Judge Mawrey's comments offer a disturbing insight into the mindset with which he approached the Lutfur Rahman case and which prevails amongst Britain's ruling elite
The lengthy Judgment by Judge Richard Mawrey QC in the Tower Hamlets mayoral election case contains a remarkable statement, presumably designed to refute any suggestions that racism or islamophobia play any role in the background to this case:
'Whatever may be the position in the rest of London or in the country at large, in Tower Hamlets Muslims in general and Bangladeshis in particular are not in any real sense a ‘minority’: in both instances they are the largest community in comparison to other religious and ethnic groupings.'
Mawrey's judgement contains numerous instances where claims of racism and anti-Muslim bias are dismissed. His comments offer a disturbing insight into the mindset with which he approached the Lutfur Rahman case and which prevails amongst Britain's ruling elite.
According to 2011 Census figures quoted by the judge, 32% of the residents of Tower Hamlets are Bangladeshi, 31% are White British a further 14% are White non-British. Bangladeshis are still clearly a minority group.
The Judge infers from the large size of the Bangladeshi community that they are not subject to 'hostile racial prejudice'.
No evidence is offered to support this claim. That's because it is demonstrably false.
Hate crimes in Tower Hamlets
Take for instance racially and religiously motivated hate crime – a clear indicator of the existence of 'hostile racial prejudice'.
According to Metropolitan Police figures there have been more anti-Muslim hate crimes in Tower Hamlets in the last two years than in any other borough. Between April 2012 and September 2014 the Met recorded 100 'Islamophobic' hate crimes in Tower Hamlets.
This is undoubtedly an underestimate. It is widely accepted that police recorded crime captures only a small fraction of the actual crimes committed.
In fact the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW) demonstrates that only around 15% of hate crimes are recorded by the Police. So the real figure for anti-Muslim crimes in Tower Hamlets is likely to be over 660.
The CSEW is a 'victim survey' so it doesn't include crimes where there isn't a victim - such as attacks on Mosques. Neither will it capture public order offences - which form the majority of racially and religiously aggravated crime recorded by the police. So even the figure of 660 doesn't capture the scale of the hate crimes committed against Muslims in Tower Hamlets. Nationally the survey finds that 2.4 of Muslim adults were the victim of a hate crime between 2011 and 2013 – in Tower Hamlets that could mean over 2,000 Muslim victims of hate crime over the same period.
The discrimination and disadvantage that Muslims in general and Bangladeshis in particular face is well documented and doesn't respect council boundaries. Bangladeshi males earn on average 21% less than white males.
The results of prejudice and discrimination
Using a combination of indicators for absolute inequality for ethnic minorities in relation to the White British population in education, employment, health and housing The Runnymede Trust found that:
‘In terms of overall inequality for the Asian group, Tower Hamlets ranked as the worst district in England and Wales in 2011’
The 'Millennium Cohort Study' found that 73 per cent of Bangladeshi seven-year olds were in families estimated to be living on less than 60 per cent of the average national household income. Tower Hamlets has the highest levels of poverty in the country.
In 2008 average household wealth for Christians was estimated at £223,000 compared to just £42,000 for Muslims.
According to the 2011 census the unemployment rate amongst Muslim men is almost three times the national average.
A Joseph Rowntree report 'Experience of poverty and ethnicity in London' confirms that 'south Asian women, especially Bangladeshi women, still remain among the most excluded and lowest-paid sections of the labour force.' Further it observed that 'Prejudice and discrimination were seen as continuing factors affecting both the Somali and Bangladeshi communities.'
In addition to racially skewed material disadvantage, the Bangladeshi residents are subject to ongoing and unduly negative media portrayals of Muslims. These have been found to contribute to an environment of hostility and suspicion and even acts of violence directed at Muslims.
A submission to the Leveson Inquiry 'Race and Reform: Islam and Muslims in the British Media' by Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed summarised a number of reports that established the scale of this negative portrayal:
- A study of 352 articles over a randomly selected one week period in 2007 found that 91 per cent of articles about Muslims were “negative”
- 12 of the 19 papers had no positive associations at all; 96 per cent of tabloid articles were negative, compared with 89 per cent in broadsheets.
- More than half of the articles represented Islam as a “threat”, and that British Muslims are different to “us” and a threat to “us”.
- A wider survey of a sample of 974 British press articles from 2000 to 2008 found that two thirds of them portray British Muslims as a “threat” and a “problem”.
- A third focused on terrorism, and 22 per cent focused on cultural differences between British Muslims and non-Muslims.
- Four out of five most common discourses associated British Muslims with “threats, problems or in opposition to dominant British values”, with only 2 per cent suggesting Muslims “supported dominant moral values.”
- References to “radical Muslims” outnumbered references to “moderate Muslims” by 17 to one.
'The predominance of anti-Muslim media reporting has had a systematically debilitating impact on community cohesion in the UK. Opinion polls and surveys through the last decade show that British non-Muslim perceptions of British Muslims have in fact increasingly deteriorated.'
A 2010 poll discovered that 75 per cent of non-Muslims now believe Islam is negative for Britain, and that Muslims do not engage positively in society. 63 per cent do not disagree that “Muslims are terrorists”, and 94 per cent agree that “Islam oppresses women.”
Judge Mawrey recognised that Lutfur Rahman himself had been the victim of such unfounded press reporting:
'Throughout Mr Rahman’s political career, his political enemies have, from time to time, attempted to suggest that he has links with extreme Islamist organisations and is happy to solicit their votes... this, too played a part in Mr Rahman’s deselection in 2010.
It should therefore be stressed that this court has not heard a shred of credible evidence linking Mr Rahman with any extreme or fundamentalist Islamist movement...the only permissible approach is that Mr Rahman is not associated with extreme radical Islam and neither openly nor covertly seeks its support.'
As a result many British Muslims increasingly see British media and society as a whole as ‘Islamophobic’ - and with good reason.
A number of studies have also found that there is a link between racially problematic reporting in the media and instances of racist violence.
The Runnymede Trust points to recent research indicating “that the targeting of minority groups in the media has led to these groups being violently attacked.”
A Kings College London study commissioned by the Mayor of London in 2004 tracked national press stories on asylum seekers and levels of racism in London, and also asked nine organisations to monitor racist incidents. It found that there was “clear evidence” that negative, unbalanced and inaccurate national reporting was likely to “promote fear and tension” between different ethnic communities in a way that “makes racial harassment more likely.”
The study also found that language used in local racist incidents reflected themes reported in some national newspapers, with active racists re-using these press reports in some incidents of intimidation.
As the hate crime statistics presented above show, Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets are not somehow immune to the fallout of consistently negative media reporting.
The Bangladeshi residents of Tower Hamlets are the victims of the same racial discrimination and material deprivation suffered by ethnic minorities in all parts of Britain. People don't cease to become members of a minority ethnic community simply because they constitute 32% of the population in a particular local authority.
Note: This article was updated on 13 May 2015
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