Don’t Tell MAMA, she’ll go crazy

The original logo for Tell MAMA, consisting of the words in large serif font with an old iPhone replacing an 'L' and a red hijab (around a blank face) replacing an 'A'. Underneath are the words "Measuring Anti Muslim Attacks".
Tell MAMA’s original logo

Recently I’ve been hearing on Twitter about Freedom of Information Act requests in the UK being refused on very obviously spurious grounds (this being a particularly egregious example), leading to speculation that there is an official campaign to frustrate such requests and render the Act null and void. The FOI is supposed to enable information about such matters as public finance which is in the public interest and not secret for reasons of national security to be released on request, and there is supposed to be a good reason if they refuse, such as that it might put somebody in danger or that the information would inevitably lead to confidential personal information being released or deduced. Yesterday, a friend posted on Twitter that he had come across a FOI refusal from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to disclose the amount of government funding given to Tell MAMA, Faith Matters, Stop Funding Hate and two other organisations. Tell MAMA is an organisation that records anti-Muslim hate incidents but also has a history of blaming Muslims for others’ hostility and bigotry, an issue I previously wrote about here, here and here. Faith Matters is their parent organisation.

The FOI request was refused on grounds which are puzzling: that it was exempt from the legislation because “disclosing it would be likely to endanger the physical or mental health, and the safety, of an individual”, namely that of those who work for the organisations specified. (The Muslim Twitter response focussed on the mental health reference, but the wording does suggest that staff or volunteer safety is the concern.) A previous request for information about funding for Tell MAMA specifically in 2016 was granted; they had received a grant of £182,000 for 2015-16 and received three other payments in mid-late 2015 of around £45,500 each. The request this year also covered Stop Funding Hate, Social Change Through Education in the Middle East (SCE-ME) and Stop Hate UK; the second is a curious entity whose ‘team’ consists of three people identified only by first names (which may or may not be their real names) and whose ‘news’ page has not been updated since 2014 and its Twitter feed not since 2018. Its patrons include Christina Patterson; I’m not sure if her attitudes towards Muslims (or others in the Middle East) have moved on much from these screeds she wrote for the Independent in 2010. Stop Funding Hate pressures businesses not to advertise in newspapers or on websites which publish bigoted opinions; a worthy cause, but I wonder why it would be receiving public money at all. Stop Hate UK is a charity that runs hate crime hotlines and its patron is Doreen Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence who was murdered in a notorious racist stabbing in south-east London in 1993.

I can well understand why some details about these organisations should not be released to the public, such as the names of some of their employees or volunteers, but this is not what was being requested; the request was for how much public money they have received, and the refusal covered all of them and did not mention how exactly anyone’s safety or health would be imperilled by revealing their funding when the information was apparently safe to release about Tell MAMA four years ago. While I don’t dispute that some people are against state funding for ‘woke’ or “politically correct” causes because they are themselves bigots or racists, many Muslims believe it is in our interests to know if organisations purporting to speak in our interests but who bad-mouth us to the media at every opportunity are getting public funding (that is to say, our money) to do so. Much as a means of reporting hate crimes against Muslims is absolutely necessary, it is also important that we are able to report to an organisation that has our interests at heart; Tell MAMA is often compared to the (Jewish) Community Security Trust, but you do not hear them blaming Jews (here or anywhere else) for antisemitism. I’m sure many Muslims would feel more confident sharing such information with Doreen Lawrence’s staff or volunteers than with Fiyaz Mughal’s.

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