ENGAGE, a Muslim group that says it is dedicated to promoting the involvement of British Muslims in politics and the media, has been appointed as the secretariat of the recently formed All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia.
The chance of them bringing objectivity to this important task is zero and it undermines any hope of the APPG producing a useful result.
For a good account of the issues see the article by Paul Goodman at ConservativeHome.
Why do I say this about ENGAGE? Well, I am a regular reader of their website and from time-to-time add my thoughts to the comments section. Despite what they say about their objectives, the site seems dedicated to slagging off the British Media (and promoting certain political views).
I give below small sample of some of the items I have read so far this year to illustrate the qualities of this organisation.
Checking the facts
On the 2 August ENGAGE ran a post with the headline “New poll reveals 3/4 of UK population believe Islam is negative for Britain”.
Only it wasn’t true. The survey in question carried out by the Islamic Education and Research Agency (IERA), another Islamic propaganda group, found, when you actually look at the tables in their report, that it was 14 percent and 22 percent respectively who think Islam and Muslims have had a quite negative or very negative impact on British society.
25 percent think it has been quite positive or very positive. And the largest single group, 39 percent, were neutral.
So ENGAGE either are very bad at arithmetic or don’t bother to check their facts. But I suppose it’s one way of getting an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia going.
Never mind the facts
Then on the 15 July we had “Another day, another Muslim-bashing story in the tabloids”.
The story starts “A shopping centre in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, has installed new 'squat' toilets for customers after bosses reportedly went on a cultural diversity training course.”
“Reportedly”. Well, they did. According to the Manchester Evening News, “Community activist Ghulam Rasul Shahzad said managers decided to offer the toilets after attending one of his training courses. [He took them] on a tour of the town’s central mosque, including a look at its toilets.”
The Daily Express ran the headline “Shopping centre plans squat loos designed for Muslims”. Which of course was accurate.
But ENGAGE goes into Dave Spart mode: “What is essentially a local issue, involving merely two toilets, has been used by the national media to once again incite anti-Muslim prejudice and toe the ‘special treatment of minorities’ narrative.”
It might be a good idea to consider the facts. And they are newsworthy.
This type of toilet is not at all popular with British people and hasn’t been found in this country for decades, possibly 50 years or more (I can’t remember them).
So, council officials, to cater for what they believe Muslims want, and indeed use, as they saw at a mosque, install two toilets that British people won’t use unless forced to. This doesn’t sound like a good idea and it has been brought about by pandering to what (some) Muslims do.
ENGAGE say: “Nile pans are used all around the world - in France [for example]”.
That’s wrong. They disappeared in France except for the very odd historical rarity, long ago. And, Brits back in the 50’s and 60’s on holiday in France when you could still find them thought they were a great joke.
Selective use of data
At the end of a post “French parliament votes to ban the burqa and niqab”, appropriately published on 14 July, it says “…are the musings of [the Press] in keeping with what Briton’s think? A ComRes poll commissioned by the Independent earlier this year found that 52% of respondents said ‘there should be no legal restrictions on wearing a burkha’ and 59% said they do not believe ‘it should be illegal to wear a burkha in any public space.’”
The ComRes survey quoted also included the following findings not mentioned by ENGAGE:
64% said it should be illegal to wear a burkha/face veil in places like banks and airports, and
61% said schools should be allowed to prevent teachers from wearing burkhas/face veils if they wish.
ComRes telephoned only 1,016 GB adults. Another survey carried out by Angus Reid at the same time interviewed 2,001 British adults and found:
22% agree with banning the Hijab in public places; 66% the Niqab, and 72% the Burqa
67% agreed that garments that conceal a woman’s face are an affront to British values.
A circulation by Stoke-on-Trent City's Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education of advice to schools said: “Schools are advised to consider not scheduling exams in Ramadan, or holding parents' meetings in the evening to 'ensure better attendance.” The Daily Mail subsequently ran the headline: “Council forces schools to rearrange exams and cancel lessons to avoid offending Muslims during Ramadan”.
ENGAGE followed this with: “UK papers incite anti-Muslim hatred over Stoke council's Ramadan guidance”.
They complain: “Ramadan, which starts in mid-August this year, will only likely affect school pupils for a week in September as they return to school. And given that exams usually do not take place at the start of term, how relevant and appropriate are these headlines?”
Now as every Muslim and most non-Muslims know, the period of Ramadan varies from year to year with the phases of the moon: it not only could but most definitely will at some point clash with important exams. What do ENGAGE propose should be done then? For the whole country to take GCSE and A-level exams, earlier, later, or what? This is an important question.
And what about postponing parents’ meetings? Why should school staff and the parents of non-Muslim children have to be inconvenienced? Parents’ meetings could be especially important at the beginning of the school year.
ENGAGE also say it is up to the head teacher anyway. You wonder what is the point of the guidance and possibly think of what happened to Erica Connor, a head teacher who ran foul of Muslim sensitivities at school.
Paranoid or what?
On the 17 May ENGAGE published a post entitled “The relevance of the burqa to stabbing of Stephen Timms MP?”
It went on to say: “On Saturday, The Daily Express carried the headline ‘Woman in Burkha held after MP is stabbed in stomach.’ The Daily Star phrased theirs similarly: ‘Labour MP Stephen Timms stabbed by woman in burkha.’
What relevance does the fact that the alleged attacker wore a burqa have to the crime committed? None whatsoever according to the facts that the Daily Express and Daily Star have reported, but it seems they just could not pass up the opportunity to take yet another sly swipe at burqa-wearers.”
It really smacks of paranoia to complain that the Express and Star mentioned the fact that the woman was wearing a burka.
She was wearing a burka – a most unusual form of dress – which you cannot help but notice, signifying an extremely strong religious outlook. It was newsworthy and it might have something to do with her motives.
One could add that hiding the face conceals facial expressions which are a clue to what a person is feeling and possibly their intentions, which is another reason why the burka is disliked and relevant in this case.
Perhaps the reporter shouldn’t have mentioned the attacker was a woman so there would be no danger of us all now being prejudiced against women.
Does ENGAGE represent British Muslims?
A good indicator of how many readers a website has is the volume of clicks that it generates on the links that it carries. People who leave comments on a website’s posts often give a link to their own site if they have one. Mine is The LibertyPhile.
I’ve made comments on sites such as Guardian CiF and Harry’s Place, and once had a mention on Iain Dale’s Diary, and my site visitors’ StatCounter shot up 50 to 100 visitors on those occasions. Even Pickled Politics had an impact. Also, a while back, when there was a link from Archbishop Cranmer’s site, the figure skyrocketed.
I’ve made seven comments on the ENGAGE website over the last nine months and the results have been zilch! Next to nobody has clicked through to follow up the information given. There can’t be many reading it.
My comments disagreed with the ENGAGE view but they were civil and sometimes informative. I would have expected some reaction.
Another good measure is the number of comments that a website gets added to its posts. Successful websites with lots of readers will get scores of comments, even hundreds, on their posts. In five out of the seven times I’ve commented on ENGAGE, I was the one lone commenter. It doesn’t generate much discussion either.
So, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia has just the help it needs: an organisation that doesn’t check facts, is selective with data, paranoid and completely unrepresentative of British Muslims.