This is the second part of British analyst Chris Blackburn's two-part analysis of the riots in September 2022 in Leicester between Muslims and Hindus. In this essay he explains why Hindus in Leicester have refused to participate in a riot probe led by a man with Muslim Brotherhood connections.
Leicester city police guarding the city during the riots in September 2022.
A lot has changed in Leicester over the last few weeks. The first part of my two-part series of articles focussed on mob violence between Hindus and Muslims and the media’s disjointed reaction. Nobody found evidence of organised BJP (India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party) or RSS (the BJP's ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) involvement. Hindu youths chanting, 'Jai Shri Ram', simply doesn’t cut it. This second article will explore the aftermath and the curious appointment of Chris Allen, an academic with ties to Islamist activists from the Muslim Brotherhood and Leicester’s Jamaat-i-Islami movement. He was highlighted in my first article. Leicester really felt the sting of social media lies designed to inflame tensions between Hindus and Muslims. The BBC’s Trending and Monitoring teams wrote a fantastic summary of the social media war called, “Did misinformation fan the flames in Leicester?”.
Some of the hoaxes said that busloads of RSS supporters were brought into Leicester from Wembley Temple. These sophisticated lies came with video and camera stills. They were easily debunked by The Guardian newspaper’s Aina J. Khan. It was excellent reporting from a brave journalist. It did the Hindu community a large favour.
Khan has been unfairly accused of being an Islamist by Indian media and social media misfits. This is unfair. Now to be balanced I have heard rumours that Khan, working alongside agitator Majid Freeman who was highlighted by the BBC teams for spreading inflammatory tweets, asked leading questions to the masked Hindu protestors in Leicester. Apparently, Khan had asked protestors, “Do you support the RSS?”. Most asked her, “What is RSS?”, she replied, “they fight for or defend Hindus.” So, you can imagine most of their replies.
They media chased spectres and missed the facts on the ground. My article, “India’s Press Are Still Claiming a Hindutva Connection to the Leicester Mobs When There Is None,” was well received by local leaders in Leicester when I visited the city. I also took a trip to Birmingham as well. Another site of unrest. People had mixed feelings about my retelling of the embarrassing tale of Richard III’s body being thrown into a local river which has plagued Leicester for centuries. Some found it funny, most didn’t. But as the dust settled. Many found it helpful. I was proud that I had mentioned violence had followed a cricket match between Pakistan and India in Leicester in 2017. Nobody in the media has connected the two events. Cricket has been a flashpoint. Leicester Police have reacted perfectly during the T20 World Cup. Increasing patrols in Leicester when India and Pakistan play each other. Peace and order in Leicester has hopefully been restored.
While discussing my brief findings some people attached to PREVENT, the government’s counterterrorism and extremism program, didn’t realise that a Hindu man had been stabbed and home attacked. I couldn’t believe it. They showed me a BBC podcast on the trouble called Leicester: Behind the Divide. They said, in not too many words, that this was “the narrative” they were working from. The BBC podcast was basically a snapshot of violence in Leicester mashed up with the sorry history of communal violence in India. It raised the spectre of RSS and South Asian political involvement. The BBC podcast failed to make a convincing case. The conclusion was completely divorced from what had actually happened in Leicester. I was dismayed, but not entirely shocked.
So, I persevered with my quest to get to the bottom of things. The knife attack on Hindu homes was the catalyst of the ill-conceived Hindu protest. That’s just a fact. Activists are claiming an incident in May was the catalyst. I’m not convinced. Thanks to Darshna Soni at Channel 4, the wider media and politicians now know about the knife attacks on Hindu homes. Sunny Hundal, the British journalist that likes to post about Hindutva and South Asian politics, posted the video of the attack on Twitter, but it got lost in the media fray. Soni interviewed the victim of the knife attacks and got his thoughts on RSS. He seemed bemused.
