Racial Justice Bulletin – 28th April 2016

Racial Justice Bulletin – 28th April 2016

Bulletin Highlights

JUST Comment

Following Channel 4’s recent broadcast of Trevor Phillips’ documentary “What British Muslims really think”, JUST issued an open letter to the Equality and Human Rights Commission raising our deep concerns about the documentary.

Feature Article

As part of JUST’s commitment to providing a platform for young people to have their voices heard, we asked Usman Khan—whose incisive intervetion from the floor on Question Time earlier this month encapsulated what tax avoidance by the super-wealthy means. In this article, he elaborates his position on the topic.

JUST Partnership Events

JUST will be hosting two hustings in Rotheram and Doncaster, in conjuction with our partners, in the lead-up to the forthcoming elections of the Police and Crime Commissioner. Register and submit your questions to equityfirstltd@gmail.com or sarah.marshall@jpress.co.uk

Racial Justice News

(photo: ABC News/cc/flikr)

JUST Comment

Open Letter to Caroline Waters and Rebecca Hilsenrath, Chair and Chief Executive respectively, of the Equality and Human Rights Commission 
Dear Rebecca and Caroline,

RE: What Muslims Really Think / Trevor Philips

I write this open letter wanting to express my gravest concerns about the stance taken by Trevor Philips; your former Chair of the EHRC in his feature documentary on the 14th of April on Channel 4 entitled ‘What Muslims Really Think’. As you know JUST West Yorkshire is a racial justice, civil liberties and human rights charity operating on the frontline in Yorkshire to promote racial justice, civil liberties and human rights for all people, including the Muslim community. This is a community that is facing unprecedented levels of hate[1], victimisation and marginalisation from mainstream media outlets and far right extreme groups.

A great deal of our work in the North is concentrated in areas that have significant Muslim populations, and we are extremely concerned that the portrayal of Muslims in this documentary will not only exacerbate Islamophobia, it will undermine the very fabric of community cohesion that we have worked so hard in developing. It is difficult to evaluate Trevor Philips intentions in why he would choose to single out a single faith group in a ‘them and us’ manner, without feeling this it is a deliberate attempt to create further inter-racial and inter-religious divides between the Muslim and wider community.

Our objections to the documentary are based on the following points:

1.     We categorically reject Phillips’ presentation of Muslims in the documentary as it does not accord with our knowledge of the Muslim community we work with on a daily basis.

2.     We are disappointed that while Trevor Philips has used his former credentials as the Chair of the EHRC to promote himself as an expert on race and ethnic minority issues, the organization itself has failed to distance itself from Mr. Philips comments or expressed views of the Muslim community[2];

3.     Nor has the EHRC expressed any view about the detrimental impact of the documentary on ethnic minorities and particularly the Muslim communities that are covered by the Equalities Act 2010 as protected groups.

4.     As a Charity that proactively promotes racial justice, civil liberties and human rights we would strongly encourage the EHRC to frame a public response expressing their concern about the potential detrimental impact of the documentary as a result of this skewed poll.[3]

5.     The Channel 4 programme implies that the poll is the largest about British Muslim attitudes, a claim that is clearly untrue (the British Election Study, Understanding Society and Citizenship Survey all had more – and more representative British Muslims in their samples). Those surveys also covered a much wider range of questions and topics about ‘integration’ compared to the Channel 4 programme’s poll.

6.     In selling the results of the poll, Phillips claims this is British Muslims speaking for themselves. But all he seems to have done is discard nuance and appeal to the prejudices of viewers. Of course there are real concerns within faith communities in general, whether related to sexuality or family issues. According to Linda Woodhead, professor of religion at Lancaster University, all those who believe in God are more likely to have conservative views on homosexuality. This corroborates another YouGov poll, which shows that evangelical Christians are more likely than Muslims to say same-sex marriage was wrong.

