Policy Exchange hijacks professional research

To conduct professional research is not easy, it’s difficult and in particular the most difficult thing is to plan the research and test these plans for accuracy. Another reason for which research is not easy is that it should be ethical; and I cannot emphasise this enough. For this reason, doctoral students are carefully trained. When research has an amazing impact on human beings (or even animals) the ethical concerns should be paramount. Today writing and research about Muslims, because of the political situation and increasing, highly concerning, anti-Muslim sentiments, should be of the most professional level and ethically and methodologically correct.

Today the think tank Policy Exchange has presented a report entitled The Hijacking of British Islam.

The report is an investigation concerning the availability of ‘radical’ literature threatening non-Muslims and Muslim apostates within UK mosques and Islamic institutions. The result is that, of all the mosques and Islamic institutions visited, only fifty-two had some books that referred to material that the authors classified as ‘radical’, or unacceptable to British standards, or just ‘separatist’ literature. Yet they admitted that only some pages of the accused books contained these passages. Overall the passages all together amounted to 2780 pages, more or less the equivalent of 13 books.

So, what the report demonstrates, despite claiming the contrary, is that in the UK there is a very limited presence of radical and ‘separatist’ literature within mosques and Islamic institutions. Among the mosques mentioned, and to my great surprise, was the central mosque in Edinburgh. I know the mosque quite well, and I know the literature available there and nothing can be really described as ‘radical’ or even separatist. Indeed the mosque is well known for its efforts to create bridges between Muslims and the wider Scottish communities. I also often bring my students to the mosque and they are very welcomed.

This is surely good news, despite the fact Policy Exchange, a conservative think tank and charity, wants to lead us to believe that mosques and Islamic centres are schools for extremist thoughts. However, because of my experience as an anthropologist, I know that they are investigating the wrong places. The majority of the so-called ‘radical’ literature, when available, is in private homes and in Islamic book shops. Places that, interestingly enough, the author of the report and his mysterious researchers have neither explored nor considered.

Indeed, this brought me to read all the report and conclude that ‘Policy Exchange’ hijacks professional research. The report is, in academic standards, extremely amateurish and I suspect even unprofessional and unethical. Of course, I can only base my observations about the report from the report itself. Only a serious investigation on how the research has been conducted could provide a final answer. Yet the report provides us with enough evidence to at least allege that whomever prepared the report did not know how to organise a serious research. To properly evaluate a report and a research, before even reading its material and conclusions, involves evaluating the methodology that has been employed.

This particular report is based only on the written material (some in English some in Arabic and other languages) found in the mosques and Islamic institutions. As you can understand, a book in a place where there are many books and often a library does not tell us very much.

My university library has a considerable amount of books and documents authored by Adolf Hitler. I am sure that among our 13000 students, not all of them read the books just for curiosity or scholarly interests; in other words, I cannot exclude a priori that some students, or even members of the public, or staff, read Adolf Hitler’s works for political reasons or inspirational motivations. Yet does this fact make the library of Aberdeen University and the university itself a Nazi university or an institution providing dangerous material?Of course, for the author of the above report the answer, if he is coherent, should be ‘yes!’.

The report, even if professional methodology and ethical codes of conduct were respected, will be useless and produce material only of sensationalist interest. It is how books are used, and not the fact that books are there, that tells us something. You need long research, fieldwork and participant observation to understand how people interpret and use books and readings to make sense of the world around themselves.

But you may be curious as to the identity of the leading expert and scholar who conducted the research and wrote the final report. He is Dr Denis MacEoin, a fellow of the Royal Literary Fund in Newcastle. He presents himself on his institutional web page in this way,

My chief focus at Newcastle is to assist with academic writing, but if anyone needs help with writing reports, CVs, letters, or even — dare I say it? — e-mails, I am more than happy to talk them through the process. Although I happen to have an academic background, I was appointed chiefly on the strength of having written twenty-three novels, many short stories, and a certain amount of journalism.

We also know that ‘Since 1986 he has pursued his principal career as a novelist, having so far written twenty-three novels, several of them best-sellers. He uses the pen-names Daniel Easterman (international thrillers) and Jonathan Aycliffe (classic ghost stories in the Jamesian tradition, some short, but most full-length novels)’.

So what does the novelist Denis MacEoin have to do with executing, what seems to an anthropologist specialised in Muslim communities and the challenges they face, an extremely difficult research project and report? Well, it happened that for a while Dr MacEoin had studied Shi’ism, and written a PhD dissertation which dealt with two heterodox movements in 19th-century Iranian Shi‘ism: Shaykhism and Bábism. He has taught from 1981-86 in Arabic and Islamic Studies, Department of Religious Studies, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne as a lecturer and he has been, between 1986 and 1996, an Honorary Fellow at the School of Arabic & Islamic Studies, University of Durham. In other words, Dr MacEoin, who now is a writer of novels, has been trained in traditional Islamic studies with a clear classical orientation. He has never been trained for a research such the one he has conducted for Policy Exchange.

