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)
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