UK, London / Trend corr. G. Ahmadova / Exclusive interview by Trend with the Chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, Mr. Massoud Shadjareh
Question: The Islamic Human Rights Commission is a well-known British organisation. What are your main goals and tasks currently?
Answer: We have been set up as an advocacy research and campaigning organization to help all and to eradicate discrimination and human rights abuses and create a better society for everyone. So, although we are an Islamic organization, we are not just for Muslims, we are actually for everyone, including those from non-Islamic backgrounds.
Question: The 11th of November is the Islamic Human Rights Commission's ten-year Anniversary. What have you done during the past decade to fight injustice?
Answer: We've done a lot actually. When we came together for a number of different projects, we recognised that the situation in the world is deteriorating, but none of us actually could imagine how much it was going to deteriorate, how many human rights were going to be abused in the years to come. And indeed, how important it would be for our organisation to actually be there to support the victims and to challenge injustice. And we have already been sort of instrumental in freeing more than 2500 prisoners from around the world. We have challenged injustices everywhere. And indeed, we have actually been instrumental in changing legislation and procedures, which have actually created a better and more just society.
Question: I have read about a project of the Samaritan's Purse organization, "Operation Christmas Child". The President and CEO of Samaritan's Purse, Franklin Graham, is known as an Islamophobe. You had a debate with Mark Smith - chairman of SP. Do you think this project is against the Muslims?
Answer: Well, this project is against common sense. This project is against a cohesive society, because Franklin Graham is not just an Islamaphobe. What he has said against Islam, against Hinduism and indeed other religions, is there on his record. What he has said against Catholicism and Catholics is there on his record. They are extremely xenophobic, they pride themselves by going around to schools and collecting donations from ordinary people, from all different backgrounds, and they put it in a little shoebox with literature and a condition that people should go to Bible classes and then they give it to the Muslims around the world. And they are therefore trying to lure children, while they are impressionable, into a belief. It's not an unconditional gift. Those who gave the gift originally, have given it unconditionally; but this organisation turns it into a condition of becoming an Evangelical Christian. When you go to their website in the United States, then you see how they pride themselves that they have turned so many Catholics into Evangelical Christians, how many Hindu children have been turned into Evangelical Christians, how many Muslims. And that is what we are objecting to. When we contacted the schools and centres where they were collecting, they were shocked to find out what actually happened to these packages, and I would say that overwhelming majority of them actually denounced this organisation and stopped that project. But we also have asked all those institutions that they should find alternative ways of helping. Because what we should not do is to stop help from going to the needy, but we need to make it unconditional and there are many Christian and non-Christian organisations who do these works.
Question: What do you think of the term "Islamophobia"?
Answer: I don't like it, because I think 'promotion of anti-Muslim sentiment' or 'hatred against Muslims' is actually more appropriate, because phobia is something very natural. You know, you could have a phobia of snakes or anything else, like heights, you can't do anything about it, it's almost natural for you. But hatred of Muslims, or indeed hatred of any group, there is nothing sort of natural about it, it is something unnatural and indeed it is something that people need to stop doing, and actually deal with their problems. So I think, from that point of view, I am opposed to the term. But as a fact, hatred of Muslims is ever-increasing, there is no doubt.
Question: Are you satisfied with the terror law (Terrorism Act) in the UK? Which clauses of this law, in your opinion, threaten the life and activities of British Muslims?