I have no problem to appreciate Dr MacEoin for his writing skills and his novels, yet he is certainly not a leading scholar of contemporary Islam, and he has no real knowledge of Muslim communities in the UK. This is also very clear from the report that he has written. I can say that Dr MacEoin has hijacked the field of the study of Muslims in the UK and the issue of radicalism, reducing it to his own experience of being a scripturalist.

Therefore, I can understand how methodologically and even ethically the report is dubious and extremely flawed; yet I cannot condone this because the report has been prepared for clear political reasons and Machiavellian intent.

Now, I will only focus on the methodology and the issues there. Indeed there are many other flawed areas in the report, which are useless to discuss, since the seriousness of the lack of a real methodology deprives the report of the necessary foundations on which to stand. Moreover, the majority of the report is a list of the passages translated (yet the Arabic or Persian version is not provided at all!).

Here is what we know about how the research has been planned and conducted (pp. 16-17 of the report, emphasis in bold added):

In November 2006 four research teams (each comprising two people) were dispatched over a six month period to almost 100 Islamic institutions in a variety of locations cross Britain. The researchers included males and females of varying nationalities from outside the UK: Pakistani, Somali, Bangladeshi and Arab. The focus for their research was on sites of religious instruction – which for the most part meant mosques, but also included some Islamic schools and Islamic cultural centres where religious teaching takes place. The teams’ brief was to investigate the extent to which literature inculcating Muslim separatism and hatred for the ‘non-believer’ was accessible in those institutions – both in terms of being openly available and also being obtainable ‘under the counter. […] Furthermore, it is important to stress that it was not within the teams’ remit to search for or identify hate speech in the mosques they visited. Earlier television documentaries have already done good work in this regard. That said, it should also be emphasised that the discovery of offensive material at a specific institution should in no way be taken to mean that that institution necessarily condones, permits or encourages such literature. In some cases, this literature was available openly and could be accessed with little effort. On other occasions, it was only accessed on a private basis after the teams had won the trust of the suppliers. In such instances the teams were tasked to spend several days, even weeks, in the relevant mosque/school in order to maximise the reach of their investigation. In these cases, the presence of this hidden literature may not always have been known to mosque elders, who, at a minimum, are clearly in need of official support in the task of eliminating such material from their places of worship. Sometimes, the elders themselves may be in need of replacement altogether.

Is this an acceptable standard for a research methodology? Of course, any serious scholar, experienced in preparing research applications for funding would agree with me that it is not. I review research proposals for different national and international funding bodies and I have seen bad methodology, but this has a twist which is highly concerning. This piece of research is potentially unethical. Let me ask some questions, which I invite Dr MacEoin or Policy Exchange kindly to answer:

  1. 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?
  2. How was the leading researcher of the overall project?
  3. Why were the researchers only Pakistani, Somali, Bangladeshi and Arab?
  4. Which qualifications had these researchers? Why are there not names mentioned?
  5. 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’?
  6. Were the institutions informed of the reason for the research? Which institutions were providing the funding for the research? Also, when and where were the results of the research intended to be published?
  7. How was the ‘trust of the supplier’ achieved?
  8. Was the ‘supplier’ aware of the research, of the final author of the report and that the research was conducted on behalf of Policy Exchange, a conservative think tank and linked to the conservative party?
  9. Where was the ‘literature’ actually found? In which part of the mosques or Islamic institutions?
  10. How many people have admitted to read such ‘literature’?
  11. In which way have the passages been taken out of their original context (for instances some are widespread hadiths!!)
  12. Were the mosques and institutions involved in the research, and allowed it to take place, given the results in advance?
  13. Was the discovered literature, in particular that which was not publicly available, discussed with the mosque or Islamic institution committee?
  14. Was anybody interviewed (and if so why is there not evidence of that) during the research or were the researchers only collecting the material?
  15. In which form was the material collected (photocopy, electronic material and so on)?
  16. Is the material accessible to third parties now (for instance, can I have a copy of them)?
  17. Finally, and just for personal curiosity, I would like to know how much has– if Dr MacEoin has—been paid for the report and how much also the researchers were paid. or if any of the ‘supplier’ were paid for their services.