I also had the same problem when asking people about RSS or organised involvement in Leicester. Blank faces staring back at me. The majority of the Hindus I spoke to didn’t know what RSS was. They’d only just heard of them when they were accused of being them. Most had derisory things to say about politicians too. Politics didn’t interest them at all. I highly doubt we will see a Mahatma Gandhi style figure rising from the Leicester ashes, but you never know.
In my piece for Global Order, I highlighted a “mischievous” article in The Conversation by the Leicester based academic, Chris Allen of the University of Leicester.
Here is what I wrote.
“Dr. Chris Allen, a local academic that specialises on Islamophobia highlighted the Hindutva bogeyman in his article for The Conversation. But instead of discounting it. He hyped it up for what can only be seen as rampant opportunism- he blamed the Hindus protesting the escalation of violence as being the actual escalation. Rather mischievous in my view. Allen works for Leicester University’s Criminology Department. It’s quite amazing how he climbed on and rode the hoax, not the facts. Both The Guardian, Leicester Police and the BBC poured cold water on most of the misinformation, but Dr. Allen is defending it by omitting it completely. Instead, he blames bogeymen, and the Hindu protest against the knife attack (also omitted). I doubt Leicestershire Police will be using his services and the universities anytime soon. Trusted voices are needed. Missing the growing trend of cricket related violence following India versus Pakistan cricket matches in Leicester are what his colleagues should be looking at, not the spectre of Hindutva. If your job is to study crime and community order and you live in Leicester… they’re doing a poor job.”
I was right to point out Chris Allen’s highly suspect article in The Conversation and interjection because it landed him the role as the 'independent' reviewer of the violence in Leicester. The local community, police, PREVENT counter extremism practitioners., and journalists that have been covering events in Leicester are now completely gobsmacked by Allen’s appointment. His own article is now being used against him. Rightly so.
Sir Peter Soulsby, the Mayor of Leicester City, was mentioned in Allen’s article. Allen was critical of the mayor’s views calling them ‘wilfully ignorant’. Allen also said there was a culture of ‘collective denial’ at Leicester City Council. Allen then trumpeted his previous work on the Bradford Riots but failed to mention who had commissioned his work. We will get back to the commissioners of that report later. Did Allen try to bully Soulsby into giving him the independent reviewer position? The aggressive tone of his article suggests he did.
Before the appointment, Sir Peter Soulsby met with Active Muslims Leicester (AML) which was led by agitator Majid Freeman, a Muslim activist who was indirectly criticised by Leicestershire Police and the media for stoking tensions with false stories. Soulsby was on camera being interviewed by Freeman after the AML public hearing. Soulsby declared confidently, with no pause, that Hindutva was the problem. As you can imagine, people simply couldn’t believe it. Sir Peter had already concluded that Hindu nationalism or Hindutva was the problem in Leicester. The fact he announced it in the presence of Freeman rubbed salt in everyone’s open wounds.
Hindu organisations in Leicester have said they didn’t agree with Allen’s appointment as the independent reviewer of violence because of the clear bias from Sir Peter Soulsby. I respect them for sticking up for themselves.
The appointment, and controversy surrounding it, was so bad, polluted by the mayor’s hasty conclusions presented by agitator Freeman, Hindu leaders wrote a letter to say they were boycotting the review altogether. Trust had completely broken down. There were also social media posts that showed Allen’s favouritism to Muslim activists working on Islamic issues. Allen shut down his Twitter account as people started scrutinising his work on Islamophobia and retweeting it.
Here is the letter to Leicester City Council and Sir Peter Soulsby from Hindu leaders in Leicester:
Allen’s tone is also a problem. He has bullied both the Labour and the Conservative parties about claims of Islamophobia in the past. His disparaging remarks about Sir Peter Soulsby in The Conversation were obviously designed to get his attention. Allen has been aggressively targeting people with the threat of making Islamophobia stick. In a highly conscious political environment that’s a great power to wield. He’s already abused it.