7.     More fundamentally we believe that the methodology used in the questionnaire by the ICM pollsters is deeply flawed and we agree with Dr Zubaida Haque (a research analyst) who has pointed out, that the sample used for the survey Phillips based his program on is entirely non-representative of the demographics of the general British Muslim population.

8.     From undertaking a deep review of the actual questions in the poll we have found them to be narrowly focused and unfortunately seemed to be designed to focus on the fundamental cultural differences (or even pathologies) of British Muslims, on eye-catching matters, and are hardly representative of the questions usually addressed in integration policy, or indeed in public opinion surveys generally.

9.     Overall, there are about 58 questions (with many sub-questions) covering views about religion and Islamic views (some 70% of the questions); attitudes towards Jews (some 20% of the questions); and views about participation, belonging and representation in Britain (arguably important elements of integration?) – reflected in about 10% of the questions. And as well as the areas mentioned, the survey focusses on views towards homosexuality, polygamy, stoning of adulterers, the status of women in marriage and attitudes towards violence and terrorism.

10.  This is a deliberately controversial list of “loaded” questions, based on a narrow religiously-focused view of what Muslims are perceived to care about.

11.  There is nothing in this questionnaire about such topics such as the economy, education, immigration, the EU referendum, or discrimination and the poll is therefore obviously not focused on what ‘Muslims really think’, but instead on what the producers already believed Muslims thought, and which matters would get the most controversial headlines.

12.  It is hard to believe that Philips (given his previous EHRC role) could even entertain the idea that stoning adulterers or polygamy is genuinely more important to any British Muslim than the economy or discrimination.

13.  The only potential outcome of this biased programme will be more distance and misunderstanding between communities, rather than the ‘good relations’ that is part of the EHRC’s (and previously the CRE’s) public duty remit.

14.  Philips claims to be interested in understanding what might be drawing British Muslims to violence and extremism. Yet the approach he takes—perfectly in line with the approach of western governments – is to present it as a problem of ideology: i.e. that there must be something inherent in Muslim values that leads them to reject a western way of life and turn to extremism. This ignores consistent survey results, which highlight that Muslims feel more British[4] than the general White population.

Finally, can you please release under the Freedom of Information Act a full breakdown of complaints that you have received since the airing of this documentary, and the corporate response you have prepared either for Trevor Philips, or to be released as a corporate statement as per the statutory requirements of the Public Sector Equality Duty on your organisation to have due regard to the three aims of the Equality Duty.

Yours faithfully

Nadeem Murtuja
Chairperson JUST West Yorkshire


[2] http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/politics/6889246/Race-boss-says-Muslims-are-not-like-us.html

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/12/what-do-muslims-think-skewed-poll-wont-tell-us

[4] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/02/12/british-muslims-facts_n_6670234.html

Feature Article

Change is on the horizon, but tax loopholes stand in our way
“No taxation without representation” was the proud defiant claim of mid-18th century American colonialists, expressing their grievances at being subjected to the will of a British parliament within which they had no say. This was just one anecdote amongst many in the long history of society and its bitter-sweet relationship with taxes.

For many, taxation is regarded as somewhat of a ‘necessary evil.’ No one particularly enjoys paying taxes but everyone can understand why they are useful to our daily lives here in Britain.

The benefits that taxation helps to facilitate are almost countless and this is the central crux of why taxation is so important. In return for giving part of our earnings to the government, every single one of us receives something back. We all use roads to get from point A to point B, in times of an emergency we all feel secure knowing the police, fire or ambulance service will be readily available to us free of charge, they ensure that all children are entitled to receive a free education and most crucially, taxes help maintain the National Health Service; one of the last true bastions of genuine equality in society, where all are treated equally regardless of social status or background.

It was a lack of access to such provisions that enraged our American counterparts during the mid-18th century. They were paying taxes, yet not being represented within the Houses of Parliament over in the UK and so for them, they were paying taxes for no discernible reason, a sentiment I suspect many Britons share today.

Taxes are ultimately supposed to make our lives easier. They remove the financial strain others face around the world, such as having to paying for health insurance or education.

