This article is one of a series on Muslim civil society in Britain.
TELL MAMA was set up in 2012 with the aim of providing a means of gathering information about anti-Muslim prejudice and supporting the victims of this prejudice. In this article, TELL MAMA’s founder and director, Fiyaz Mughal, introduces the organisation, explaining its aims, its recent work and some of the challenges it has faced since its inception – which have included problems of under-reporting as well as direct attacks on the organisation and its work.
When we started work on TELL MAMA two years ago, little did we know the range of issues that we would encounter in this arena of work, which have come from a variety of sectors as well as from individuals working right in the heart of the establishment in our country. The aim was laudable, the vision clear – to base a system of Islamophobic hate crime reporting on the working model used by the Community Security Trust, which has made such a difference to work on anti-Semitism and in monitoring hotspots and supporting victims.
The TELL MAMA project was set up with four key aims. These were based on the needs and perceptions of various Muslim communities who had mentioned that they had continually suffered anti-Muslim prejudice which had, in their opinion, got worse after 9/11 and 7/7 and when local, national or international incidents focused a spotlight on Muslim communities. Many said that women in Muslim communities were attacked whilst others said that on-line hate was being promoted through social media sources. Taking these issues into account, we came to the conclusion that TELL MAMA should do four things: 1) support victims of anti-Muslim prejudice; 2) map, measure and analyse hotspot areas where anti-Muslim prejudice takes place; 3) work with forces to ensure prosecutions; and 4) work with policy makers and shapers on issues of Islamophobia or anti-Muslim prejudice.
The last two years have been a very steep learning curve. Having to work through personal threats, daily on-line abuse and trolling and attacks from media sources who wanted to undermine the work has meant that the project has become more resilient and much more robust in the data gathering and analysis work that it undertakes. However, nothing prepared us for the large volume of social media hate that was targeted at Muslim communities, and users of Twitter and Facebook who happen to be Muslim. Allied to such hate activities were a couple of hundred EDL sympathisers and activists who spent their day sitting on Twitter and Facebook and promoting some of the most vile anti-Muslim threats, literature and hate that we had come across. Furthermore, the laissez faire, God-willed-it-so-it-was-meant-to-happen approach taken within some Muslim communities meant that many were not willing to report such hate incidents. Many were also fearful about what would happen to their personal data if they contacted the authorities. We understood that the latter was generally driven by the fear of Prevent and the wider counter-terrorism agenda, though some also believed that nothing much would be done by the police if they reported incidents. In essence, trust in the police was at a low point.
“Many victims were fearful about what would happen to their personal data if they contacted the authorities, or felt nothing much would be done.”
Over the last two years we have worked with numerous police forces, civil society organisations, Central Government departments, Police and Crime Commissioners and local authorities to build the case showing that anti-Muslim prejudice exists and the impacts of it on communities. It really has been building the foundations of the work – inspired by the Community Security Trust – whilst coming under fire from various sources. However, one of the things that we did not anticipate was the institutional efforts to undermine this work by those who believe that raising anti-Muslim prejudice takes away from what they believe is the real issue: extremism. In their eyes extremism is viewed as pervasive and all-dominating and blurs the lens through which Muslim communities are seen. Muslims as a whole are regarded as a suspect community and talking about Islamophobia merely detracts from this. Journalists, senior influential members in political parties, as well as Far Right, anti-faith, atheist and secular groups have all, in turn, attempted to attack the work we do, the leadership of the project, the methodology we employ and the cases we highlight on the basis that undermining the project would unsettle the foundations of our work and ‘make it go away.’ The sheer tenacity of the team in TELL MAMA has proven them wrong and we continue to place, brick by brick, the solid strong foundations of work for the future through our efforts.
The changes have been substantive over the two years since our foundation. We have managed to reduce the volume of on-line hate and get prosecutions around some of the worst perpetrators of anti-Muslim prejudice. We have also built academic foundations for the work through a report on the far-right and on-line anti-Muslim hate. A further two reports are to be launched with the University of Birmingham on TELL MAMA data, while a third, over-arching report on our work for the last 18 months, including post-Woolwich impacts, will also be published in January 2014. For the first time, there is real credible evidence on the phenomenon of anti-Muslim prejudice that cannot be denied and which mirrors what the Community Security Trust did many years ago. Making the case is the only way to tackling such hate in communities.
Lastly, for the victims, we have become a support, casework, advocacy and signposting service. All of this, on a shoestring budget and with a staff team who have braved the real and credible threats against us. If that does not move Muslim communities into action, nothing will.
Fiyaz Mughal OBE is director of Faith Matters, an interfaith and anti-extremist organisation which runs the TELL MAMA anti-Muslim violence helpline. See www.faith-matters.org
 Nigel Copsey et al., Anti-Muslim Hate Crime and the Far Right (Middlesbrough: Teesside University, 2013), http://tellmamauk.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/antimuslim2.pdf.
The image of the EDL supporter is included courtesy of Gavin Lynn and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.