May plays into hands of poppy burning Muslims Against Crusades

Anjem Choudary and his trolling friends like the publicity.

Muslims Against Crusades, the attention-seeking troublemakers who have burned poppies to enrage people who write for tabloid newspapers, have now been banned.

Whether this move by the Home Secretary Theresa May will get rid of this group's trolling polemic remains to be seen; what's happened before is that the group has simply changed name, kept more or less the same personnel and continued.

Anjem Choudary and his friends are keen to get into the news -- under a previous incarnation of Islam4UK they promised a vigil in the former repatriation town of (Royal) Wootton Bassett, for example. Will anything different happen this time?

The timing is significant. Today is the 11 November, and we are approaching Remembrance Sunday. It is possible that another stunt may have been planned to disrupt the minutes of silence, which are now observed with more scrutiny and participation than was the case ten or 15 years ago, to get the group more hate-headlines and more publicity for their deeply unworthy cause.

What MAC have done, however, shows an unfortunately strong nous for PR, for we are living in a time when we are more sensitive than ever about our symbols of remembrance. After years of playing in football shirts without poppies to mark the week of Remembrance in November, the England team has been involved in a controversy surrounding their presence on the strip this week, with figures such as Prince William, Sepp Blatter of FIFA and Prime Minister David Cameron getting involved.

Poppies mean more to us than they used to -- whether that's a good thing or not is up for debate, but we are more sensitive about these things than we used to be.

As uncomfortable as I am with the idea of anyone provocatively burning anything that people find important or sacred in their culture -- be it a paper flower symbolising fallen heroes or a holy book -- banning MAC plays into their hands.

As with the hastily-withdrawn promise of a march through Wootton Bassett, the thing itself isn't the goal: the headlines and the outrage are the aim, and that has now been achieved. Muslims Against Crusades will be in your newspaper today, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

You get the sense that the likes of MAC don't even burn poppies because they want to burn poppies, or talk about marching through Wootton Bassett because they want to march through Wootton Bassett: they're simply picking the totems that will cause the greatest amount of outrage and upset possible.

Who would care about a well organised but completely non-outrageous protest which took place on 11 November? Probably no-one. Probably no-one would cover it either, and there's the problem.

That a few poppy-burning nitwits could manage to garner more coverage than many more Muslims going out to collect for the British Legion, for example, says something about how our priorities have become skewed. We seek out the challenging, the outrageous, the relentlessly controversial, often at the expense of the reasonable, the community-minded, the positive. And I think that's a shame.

What I realise, of course, is that in writing this article about Muslims Against Crusades I've just played into their hands even more, giving them more of the limelight they're so desperate to get.

So instead of that, I think it's time to stop mentioning them altogether, and just let them get on with their sad little protests, putting them in the context of much larger, more positive activity that hardly ever gets a look-in.

 

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.