However, since the economic crash and subsequent recession, people’s standard of living has declined, for some to almost unimaginable levels, with an estimated 2 million people now using public foodbanks. This is compounded with the Conservative government’s austerity measures, designed in theory to reduce our deficit, which has seen 36 billion pounds cut from public expenditure since its implementation in 2010, thereby, removing even more money from the most vulnerable members of society.

Yet this, apparently, is not a cause for despair, as Cameron would have us believe that “we are all in this together,” the black and the white, the old and the young and most significantly, the rich and the poor alike. However, the Panama Tax Scandal, which saw one of the biggest data leaks in history with 11.5 million documents being released, highlights a reality in direct contrast to Cameron’s statement. It proves what many suspected, that the economic elite of the UK have avoided paying their fair share of taxes through ‘legal’ loopholes, leading to estimates of over 30 billion pounds being lost every year through unpaid taxes. Even Cameron himself has been incriminated, although this is still a matter of ongoing enquiry.

Essentially, this means that not a single austerity measure would have been necessary for the past 5 to 6 years, had the government actually clamped down on legal tax loopholes and ensured that all taxation was fully paid. Instead, the public has been left to carry the broken pieces of our economy, whilst the top 1% of society enjoy their wealth continuing to grow at the expense of others, resulting in an unprecedented and rapidly increasing wealth gap between the very rich and everyone else.

The legality of these tax loopholes may be murky, but what is clear is the message revealed from the fallout of the Panama papers scandal; we are not all in this together and if you are poor, downtrodden, disabled or work in the public sector, life is tough and sacrifices must be made. If you belong to the top 1% then there is no cause for alarm, your vast riches will not be touched and our current government would be more than grateful for your support, as illustrated by the exposure of leading donors to the Conservative party, many of whom have been reported to be tax evaders and avoiders also. Moreover, ineffective taxation law means you can store your money on some remote tropical island away from the prying eyes of HMRC. After all, who needs roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, fire trucks and ambulances anyway?

This is no by means intended to be an attack on the rich and a call for a Leninist-style revolution in the UK. Some of the wealthiest members in society deserve their fortune; it was achieved through their hard work. What this is, is a comment on the blatant hypocrisy of our government, which has for years now has told some of the most vulnerable members of our society to grit their teeth and bare the harsh realities of this economic downturn, stripping them of what little resources they have, whilst allowing those most well equipped to help deal with this country’s finical difficulties to stash billions away through tax avoidance schemes. Billions, which if actually collected would add a significant amount to the country’s annual revenue; so that even if not eliminated completely, the government’s current austerity measures could be dramatically reduced.

As a student it would seem that there is little cause for hope for the future. Faced with crippling debt upon graduation, a government that seeks to undermine the NHS at every given opportunity, harsh austerity measures and soaring house prices, the future for my generation is a bleak one. But all is not lost; the Panama papers have helped to ignite a public debate and provided fuel for the flames of public anger, which has been built upon annually decreasing standards of living. In time, I hope, the Panama papers will help to spark a real and much needed change.

I believe such a change, could be achieved through an international tax treaty. If signed and enforced by every nation and state, corporations would be legally required to pay taxes in accordance with laws of the country where they generate their profits, rather than their ‘place of residence.’ This should, theoretically, mean that multi-national corporations would no longer be able to exploit dubious tax laws, since they would have nowhere to hide their profits and thereby, evade taxes. This would finally allow the global financial elite to be accountable for their actions, as it would ensure their vast resources are used to contribute to the societies that allowed them to possess such wealth to begin with. Whilst this somewhat radical proposal would inevitably lead to a minor reduction in the corporations’ total profits, this additional revenue stream would have a major impact upon societies. In Britain, the change that could be brought about through the closure of tax loopholes could eliminate current austerity measures, which would go a long way in building a far more equal and just society. After all, “we are all in this together”- aren’t we?

By Usman Khan

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