Answer: I think, we all need laws to protect society. Laws should be there for the protection of society, not for removing their values. And I think what has happened in the last few years in Britain is that we have had laws which do not protect the community, but all they do is remove their civil liberties, and I think from that point of view, it is totally unacceptable. I will give you an example. We have had hundreds of thousands of people being stopped-and-searched under anti-terrorism laws. Not a single one, we cannot even find one case that actually resulted in finding a terrorist. What they've done though, is they have alienated, they actually harassed ordinary people, with no benefit whatsoever. When you can even, in fact, detain somebody for 28 days, later on 56 days, you know. We are seeing the implementation of the politics of fear, politics of fear that are unfounded; there is no basis for it. Yes, we do have terrorist attacks, but we always have had terrorist attacks in London. We had the IRA bombing and killing more people and we never went so far as to remove our civil liberties. The reality is that what we've done since 9/11 is we have arrested 1500 people in this country, only five percent of them have been found guilty of an act of terrorism in court. The overwhelming majority has been innocent, and their lives have been ruined. And now we get different things, the last MI5 head said that in the future, we are getting radical and there is a great danger for our future through the radicalisation of youth in the mosque, and this could result in chemical, biological and nuclear bombs. I mean, fifteen and sixteen year olds are going to be radicalised in a Mosque and will come up with a nuclear bomb? Who will believe this? This is the sort of rubbish that we hear. And the present head of MI5 actually said that there are 2000 radical terrorists among us that they know about. But they suspect that there are around 4,000. But if that is that case, then why from 11th of September until now, have they only arrested 1500 people, if we know of another 2000, and out of them, only five percent have been found guilty? Look, the bottom line is, that it's more likely for me and for my countrymen to go to a hospital to get treatment and die as a result of a superbug, than to be a victim of a terrorist attack. And why is it that we are not putting more people and more resources into that field and making our hospitals cleaner? It is more likely--much more likely--for us to die as a result of a car accident. So, why is it not that area that we are putting more resources into making ourselves safer? So really, what it is all about is creating fear, unfounded fear, and controlling society, and there is no benefit to the society. I actually think what is happening is now is not just Muslims, or those perceived to be Muslims, who are the victims, but the whole society, because Muslims are being targeted and the rest of people are suffering because of the fear that has been created. So we are all suffering and we need to understand it and deal with it on that basis, that this is not bringing any benefit to anyone.
Question: How would you characterize Islam's overall strength in the UK today?
Answer: I think really, Islam hasn't got power in the United Kingdom. We are probably the most deprived section of our society. I mean, you know, now Muslims are no longer speaking on the basis of wanting equal rights. Some Muslims are now talking on the basis of 'we want to know what our rights as second-class citizens are'. 'How many rights do we have as a second-class citizen', not 'we should have equal rights'. I think that this is unfortunately the case. What is being promoted under these anti-terror laws is a feeling that these laws and these oppressions and these erosions of civil liberties is only going to affect a small group of Muslims and the rest of people will benefit from it, but that's not the case. We all are suffering. But definitely Muslims are the hidden victims of 9/11. And we are victims from the point of view that, our community died as a result of bombs, because of Muslims in 9/11 and 7/7 as victims. We are the victims of anti-terror laws that came afterward. We are also victims of backlash, because people in our community have been attacking us on the streets as being supporters of Bin Laden and so forth. Then you really need to look at who trained the Mujahaddin in Afghanistan. It wasn't the mosques and the Muslim community, it was our government and the US government who were actually training those Mujahaddin to fight the Russians. It wasn't our mosques: we weren't helping them, we weren't financing them and we weren't training them. So why is that we are now being looked upon as the problem, when they've done all this dirty war and not us?
Question: How often are the rights of Muslims violated in the UK today?
Answer: As I said, the level of Islamophobia is at an unprecedented level. The latest research shows 80% of Muslims--which is a huge number--are victims of Islamophobia. And when you look at the situation after 9/11 and 7/7: after those attacks, attack and backlash against communities increased 700% and in some cases 1300%, which is a huge amount. And then it has an impact not just on Britain, but far beyond Britain. And although that has subsided to some extent, it really has not gone back to the level of origin. In the past, people belonged here. Muslims are now looked at as being backward and so forth, and barbaric, and this is perception that has been created. But when you look at the reality, when Muslims in Bosnia were being massacred, slaughtered and raped systematically, and it was being done in the name of Christianity, not a single church anywhere in the Muslim world was attacked by Muslims, not a single one. But when 7/7 happened in Britain, six mosques in New Zealand were attacked. So, who is barbaric? Who actually lives outside this, who is promoting fear? I think it is a credit to the Muslim community worldwide that despite all that has been thrown at them, they are still behaving within the parameters that Islam has actually put for them and I think they are behaving quite well. The numbers of people that we are helping are just a tip of the iceberg. The reality is now we have at any given time, approximately 70-80 cases that we are dealing with, and most of them appeal to attorneys to deal with them, but it keeps on happening.