By Khalida Khan, Director, An-Nisa Society
(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)
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.
“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.”
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.
- Sukhvinder Stubbs 1996 – 2000
- Robin Richardson, 1991–1996