EXCLUSIVE - Tories must talk about anti-Muslim hate or risk boosting Islamists, says interfaith pioneer

Fiyaz Mughal tells JC the government must be seen to deal with all forms of racism equally


Boris Johnson’s Conservative government must be seen to be tackling all forms of hatred equally - including that against Jews and Muslims - or risk giving a boost to Islamists, the director of the leading inter-faith organisation Faith Matters has warned.

Reflecting on his work strengthening relations between Britain’s Muslim and Jewish communities, Fiyaz Mughal urged the government to learn from the major errors of the departing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who he said was “very strong on anti-Muslim hate and Islamophobia but exceptionally crap on tackling antisemitism”.

Mr Mughal, founder and former director of the Tell Mamma organisation which records hate incidents against UK Muslims, added: "I am not equating this government  to Jeremy Corbyn, let me get that straight.

“But what I am saying is you need to be talking about things equally. Corbyn gave the impression he could not give a flying toss about antisemitism.

“This government is starting to give the impression that the debate on Islamophobia is just a peripheral bit on the agenda, which I know it's not. But they need to be communicating that better.

“If the impression you are giving is that you are not interested in this arena, whether inadvertently or, unfortunately, then you are giving carte blanche to Islamist groups to recruit more people."

He added: “The way that they're coming across to the Muslim communities is they don't give a damn because they're not saying much about anti-Muslim hatred or Islamophobia. And they've got to start talking about this.

“The government has got to change that approach. That impression is allowing Islamist groups to recruit more people with their sense of victimhood.

“What they are saying is, ‘look they talk to the Jews, but you Muslims are not worth it.’ It’s a simple narrative. But it’s effective.”

A former adviser to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, Mr Mughal revealed he is still awaiting a meeting with Home Secretary Priti Patel to air his views with her on the need for a comprehensive approach to tackling hatred.

“I believe Priti can be really strong on extremism and make a real difference challenging all forms of hatred,” he says. “But I call out to her to engage with people who are criticial friends and  who will advise and guide you for all communities, for the betterment of all of us.”

Last month Mr Mughal, whose family hail from an East African Sufi Muslim background, announced that 20 years since founding Faith Matters out of a desire to build stronger relations between Muslims and Jews, he had decided to move on.

Threats to his life and chilling letters to sent to his own mother have clearly played a part in the decision to stand back from frontline duties.

“For me the years of challenging both far-right extremism and Islamism has been quite challenging,” he says.

“The level of the problem has increased, not decreased.

“The soft under-belly of Islamic extremism has permeated small but substantial sections of my community, and the far-right narrative has grown.

“I was targeted by a number of these people, one of who has been jailed. A couple of other cases are still taking place, and it gets to you over time. “

Mr Mugal is scathing of the effect the ideology of Mr Corbyn and his followers have had on community relations in this country since 2015.

“Corbyn did a great deal of damage towards countering anti-Muslium hatred. He did to some degree turn up and speak with groups who are part of the divisive problem.

“He would not engage with progressive Muslims."

He said he wrote to Mr Corbyn and his aides “on numerous occasions” but was never granted a single meeting. Mr Mughal says he once wrote to Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, after meeting her at a Board of Deputies dinner. Again there was no response.

“We can then ask Corbyn who is it that is advising him to go and meet with more extreme groups but not with those who reflect more moderate views,” said Mr Mughal.

“The hard left always like Islamists who cause division.  Their business isn’t to bring communities together. Corbyn is not a patriot. A person like that uses and abuses communities to bring about division.”

He argued Mr Corbyn did what he argues government should now not be doing.

While he will still be around to offer advice to both Faith Matters and to the increasingly influential Tell Mamma, his new project will involve exploring the legacy of those Muslims who worked to save Jews during the Holocaust.

He explains that his interest in this area was initially sparked around a decade ago with the debate around Muslim links to Adolf Hilter.

“It wasn’t that Amin al-Husseini was close to Hilter, that being factually correct,” he says. “It wasn’t that SS units in Bosnia were part of Hilter’s SS Units. That’s factual, can’t get way from that – troubling things.

“I’m not asking to rewrite history. But the vast amount of Muslims fought against Hilter.  That narrative was being missed.  So I thought let’s look for the Muslims who saved Jews, there must be stories out there?

“I so I wrote a book of stories from Albania, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia.  Then I went to Israel, to Yad Vashem. They asked why was I as a British Muslim interested in such stories. I think that said to me we need to do more work.

“I had gone to Yad Vashem and I was slightly disappointed with their response to me. I told them I was here because I wanted to learn.”

Mr Mughal says he is aware that there are lots of Muslims interested in looking into the effort made to save Jews in the Holocaust and that the whole area should be a source of “pride” for them.

But he admits there is also a more difficult narrative to be addressed.  “Many Muslims  may not want to say it, but I'll say Islam was fundamentally shaped by Judaism,” he reasons. “If you hate Judaism and Jews you hate Islam, that is it.

“If you are antisemitic you are effectively hating yourself.  So my aim for the next couple of years is to use my own time to document these stories.  If anyone out there wants to support me in this, please do.

“If we don’t capture it, frankly it’s a part of history that will soon be gone. It’s our human connection.”


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