinsic value than others and that it is a counter narrative to the ‘extremists’. It evokes the feelng that Muslims are more or less obliged to sign up to it as sort of a ‘loyalty test.’ An unreasonable expectation perhaps when even Jon Snow, the celebrated Channel 4 News journalist, refuses to wear one on air as he calls the level of compulsion to wear it as ‘poppy fascism’!

Some Muslim voices of discontent have also channelled their feelings in their increasingly familiar way! The harnessing of young Muslim women to front the campaign to model the scarves has exposed these women to the vitriol of those that troll cyberspace. Having spoken to one of these individuals who is deeply traumatised by this experience, I have understood that she feels that their naivety of how the media works and lack of knowledge about the background to the issue itself exposed them to the worst kind of virulent backlash as only the internet can do! It can be said that Haters-are-Gonna-Hate and they certainly will – but ensuring the protection of those who participate by being open and transparent with them should be in the forefront of all our efforts.

So for me, and I speak only for myself and those who differ from me are certainly entitled to their viewpoints, this Poppy Hijab campaign could have been better thought through if it had to be done at all. It seems that it only stokes up the embers on the one hand of those in the Muslim community who consider that mainstream Muslim organisations have no backbone and are just apologists and on the other those in the fast growing right-wing who consider the wearing of the poppy and now the hijab poppy, as a litmus test of ‘Britishness’. Being anti ‘the extremist’ shouldn’t mean that we swing in the complete opposite direction either.

Personally I am drawn to the White Poppy Campaign whose rhetoric says “The white poppy symbolises the truth that there are better ways of resolving conflict than killing strangers.” and “Lest We Forget to move Forward from Bloodshed””(taken from The White Poppy for Peace Campaign on facebook). If a point had to be made it could have amalgamated the remembrance of those who died with those who continue to be vulnerable to this kind of death whether they be soldiers or innocent victims of war.

The fact that Muslims only have been singled out for this campaign also perpetuates the notion that Muslims are the fifth columnists who are the ‘danger within’. No other community has collectively been expected to deal with their fringe elements like Muslims have, and we have had threats in Britain in my lifetime from other equally politically charged issues in other communities. Whether a scarf has poppies on it or not or if attractive young women are showcasing them or not is irrelevant to the idea that there needs to be something collectively symbolic that confirms allegiance to crown and country.  I am all for Muslims engaging in the mainstream and bringing depth to the idea of ‘Britishness’ as much as I am all for opening up ‘Muslimness’ to a broader group of people where difference is part of our norm. But, the root of much of the alienation in our communities is because there is a feeling of frustration that our leadership is not standing up for what really matters but quick to jump to other people’s agendas. Somewhere in the middle there needs to be a balance.

(c) An-Nisa Society