Oldham’s Toxic Politics | Part 5 | Online hate begins

Two years have passed since the Department for Education released their report into allegations of corruption and fraud at the Collective Spirit Free School and Manchester Studio School. The highly critical report named Raja Miah together with long-time associate Mohib Uddin and another director.

Around the time the report was released the online attack began as a self-stated act of revenge. Though much of the tone of the attack today has an overtly anti-Muslim, anti-Asian, and anti-Pakistani theme, it is not how the campaign started, and this piece will begin the process of fully exposing how our town is being divided in plain sight.

WHERE IT BEGAN

The original campaign launched in April 2019, focused in the Coldhurst community in Oldham. It brought together localised grievances to create division between me as the local MP and the majority Muslim community in the ward. Though the plan ultimately failed, and his audience changed, it is significant because it highlights that no issue is off limits, no tension or division exempt from exploitation. With Raja Miah acting as the main protagonist, numerous posts were published using the Israel and Palestine conflict to cause division here in Oldham. Posts would repeatedly be made referring to me as a pro-Israeli, often accompanied by offensive and highly loaded terms including that I was a ‘racist’, a ‘colonialist’ and a ‘paymaster’.

The posts would often go much further, in one he wrote, “If you want to help prevent the likelihood of violence at the mosque, copy and share this post. If you stand in support of the thousands of innocent Palestinian children that are being tortured and massacred by a barbaric Israeli regime that Jim McMahon MP supports, copy and share this post.”

The campaign went beyond social media as Miah embarked on a campaign for a local mosque to ban me. This included public posts and correspondence to the mosque committee. In his campaign text he called for; “A policy that bans the pro Israeli racist MP Jim McMahon (and all other politicians) that support Israeli crimes on the Palestinian people.” It was also at this time that he would join forces with graphic designer “Ali Akbar”, who is understood to be a local resident. The images he produced would build on the narrative being put forward by Raja Miah to include grossly offensive slurs and character defamation. A large number of the images produced would be used to support posts on the Recusant Nine Facebook and video streaming platforms.

The ground of this attack appears to be anchored in the fact that I had been outspoken in the Labour Party on its handling of antisemitism and made representations that it should adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism in dealing with complaints on member conduct. This is the same definition adopted by the UK Government and various authorities including the Crown Prosecution Service.

In my responsibilities as Shadow Minister in the Communities and Local Government team, I also spoke in Parliament on the issue, including closing the debate on antisemitism in Modern Society on 20th February 2019.In addition to this, as Chair of the Parliamentary Group of the Co-operative Party I also made representations that they adopt the IHRA (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) working definition of antisemitism, which it did. In a post published on 28th April 2019, Miah responded to a Guardian article which covered the adoption of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism writing; “when it comes to Israel, Jim McMahon acts to prevent people from speaking out against the injustice. Why is this?”

In relation to the same article, he wrote, “And those who do not believe Jim McMahon’s pro Israeli position. Read this. He is the leader of the group of MPs that forced Labour to adopt guidelines on antisemitism that means people who criticise Israel are deemed automatically anti semetic [Sic]. Who elected this racist t**t to represent them to do this? When he knocks on your door, did he say he was going to criminalise speaking out against Israeli atrocities? Oldham Central Masjid brazenly supporting this politician can only mean one thing, they too are pro Israeli.”

For completeness and for those less familiar with the issue; it is both possible to support the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and want the same for the Palestinian people too. Securing a viable two state solution is long standing Labour Party policy.

A NEW AUDIENCE

As time has passed Miah’s target audience has changed, so too has the language and framing. As the campaign of harassment developed the approach taken by Miah moved towards developing links with the independent political candidates and platforms, as well as moving his content to the Recusant Nine platform and podcast. Though relations between these parties may now be fractured, the early development of joint working with Oldham Together, Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth and Failsworth Independents, as well as the independent campaign in Coldhurst was significant.

