Forged Receipts and Muslim Researchers

The October report, “The Hijacking of British Islam“, of Policy Exchange, the right-wing think tank, alleged that a survey of one hundred mosques found that a quarter of them possessed or sold extremist literature on their premises. It was deftly timed to coincide with the state visit of King Abdullah to Britain so that David Cameron could ask some awkward questions about Salafi literature published from Saudi Arabia. On 12th December, Newsnight broadcast a revealing report about the research behind what was hailed at the time as a “landmark” publication. It found, with the help of a forensic examiner, Kate Barr, that a number of the receipts used to tie mosques together with certain books were forged by a Muslim research team employed by Policy Exchange during its year-long study. Some fake receipts had been printed out on ink-jet printers, the addresses or names of mosques were erroneous or signed by individuals unknown to the mosque management or dated on days when no bookstalls were allowed to put books up for sale on mosque premises. On top of that it was also found that in all likelihood one of the researchers had handwritten two of the receipts on top of each other — for two mosques, one in High Wycombe and the other in Parson’s Green, west London, forty miles apart from each other.

While a number of mosques look set to take Policy Exchange to court for defamation, Policy Exchange, at least initially, was considering legal action against Newsnight. Given that Dean Godson, the head of research at Policy Exchange, was prepared to back the findings of the report and the research team 100% on Newsnight, a hint of a climbdown is noticeable in the Chairman of Policy Exchange Charles Moore’s press statement on 15th December saying that:

Although Newsnight’s portentousness was unjustified, the allegations did look serious. It should be said at once that they need proper investigation.

It should also be borne in mind what was said by two prominent community members in the Newsnight report who both refute the charges made against their institutions:

[There is] [n]o problem with the thesis of the report that books promoting or undermining community cohesion should be abhorred, but to go from that to implicate community centres who are trying to promote community cohesion…is very demoralising. Dr Abdulkarim Khalil, Director, Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre

We have never promoted these books at all. If you come to our circles or hear our sermons we are very much involved in precisely interpreting the Quran and understanding it in a modern British context. Dr Usama Hasan of Masjid al-Tawhid in Leytonstone

There is no doubt some obnoxious material in some of the books that were mentioned, and hardly the sort of thing one is going to recommend to one’s child. As Soumaya Gannouchi notes:

Some of the books on sale on djinns, angels, dreams, signs of the day of judgement, and hellfire often make me laugh/ cringe/ both. […] Just like other religions, Islam boasts a vastly diverse library, covering myriad tendencies, areas, and subjects at all levels of culture high and low. Each has its audience. I may be repelled by some of the volumes on the shelves…

So we can hear prominent Muslim figures saying that there is a problem with some of this literature, but none of them is going to support the creation a new “dodgy dossier” to besmirch community centres and mosques, least of all recommend some kind of draconian policy response or Muslim community witch-hunting. A larger point is the fallacy the report operates under, namely that Muslims are robots: once you find the instruction manual, you can figure out how they think, how they will behave and how they will react. This fallacy of textual determinism is hardly confined to Muslims, but at the same time would such sloppy thinking be so liberally applied to anyone else?

The focus now falls on the Muslim researchers whose identities Policy Exchange say they must protect for fear of reprisal. Of course no one should take the law into their own hands, but there is a very serious question of public accountability here. In an interview with Riz Khan of al-Jazeera English, Dean Godson said (at 12.30) that “”we were approached by several groups of Muslims who expressed concern about what was appearing….”. So firstly, some Muslim groups selected the think-tank, and so did these “groups” play a role in selecting the members of the research team, rather than the “think-tank”select some neutral, professional and objective researchers? Was this approach a first contact or did it come within the context of a pre-existing relationship? Secondly how are we supposed to trust the rest of the report? One must now assume that the “researchers”, eight in total in two-person teams, had a preconceived bias that they set out to confirm and were prepared, in some cases, to forge documentary evidence for. So how was the report framed and constructed, and what definitions applied? How were the mosques and the books selected? Thirdly, the biggest fear is that this bias is sectarian in nature. All the theological tendencies named as “extremist” in the report have a history of anti-Sufi polemic to varying degrees (or of certain forms of Sufism), and, in a strange but revealing aside, Dean Godson said, under cross-examination from Jeremy Paxman, that the eight researchers were unavailable as they were currently “on a spiritual retreat in Mauritania”. The most fearful outcome is that the Muslim research team with be found to have a clear sectarian bias, if not institutional affiliation, that, once uncovered, will do much to harden the fallout from the recent political manipulation of Muslim sectarianism in Britain. If this turns out to be the case, no true Sufi worth the honour of that name would have anything to do with forgery, falsification or the vilification of Muslim institutions, no matter what sectarian disagreements there have been in the past.

