Whose side is Tell MAMA on?
I’ve long been suspicious of the motives and loyalty of “Tell MAMA”, the project set up to monitor and report on hate crimes against Muslims. It’s not that it’s a bad thing for there to be an office to which Muslims can report incidents of hostility; of course it’s not. It’s just that, unlike the Community Security Trust, say, which performs a similar role for Jews and Jewish institutions such as synagogues and schools in the UK, Tell MAMA also tells on Muslims to the media, persistently and publicly berating us for displaying intolerance towards other groups (particularly groups that appear Muslim but are rejected, such as the Qadianis (or Ahmadis, as they call themselves). Tell MAMA does not consistently put the blame for hate and racism where it belongs — with the perpetrators and the media that feeds exaggerated stories about terrorism and anti-integrationism to the public — but blames the Muslim community both in its own social media feeds and in its media interviews. This has to change.
Yesterday, the organisation issued a tweet that was roundly condemned by many Muslims, at least one of whom said she was unfollowing and would not be recommending them to anyone in future. It read:
For those who promote a view that Islam or #Muslims are under threat, LOOK at how many non-Muslims stand with you against #POTUS [President of the United States]. Enough of the victimisation narrative, be someone and engage with your local communities. #No2H8November
They have since deleted the tweet, and apologised. But it has been characteristic of how they talk about Muslims and the roots of the Islamophobia they monitor. They trace the origin of hatred against Muslims to terrorism, using for instance a graph which they say shows a correlation between major terrorist attacks abroad and spikes in hate crimes (physical attacks, vandalism against mosques etc) in this country, ignoring the fact that all these incidents were reported through the media and accompanied by hostile opinion pieces and even front pages in tabloids. I noticed this in September 2015 when TM peddled this in an interview on a London talk radio station, and they have been quite consistent with it. when TM peddled this in an interview on a London talk radio station, and they have been quite consistent with it.
They have also been quite explicit in proclaiming that they are “not like other Muslims” who they claim promote hatred against “Ahmadis”, Shi’ites and gay people, and claim that some people are “not Muslim enough”. They persistently harp on what they claim are bigoted attitudes expressed by other Muslims, particularly those involved in rival Muslim organisations that oppose Islamophobia, exposing conversations in which the rival uses harsh language in talking about Qadianis. Only last week they had a go at a Muslim for just calling them the ‘pejorative’ name Qadianis, which is in fact the term most Muslims use to refer to them and just refers to the town where they were first based (originally it also distinguished them from an older branch of Ghulam Ahmad’s following, based in Lahore).
It’s not appropriate for an organisation geared towards monitoring hate crime to also make continual public statements about sectarianism within the Muslim community (I do not mean hatred from non-Muslims against Qadianis or even, say, Sikhs whom they identify as Muslims). Non-Muslims as well as Muslims read TM’s media feeds and website and will rapidly learn that “Muslims are just as bad” when the truth is that the majority of Muslims are not in any way involved in sectarian violence against Shi’ites, Qadianis or anyone else, much as the general population are not involved in violence against Muslims but rather a small minority who draw encouragement from the hate peddled by the mass media, which has no equivalent in the Muslim community — no publication and no masjid imam or religious leader of any sort has anything like the reach of the Daily Mail. Even the “anti-Ahmadiyya” Muslim organisations here do not encourage Muslim violence against the sect here but rather work on countering Qadiani proselytism — a quite legitimate aim — and in my observation, mainstream Muslim attitudes towards ordinary members of the sect have softened in recent years — people are less willing to entertain conspiracy theories centred on it, for example, and more willing to distinguish them from the sect’s leadership. Despite the lack of actual incidence of Muslim violence against Qadianis in this country, Tell MAMA have still tweeted reports claiming they feel under threat and have tight security, as if this was of any significance — what is of significance is actual incidence of violence, not how much money the sect chooses to spend on security.
Tell MAMA need to side firmly with the Muslim community and if that means breaking the link with Faith Matters, which is concerned with encouraging harmony between religious communities in general, then so be it. The Community Security Trust does not blame anti-Semitism on Zionism or Israel; we do not see feminists blaming rape on other women’s short skirts or disability activists blaming disability hate crime on benefit scroungers — in both cases, they blame popular stereotypes and media reporting. Muslims in this country are not responsible for what Muslims abroad do, nor for what the government of Pakistan or religious movements there do unless they are personally involved with them — there is no validity in saying “but Saudi Arabia persecutes Christians” or “Pakistan persecutes ‘Ahmadis’” because not all Muslims are Pakistanis and people of Pakistani descent have been in this country since the 50s and 60s when Pakistan was still a secular country.
When Muslim advocates are talking about hate crime or discrimination and someone tries to change the subject onto Muslim sectarianism or discrimination abroad, they must say, “well yes, that is wrong, but …” and change the subject back. If Tell MAMA aren’t up to this, they should leave the job to whoever is, because the Muslims need an advocate that does not injure our interests by needlessly airing dirty linen in the main street.
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