The nature of the current content can be broadly set into three false narratives which are interconnected. The first, claiming that Asian grooming gangs are operating with the protection of Labour politicians in return for votes. Secondly, that there is organised and widespread postal vote fraud. Thirdly that there is widespread corruption linked to politics in Oldham run through ‘cartels’. As the campaign has gone on those surrounding Miah, and those who fund his activities, have become more extreme and unrelenting, with daily posts feeding the narrative set by Miah. It is now typical for references to be made to me as Jihadi Jim, Samosa Jim, and Jim McMosque and to my colleague Debbie Abrahams as Debbie Kashmir, supported by images generated by Ali Akbar, including suggesting links to Taliban fighters. This is clear that this is intended to further deepen division and cement the false narrative that your local MPs only work for the Muslim/Asian community at the expense of the White British community.

It is plainly wrong and deeply offensive to the vast majority of decent hardworking people of all races and religions in our town.

MOVING UP A GEAR

His regular posts solicit donations from viewers through the ‘buy me a coffee’ platform, with rallying calls made by his supporters for others to contribute and subscribe to his content, before further commercialising the platform by offering official merchandise for his followers to buy, including branded mugs and baseball caps. After restrictions were placed on the Recusant Nine Medium platform the campaign moved Facebook in the month after the pandemic hit the UK. There is little doubt this helped ensure that the developing audience was captive, with many self-isolating, home working and some struggling with lockdown and social restrictions in place. There was a self-evident acceleration of the journey those watching and interacting took. It was also the same time those of us in politics and public service were under extreme and constant attack, while we are working around the clock, often door to door, neighbourhood to neighbourhood, to support the town through an enforced local lockdown, with restrictions above and beyond that of other towns.

It is evident the campaign was supported by a small group of highly abusive and obsessive contributors, and that some of those seeing through personal and political vendettas, some with dubious records and some with clear links to the Far-Right. But it is the case that many were none of those, but who felt unhappy with the direction of the town, and rightly or wrongly the performance of the council and local police force. It is also the case that on seeing the grossly serious nature of the allegations surrounding grooming gangs being posted by Raja Miah. that many had legitimate concerns they wanted answers to. While the vast majority of those have now removed themselves from the campaign, at its height there would be hundreds of accounts sharing and interacting with the content being produced.

GOING FULL CIRCLE

As the campaign shifted away from the majority Muslim community in Coldhurst to a wider mainly White British audience, so too did the narrative.

Following an attack on the Oldham Elbit Systems UK factory, reported to have secured an arms contract with the UK Government, Miah has stated that he has been accused by members of the Muslim community of being ‘pro-Israeli’ and he explains that the term amounts to a ‘Racist and divisive over simplification’ going further to state it is an ‘extremist narrative’ which seeks to create a ‘us and them’ narrative. Miah posted; “As predictable as night follows day, the Labour Party supporting Islamists in Oldham are trying to push a narrative that I am pro Israeli and thereby anti Muslim.” And in response to another post asking if those accusing him of being ‘pro-Israeli’ have defined what it means, he writes, “It’s a racist and devisive [Sic] over simplification. As all extremist narratives are which seek to create a them and us narrative. I’m too old and seen too much to pay such things any heed.”

This was the exact framing Raja Miah used when he set out on his campaign from May 2019.These reckless actions are not naïve, but a campaign driven by vengeance from someone fully aware of the journey he is taking people on, and its potential consequences. In his own promotional website he writes, “Raja Miah, is internationally recognised as an expert in his field. With over 25 years of experience in working on the front lines, alongside marginalised communities at risk of exploitation by extremists, Raja has used his insights to inform and shape government policy. During his career, Raja has worked directly with world leaders, including multiple UK Prime Ministers & Secretaries of State.”

SPEAKING OUT

It is important that this campaign is called out for what it is, and that we work to bring people together. I would ask that those engaging in his content reflect heavily on the toxic and divisive nature of the campaign. It is perfectly possible to challenge decisions being taken locally without it being wrapped up in false and defamatory attacks which are too often highly targeted and relentless in nature.

I believe the vast majority of people in our town want the same thing regardless of race, religion or anything else for that matter, and it is important we come together as one.

In future posts I will go into more detail about the campaign which developed, including the weaponisation of race and religion, and the targeted attacks on politicians and journalists.

Published by JimfromOldham

Labour and Co-operative MP for Oldham West & Royton

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