Chris Allen is unsuitable for the role as independent reviewer. He bullies people and omits information. The fact he closed his Twitter account to stop people looking at his history suggests he has something to hide.
I believe I found it. Allen worked for the Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR) a defunct Muslim activist organisation which reported on and often accused people of Islamophobia. FAIR’s main ideological driving force and trustee was a Leicestershire based man called Ahmed Kadhem al-Rawi.
In 2004, The French newspaper Le Monde ran an expose on al-Rawi and his direct ties to the leadership council of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood organisation. The Muslim Brotherhood is a radical Islamist movement that spawned Hamas and al-Qaeda. In 2015, Former British Prime Minister David Cameron launched a government review into the Muslim Brotherhood’s ties to Islamist extremism. The Islamic Foundation of Leicester, which was founded by Senator Khurshid Ahmad of the Jamaat-i-Islami, also played a role in FAIR. FAIR paid Allen to write the report on the Bradford Riots. Allen needs to come clean about his activist past with such dubious mentors.
Knowing Allen’s history of spinning and threatening Islamophobia, this following from a piece that he wrote explains many things, and also why the Hindu community in Leicester has refused to be part of any 'probe' led by Allen:
“Some will assume this to be Islamist extremism. Despite there being no evidence to support such an assumption, research shows that a key trope of Islamophobia is the conflation of all things Islam with extremism. The mere involvement of Muslims will be evidence enough for some to jump to such a conclusion.
However, it is necessary – given the slogans chanted in Leicester and wider concerns dating back to 2019 – to also examine the extent to which Hindu nationalist ideologies or 'Hindutva' is causing tensions outside of India’s borders.
Research shows Hindutva sentiment has been on the rise in Britain since 2014. This far-right ideology promotes hatred towards all non-Hindu religious minorities and Muslims in particular.
Despite this, local media has begun to distance the city’s established Hindu communities from blame. Instead, it cites wide claims that Hindu nationalism has been imported into the city by recent migrants from India...
Further, the impact of the global on the local cannot be overlooked, as the influence of Hindutva in Leicester, as elsewhere in Britain demonstrates. To take this into account is not to apportion blame. Ignoring it, however, won’t help us fully understand what is happening.”
The BBC, Channel 4 and The Guardian have all reported on the sophisticated hoaxes from Muslim activists in Leicester. Allen’s comments on Islamophobia should discount him. His thoughts on a wider global Hindutva plot too.
Allen’s article was strange because it was divorced from contemporary reporting. I felt so aggrieved, I wrote a letter to the editors of The Conversation. I’ve yet to get a reply. He missed out the social media hoaxes- involving fake mosque attacks and the kidnap of a young Muslim girl. He deliberately ignored the Muslim knife attacks on Hindu homes, and other things. Major factors which most other reporters picked up easily. Why? Because that’s what happened. How can he be trusted to compile a report if he can’t get the basics right? In his article he also poured cold water on Muslim involvement and indirectly accused readers of Islamophobia. His article begun to cause concern about his approach and objectivity.
Allen’s article in The Conversation should have disbarred him from any review. He’s certainly not independent. But thanks to Allen, he’s helped us expose a highly politicised Islamophobia industry which was operating from Leicester backed by the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-i-Islami figures at home and abroad. Allen might have actually done something useful.
I doubt he will keep his 'independent reviewer' job or his reputation. He’s certainly not independent by any stretch of the imagination.
All that Leicester City councillors and the mayor have to say is, “Dr Allen, did you work with the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-i-Islami figures on Islamophobia? We already know the answer.
(Chris Blackburn has been working on behalf of Cities4Peace in Leicester. They are a US based non-profit which works on helping rebuilt communities that have been touched by violence and hate. Cities4Peace have worked with the LAPD, the US State Department, and the United Nations on projects across the globe. Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer. They do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Cities4Peace.)