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7 Comments

Filed under Ghuluw, Media, UK Muslim Politics, UK Politics

7 responses to “Forged Receipts and Muslim Researchers

  1. assalaamalikum. The RAND’ers and their brethren in UK must be squirming with exposes such as these. It must deeply pain them when a “non-Wahhabi” (such as yourself) doesn’t adhere to their desired plans of “divide and rule” by joining the band-wagon in the “Wahhabi witch-hunt” (leaving aside the fact that no one really knows which “wahhabis” they are after, as well as the fact that this label’s application is becoming more generous by the day).

    This and other similar posts that you have written are a model of the implications and benefits of the Sunni Pledge (though I do not contend that you are doing it because of it). I applaud you for it.

    jazakAllahkhair

    Amad, muslimmatters.org

  2. Razwan Arshad

    *cough* ….Sufi Muslim Council…

    Razwan Arshad, Dubai

  3. Bilal Patel

    Why assume that the researchers were indeed Muslim?

    The Policy Exchange lied and they fabricated evidence. They may also be lying when they say the researchers were Muslim.

  4. Azad Ali

    Salam Akhi Yahya,

    Do you think names should be mentioned of those that were involved? Also – should we be seeking an explanation from them in a public meeting? Afterall, if they stand for truth why hide behind policy exchange.

    As for the materials and some of the quotes like “Some of the books on sale on djinns, angels, dreams, signs of the day of judgement, and hellfire often make me laugh/ cringe/ both…” need further elaboration? Why do we find books about Angels, Jinns, Hellfire laughable? Are we, unwittingly, losing our beliefs…due to some neocon world view? Would appreciate your thoughts…

    PS – belated Eid Mubarak

  5. Yahya Birt

    As-salamu alaykum,

    Bilal: I’m proceeding on the basis of what has been said in public so far, namely that these researchers were Muslims. There isn’t any evidence at present to disprove that.

    Azad: I don’t have any positive proof as yet as to the involvement of particular groups/institutions/individuals, but there is some circumstantial evidence that would lead one to follow particular lines of inquiry. But certainly I think there is a public interest in looking at the bone fides of these researchers properly and that can only be done if they can be called to account properly for the evidence turned up by the Newsnight report.

    Of course fundamental beliefs are sacrosanct, I would imagine what Soumaya Ghannoushi was alluding too were some of the popular tales and stories that can attach themselves to these topics in certain kinds of literature. Our theologians (mutakallimun) have written our creeds; no-one else has.

    wa -salam, Yahya

  6. Serious commentators are raising questions pertaining to the methodology and approach taken by Policy Exchange in their reports about British Muslims include Dr. Marie Breen Smyth and Dr Jeroen Gunning, director and deputy director of the Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Contemporary Political Violence at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth They warn that “the politicisation of research can lead to serious distortions in debates on policy issues. Debates about multiculturalism, security and British Muslims are bound to have a central place in the next election.”
    http://politics.guardian.co.uk/thinktanks/comment/0,,2011804,00.html

    Gabriele Marranci, anthropologist at the University of Aberdeen has raised some questions, inviting the Policy Exchange to publicly answer them:
    http://tinyurl.com/39qw3w

    How is it possible to conduct research, sometimes for weeks, in more than 100 mosques and Islamic institutions when the overall research was only 6 months?
    How was the leading researcher of the overall project?

    Why were the researchers only Pakistani, Somali, Bangladeshi and Arab?
    Which qualifications had these researchers? Why are there not names mentioned?

    Were the institutions and the people involved in the research, as well the informants, properly informed of the real intent of the research of studying ‘the extent to which literature inculcating Muslim separatism and hatred for the ‘non-believer’ was accessible in those institutions’?

