Carys Moseley comments on the sacking of a Plaid Cymru activist for anti-semitic tweets and asks supporters to encourage candidates to reject the problematic definition of Islamophobia
The highly controversial definition of Islamophobia pushed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims is highly relevant to this month’s general election, as it has been accepted by most political parties in the UK, and is being weaponised in various ways in campaigning.
This is the definition of Islamophobia created and promoted by the APPG for British Muslims:
Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness
Sahar al-Faifi, a prominent Muslim woman who campaigns full-time against Islamophobia, was recently sacked as a party member by Plaid Cymru, the left-wing Welsh nationalist party, for historic anti-semitic and anti-Zionist tweets. Whilst this story received widespread coverage not only across the UK but internationally, what the press isn’t saying is that she is also known to have campaigned for the new definition of Islamophobia, which would seriously restrict free speech and religious freedom in the UK. Was the press silent on this because the definition has already had an effect on press freedom?
Niqab-clad woman represents Wales
Al-Faifi was featured wearing a niqab in Plaid Cymru’s party political broadcast which appeared on BBC Wales, ITV Wales and Welsh-language television channel S4C recently.
The photo on the tweet featured text in Welsh and English saying ‘Ni yw Cymru’ and ‘Wales, it’s us’. Strictly speaking, the best translation for the Welsh ‘Ni yw Cymru’ is in fact ‘We are Wales’, which given the widely-agreed Islamist connotations of the niqab, is deeply concerning.
It is unimaginable that such a thing would be broadcast in England, a niqab-clad woman saying ‘We are England’ or ‘We are Britain’. The ensuing furore would be almost impossible to quell.
Were there Islamist links?
Concerns have been raised about Sahar al-Faifi having possible Islamist links. Her Huffington Post blogger profile shows she is assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Wales and an executive member of the Muslim Council of Britain, to which the MCW is affiliated. Wales Online, the main English-language news site for south Wales, omitted to mention that Abdul-Azim Ahmed, the religious academic whom it quoted as supporting Sahar al-Faifi on Twitter by saying her posts were ‘historic’, was associate general secretary of the MCW back in 2014, so during the period when she was making these posts on social media.
The Muslim Council of Britain was founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is considered an Islamist organisation. Back in 2015 the coalition government under David Cameron had considered banning it completely in the United Kingdom. Then in 2017 the Jewish Chronicle discovered that she was the regional manager for the South Wales and West England branch of Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND). Finally the Times of Israel reports that the Board of Deputies of British Jews pointed out that a Facebook post from 2012 showed a photo of leaders of Hamas, the Islamist terror organisation, doing a victory symbol and carrying a verse from the Qu’ran.
All this does seem to add up to evidence of radical Islamist tendencies.
Full-time anti-Islamophobia campaigner
As it turns out Sahar al-Faifi is well-known to the press as an anti-Islamophobia campaigner and a supporter of the niqab. In September last year she defended her right to wear the niqab against journalist Rachel Johnson, sister of current Prime Minister Boris Johnson, on Good Morning Britain. Also last year the Daily Mail reported that she had gone as far as quitting her job as a geneticist in the NHS in Cardiff to become a full-time ‘anti-racism campaigner’ – really a campaigner against Islamophobia.
Earlier this year she was one of eleven speakers who pulled out of the Bradford literary festival due to revelations that it had received Counter-Extremism funding. Speaking to BBC Wales in 2018 as a participant in a procession commemorating 100 years of women getting the right to vote in the UK, she said this:
Women’s issues are universal issues. But speaking as a woman of faith and colour, racism and Islamophobia, especially in the workplace, affect me more.
With all this in mind, let’s look at how the new definition of Islamophobia would affect the rest of society.
Fear of Islamophobia erodes press freedom
Press reports of this fiasco have been seriously inadequate as they have not pointed out that Sahar al-Faifi is a full-time campaigner against Islamophobia. This is highly relevant because Islamists have been pushing for the very wide definition of Islamophobia formulated by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims. Tim Dieppe has set out the serious shortcomings of the definition including the way in which it would erode freedom of speech. The APPG report on Islamophobia made a point of attacking the press for negative portrayal of Muslims, which it deems to constitute Islamophobia. The result is that large elements of the press shy away from critical investigation of news stories involving controversies around Islam. Take for example the Metro, a widely-read free newspaper. Its coverage on Sahar Al-Faifi’s sacking focused on the criticism she received as an instance of ‘Islamophobia’.
Sir John Jenkins, a distinguished British diplomat and expert on Islam, has shown in a comment for Policy Exchange how the APPG definition of Islamophobia would erode press freedom. He also exposes the close link between the APPG’s work on the definition and MEND as well as the Muslim Council of Britain, to both of which Sahar al-Faifi is closely linked. In particular he draws attention to how such groups have been calling for more press regulation, which would inevitably erode press freedom. The result would likely be less investigation of issues concerning Islam in Britain, in other words, not a very good idea.
Muslim Council of Britain pushing Islamophobia definition again
As the general election looms, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) is in the news again very vocally calling for the adoption of the Islamophobia definition. It is saying that parties must tackled Islamophobia in order to win the votes of Muslims. The MCB has published a ‘manifesto’ for the general election entitled ‘British Muslim Perspectives at the 2019 General Election’. The MCB isn’t shy of saying that Muslim voters could swing the vote in as many as 31 marginal seats at this election, and this is a clear motivation for it to promote the Islamophobia definition amongst all the political parties. The MCB has long been attacking the Conservative Party for refusing to accept the definition. Perhaps scared of the effect the MCB’s campaigning could have on the general election, even the Prime Minister apologised last week for the hurt and offence that has been caused by Islamophobia within the Conservative Party. The question here is what definition of Islamophobia does he have in mind. Is he just saying this in order to ward off bad publicity from floating voters?
Most main political parties adopt Islamophobia definition
It is particularly worrying for this general election that so many political parties have adopted this highly misleading and mendacious definition of Islamophobia as ‘rooted in racism’. The parties that have adopted it are the following: Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, and the Scottish National Party.
The Conservative Party, the Brexit Party, UKIP and the political parties from Northern Ireland have not adopted the definition of Islamophobia. The Conservative government under Theresa May formally rejected it last May.
Political parties must ditch the APPG Islamophobia definition
The United Kingdom is at a very dangerous turning point as regards religious freedom and free speech because political parties are caving into this dishonest definition of Islamophobia. We must not get to the point of no return on this issue.
Most of the main political parties have adopted the definition of Islamophobia pushed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims. This was a colossal mistake as the definition fundamentally favours an Islamist agenda and constitutes a serious challenge to press freedom and free speech.
With only a week to go until the general election, conscientious voters must make the case clearly and objectively when meeting candidates that the political parties must now ditch the definition of Islamophobia that was crafted by the APPG on Islamophobia. Their integrity and the freedom of speech and religious freedom of all the citizens their candidates want to represent is at stake.