The Dewsbury teenager Talha Asmal is "UK's youngest ever suicide bomber". Photo: YouTube screengrab
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Remember – just 0.02 per cent of the British Muslim population go to join Middle East conflicts

British Muslims should be celebrated, not demonised due to the very few, like Talha Asmal, who go to join conflicts in the Middle East.

I woke up this morning on the eve of Ramadan to news stories about two young British Muslims who chose to get involved in the conflicts in Iraq and Somalia. I am deeply saddened by the choices they made, and I can barely imagine the suffering their actions have caused.

However, it is important to say that the British Muslims involved in the conflicts in the Middle East represent just 0.02 per cent of the British Muslim population – that’s one in every 4,500. The vast majority of British Muslims are peace loving people who make a hugely positive contribution to British society and the wider world.

Unfortunately and not surprisingly, it’s the news stories about terrorists that stick in people’s minds. Today sees the publication of a YouGov poll showing that much of the UK public have a hugely negative view of Muslims, with perceptions of terrorism and extremism to the fore.

The results of the poll also suggest a decline in public sympathy for refugees, and a particular disregard for refugees from Syria and the Middle East.

In 2014, only 31 per cent of those surveyed believed the UK should not provide refuge to people fleeing conflict and persecution around the world – compared to 40 per cent in favour. In this month’s poll that has been turned on its head: those against offering refuge outnumber those in favour – 42 per cent compared to 34 per cent.

Only 29 per cent of people agree that the UK should welcome refugees from Syria and the Middle East, compared to 34 per cent who would welcome refugees generally.

These findings are extremely worrying. If negative public perceptions about Muslims and Middle Eastern refugees go unchallenged, global sympathy and support for those caught in conflict will decline at a time when humanitarian needs are enormous and UN budgets are chronically underfunded.

Over 30m refugees and others in the Middle East are in need of humanitarian aid, and the British Muslim community that is perceived so negatively gives with huge generosity to charities like Islamic Relief as we work to deliver that aid – particularly in Ramadan.

Isn’t it time we celebrated the role British Muslims play as part of the solution, rather than the Muslim community being demonised again and again as part of the problem? Coming from Birmingham, the city that Fox News described as a Muslim-only zone, and living through the Trojan Horse saga, I know only too well how that feels.

You seldom find them on the front pages, but Islamic Relief UK is blessed with an army of 4,000 grassroots volunteers who bring out the very best in our communities and embody the faith-inspired action that Islamic Relief is all about.

In the run-up to Ramadan, British Muslims have been beavering away at different fundraising activities around the country – from the #Cakes4Syria campaign to the numerous fundraising challenges from the Great North Run to the Great Wall of China.

These kind of stories should be heard much more, and these are the kind of choices I want our young people to make.    

The holy month of Ramadan that starts tomorrow is a time when Muslims reflect on their blessings they have received and commit to helping those less fortunate. British Muslims donate more than £100 million to charity in Ramadan alone.

The poll shows that people are less inclined to give to victims of conflict in the Middle East. I can’t help noticing that fundraising appeals for areas in conflict consistently raise less than those for natural disasters, as if some people in need are more or less deserving than others.

Whether or not people give, should not be determined by ignorance and prejudice. Every life is precious.

And in line with our message for Ramadan this year I would encourage people to: "Share your relief with those who need it most."

Jehangir Malik, Islamic Relief’s UK director

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Four times Owen Smith has made sexist comments

The Labour MP for Pontypridd and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership rival has been accused of misogynist remarks. Again.

2016

Wanting to “smash” Theresa May “back on her heels”

During a speech at a campaign event, Owen Smith blithely deployed some aggressive imagery about attacking the new Prime Minister. In doing so, he included the tired sexist trope beloved of the right wing press about Theresa May’s shoes – her “kitten heels” have long been a fascination of certain tabloids:

“I’ll be honest with you, it pained me that we didn’t have the strength and the power and the vitality to smash her back on her heels and argue that these our values, these are our people, this is our language that they are seeking to steal.”

When called out on his comments by Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Smith doubled down:

“They love a bit of rhetoric, don’t they? We need a bit more robust rhetoric in our politics, I’m very much in favour of that. You’ll be getting that from me, and I absolutely stand by those comments. It’s rhetoric, of course. I don’t literally want to smash Theresa May back, just to be clear. I’m not advocating violence in any way, shape or form.”

Your mole dug around to see whether this is a common phrase, but all it could find was “set back on one’s heels”, which simply means to be shocked by something. Nothing to do with “smashing”, and anyway, Smith, or somebody on his team, should be aware that invoking May’s “heels” is lazy sexism at best, and calling on your party to “smash” a woman (particularly when you’ve been in trouble for comments about violence against women before – see below) is more than casual misogyny.

Arguing that misogyny in Labour didn’t exist before Jeremy Corbyn

Smith recently told BBC News that the party’s nastier side only appeared nine months ago:

“I think Jeremy should take a little more responsibility for what’s going on in the Labour party. After all, we didn’t have this sort of abuse and intolerance, misogyny, antisemitism in the Labour party before Jeremy Corbyn became the leader.”

Luckily for Smith, he had never experienced misogyny in his party until the moment it became politically useful to him… Or perhaps, not being the prime target, he simply wasn’t paying enough attention before then?

2015

Telling Leanne Wood she was only invited on TV because of her “gender”

Before a general election TV debate for ITV Wales last year, Smith was caught on camera telling the Plaid Cymru leader that she only appeared on Question Time because she is a woman:

Wood: “Have you ever done Question Time, Owen?”

Smith: “Nope, they keep putting you on instead.”

Wood: “I think with party balance there’d be other people they’d be putting on instead of you, wouldn’t they, rather than me?”

Smith: “I think it helps. I think your gender helps as well.”

Wood: “Yeah.”

2010

Comparing the Lib Dems’ experience of coalition to domestic violence

In a tasteless analogy, Smith wrote this for WalesHome in the first year of the Tory/Lib Dem coalition:

“The Lib Dem dowry of a maybe-referendum on AV [the alternative vote system] will seem neither adequate reward nor sufficient defence when the Tories confess their taste for domestic violence on our schools, hospitals and welfare provision.

“Surely, the Liberals will file for divorce as soon as the bruises start to show through the make-up?”

But never fear! He did eventually issue a non-apology for his offensive comments, with the classic use of “if”:

“I apologise if anyone has been offended by the metaphorical reference in this article, which I will now be editing. The reference was in a phrase describing today's Tory and Liberal cuts to domestic spending on schools and welfare as metaphorical ‘domestic violence’.”

***

A one-off sexist gaffe is bad enough in a wannabe future Labour leader. But your mole sniffs a worrying pattern in this list that suggests Smith doesn’t have a huge amount of respect for women, when it comes to political rhetoric at least. And it won’t do him any electoral favours either – it makes his condemnation of Corbynite nastiness ring rather hollow.

I'm a mole, innit.