    The problems with Policy Exchage publication are diverse and at times extremely worrying writes Laurence Hopkins owner of Remarks and Culture blog. http://tinyurl.com/2hs3n4

    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 debate surrounding Policy Exchange’s controversial report goes far beyond a few suspicious reciepts right to the dubious intentions, malicious motives and audacious approach of a so-called research body for pushing their agenda by all means fair and foul.
    Rather than blaming Newsnight of sidetracking, Dean Godson should come up with verifiable proofs to establish why this and other Policy Exchange reports should be considered neutral and objective and how it is helpful for community cohesion?

    Godson’s underlying motives are clear from his article is The Times: “During the Cold War, organisations such as the Information Research Department of the Foreign Office would assert the superiority of the West over its totalitarian rivals. And magazines such as Encounter did hand-to-hand combat with Soviet fellow travellers. For any kind of truly moderate Islam to flourish, we need first to recapture our own self-confidence.”
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article702053.ece

    What Godson didn’t mention is that Encounter, is an Anglo-American magazine co-founded by Irving Kristol. Not until 1967 would it be revealed that Encounter and its parent organization, the Congress for Cultural Freedom, were funded by the CIA as part of the programme of covert action that has become known as the cultural cold war. In fact there is reason to believe that Cold War methods of psychological warfare are already shaping the debate about Islam and the war on terror in Britain. Dean Godson himself may be one the most successful practitioners. Certainly, he comes from a family with long experience of what the CIA calls ‘covert action’. http://www.spinwatch.org/content/view/4309/8/

    Dean Godson has a long history with neoconservatism, starting out as assistant to John Lehman, a signatory to the Project for a New American Century and Conrad Black. Bringing the ideas of neo-conservatism to the UK, Godson has compared Britain’s ‘late-imperial defeatism’ with America’s ‘self-confident liberal interventionism.’

    Of all books, Dean Godson’s favourite is the one by his brother Roy, Dirty Tricks or Trump Cards, Counter-Intelligence and Covert Operations, which among other thing looks at how to spread disinformation through the media.
    http://timworstall.typepad.com/timworstall/2007/05/dean_godson.html
    There are good reasons to be concerned about Dean Godson’s role to influence public and private perceptions about Muslims in Britain. He has made no secret of his own advocacy of ‘political warfare.’ It is clear from the historical precedents that he cites, and the methodology that his brother describes, that deception and covert manipulation are an integral part of ‘political warfare.’
    Journalism influenced by this covert action approach clearly invites scepticism. There is likely to be a hidden agenda, in line with Roy Godson’s injunction that: “to be effective, covert propaganda must be co-ordinated with overall policy. It serves little purpose to dabble in the trade unless there are important strategic goals to be achieved.” There are also likely to be unverifiable claims that should be treated with caution. http://www.spinwatch.org/content/view/4309/8/

    Godson has worked as chief editorial writer at The Telegraph and Special Assistant to Conrad Black. Does this indicate a tendency to be in company of those working with fake receipts?

    Above all, imagine writing a monograph on Islam in Australia: Democratic bipartisanship in action including interviews with prominent players in law enforcement and politics but without interviewing a single Muslim, and launching the monograph thousands of miles away in London with none other than Dean Godson!

    Note how bloggers have questioned
    Policy Exchange’s failure to ensure that
    the publications bearing their name
    bear a broadbased, transparent and representative character.
    http://madhabirfy.blogspot.com/2007/09/middle-eastern-gerard-henderson.html

    If anyone has ever wondered who would be more appropriate to talk about
    “community” and “cohesion” none could better disqualify himself from such a responsibility than Godson exemplifying an exact opposite of those terms.

  7. Assalamu Aleikum,

    Alhamdulilah, a good a article. The point about sectarian bias is an important one – we are not going to get away from the fact that some groups just don’t like other groups and will use any leverage to get one over them.

    Some fail to recognise that people and groups have changed – a clear example is that of Hizb-ut-Tahrir who are a completely different organisation then the one I encoutered back in the early 90’s. I will be so bold as to say that we will probably see “HT” councillors in the next few years!

    Ps pls note the website is not my own but Sidi Abu Aliyahs!

    Tahajjuh Miah, United Kingdom

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