The hijacking of academia...

Article published on Nov. 7, 2007
community published
Article published on Nov. 7, 2007
UPDATE: BBC's Newsnight have made allegations that the evidence in the report that I referred to in this article was fabricated. Examination of receipts provided by the researchers to verify their purchases showed some had been written by the same person - even though they purported to come from different mosques.
Several receipts also misspelled the names or addresses of the mosques where the books were supposedly sold.

The British conservative think-tank Polemic Exchange recently released an ‘academic’ study of literature found at mosques and Islamic centres around the UK called ‘The Hijacking of British Islam’.

While there are some useful findings found within the report, the contextualisation and presentation of the research and the policy recommendations leaves much to be desired. (The author Dennis MacEoin has taken offense to my description of him see below so I have taken the courtesy to remove these comments - but I stand by my points below, which the author didn't address in his comment).

The problems with his publication are diverse and at times extremely worrying:

The report doesn't take into any account whether the proliferation of this material has any bearing on the practice of Islam in this country but implies as much. There is no coverage or mention of the distribution of far right and far left literature, both of which can contain the promotion of violence and/or separation. The report does not adequately discuss a link between conservative/'radical' positions and exhortations to violence. The report implies that Wahhabism/Salafism naturally lends itself towards terrorism. Statements such as "Yet more troubling is the possibility that such materials can act as a de facto ‘bridge’ to radicalisation." and "Too often it acts as an ideological bridge to violent jihadism." are not explored in any detail or in reference to existing evidence and research. The evidence that is mentioned isn’t particularly robust. The report mentions that 5 of the booklets have been found by Metropolitan Police in terrorism investigations since 9/11 - We don't get the figure of how many books the police service has looked at. The 'radical' material was found in only 26/100 places and out of those 26 they obtained 80 pamphlets. We don’t know the total sum of pamphlets on display to get an idea of what percentage this is. There is no coverage of publications which they claim to be 'non-radical' or moderate despite the fact that these are in the majority. How are radical voices countered in other publications? This would have been an interesting analysis, but outside the bounds of fear creation. Interestingly on pages 28-30 they name all the mosques in which they found hate literature – the far right British National Party will love this - this is like Megan's law in the US where they name and shame paedophiles who then become victims of vigilantism. This naming and shaming will also have serious implications on access to these institutions future research, not to mention breaking trust and increasing scepticism. What happened to research ethics?

The report also makes a number of recommendations which are comical at times:

"By being driven fully underground the material would at least lose such respectability that it currently enjoys" Marijiuana? If the UK government couldn't even undertake an investigation into the corruption that takes place between BAE/UK govt and SA then how do they expect to have any power to make the Saudi's "clean up their act" ideologically? Also potentially dangerous is the proposed review of charitable status of institutions - as the report claims earlier much of the literature that was obtained was not known to the management of the mosques therefore many moderate institutions could face closure, funding difficulties or legal pressures. The majority of their recommendations are all negative - the only positive recommendation is about 'interfaith dialogue (no mention of intrafaith dialogue) but even this is framed in a negative light.

Finally, the report 'implicates' the Islamic Foundation in Markfield - "The government needs to revise its view of the institutions connected to the Islamic foundation" – This is a complete slap in the face to an institution and its members/employees who have and are doing so much to educate and promote forward thinking and moderate forms of Islam as well as promoting and engaging in interfaith dialogue and demonstrates the inadequacies of the analysis and framing of the report.

We are in a bad place when research institutes like the Policy Exchange produce such headline making, but ultimately flawed pieces of research that are widely disseminated into the public domain, particularly to influential politicians and policy makers.