I could go on for at least four or five pages, but being this a blog I fear that my readers may become bored, also because I am sure that the questions will remain unanswered. I have the impression that the research was presented to the mosques and Islamic centres involved in a very different way; that they were not aware of the real sponsor of the research and the reason for it. Now, if this was just journalism I would not be surprised, though I have often condemned, even in this blog, undercover research. But here academics, though certainly not experts in Muslim life in the UK, were involved.

If I am right, and this report is based on an unethical research, the damage that Policy Exchange has done is absolutely unquantifiable. They have created possibly a situation where an anthropologist like me, familiar with working with the Muslim community on a basis of honesty and spending years with different organizations, will be mistrusted thanks to the unprofessional conduct of Dr Denis MacEoin and his conservative thinking friends.

I expect that Dr Denis MacEoin will be surely able to provide strong evidence that my doubts are just the result of reading a totally unconvincing description of a methodology in the report, and that their unprofessionalism is limited to the fact that he has not been able to write a proper methodological section within the report. But to convince not just me, but the public, he has to provide quite substantial evidence that in not one instance had the material been taken from the ‘providers’ without their being fully informed of the reasons behind the research, the aims, the sponsors and the way in which the material would be selected and presented.

Of course, I do not deny that in some mosques and institutions (and more actually in book shops and private homes) there are books and pamphlets presenting controversial or even appallingly regrettable arguments. Yet this research in any case teaches us nothing. Otherwise, if we think that it does, we have to accept the fact that my university library, as well as many others in this country, is providing material for anti-Semitism as well as Nazism.

If so, it is possible to start to think that we need a legislation which forbids books, and maybe collect them and publicly burn them. I am sure that, though I usually disagree totally with him and his ideas, Rushdie and I would be on the same side.


38 thoughts on “Policy Exchange hijacks professional research

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  1. 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.”

    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.
    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?

    Lastly, 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! 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.

  2. and the latest unravelling of the ‘anonymous Policy Exchange researchers’ flawed methodology has been exposed on newsnight[12/12/07] by a forensic scientist showing that several receipts for ‘inflamatory’ literature were forged receipts – same handwriting for different institutions, even the institutions addresses on the forged receipts were erroneous as were the letterheads…


    “Civilization itself is at stake. The values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and the open society are as much or more at risk today than in the decades when we confronted, first German fascism and then Soviet communism.”

    ah well if it is all for the greater good who cares about a few forged documents in the name of what purports to be bona fide research’ –

    Dear ‘Concerned Citizen’

    its precisely that kind of research with clear links to political agendas that thru out history has made the case for illegal intervention – you and i know it today in Iraq and maybe Iran. Only our blood letting in foreign lands is called Liberty and Democracy.

    The Policy Institute have an Agenda very similar to the CFR across the pond and with whom they have links.

    I am afraid when it comes to organizations like these, the notion of what constitutes Liberty, Freedom, Democracy and more to the point for whom, is as fraudulent and morally bankrupt as the forged research they produce.

  3. interesting insight into the authorship and the methodology pursued by policy exchange, however what is more disturbing is that this understanding of the flawed process is not being taken up by the mainstream media.

    policy exchange have direct access to the print, broadcast and internet media whilst muslim organisations do not unless they are prepared to dance to their neo conservative masters tune (groups such as sufi muslim council who now have the ear of government and the likes of the bbc – http://sufimuslimcouncil.blogspot.com/2006/08/neoconservative-sufi-muslim-council.html

    so the real issue is – since we are fully aware that these kinds of surveys, reports all have one aim ie to present a wholly negative view of islam, a demonisation not only of a faith but of a whole community – what is the real end game for british muslims in the uk -curtesy (of the likes) of policy exchange.

    we know that the nazification of the broadcast and print media is well and truly embedded through what we read and hear on a daily basis – are we to assume that this is all for irans sake or rather like goebals and the big jewish lie are we looking to follow in his footsteps to auschwitz.

    if policy exchange can be exposed here and so easily why not by our oxbridge educated mainstream media?

  4. Hard decisions need to be made in the fight against islomofscism.

    Madeliene Albright, former US Secretary of State and US Ambassador to the UN –
    madeleine albright on 60 minutes – “worth it”

    Obviously that was in 1996,
    so there would be no need for an academic study-report to mention these sorts of things, as to why some folk might be a bit cheesed off as to what we did to 500,000 Iraq children back in the obscure years of 1991-1996.

    Imagine that,
    we butcher half a million Iraqi bairns, then carry out the same crime as Hitler is guilty of ‘unprovoked aggression’, against innocent, defenceless Iraqis, butchering at least a million of them to date, and we’re surprised our victims don’t love us!

    If only our victims could be as high minded and magnanimous as we are, but that’s islamofascists for you, they’ve yet to really appreciate what western civilisation has to offer!

    all the best!

  5. I hope folks don’t mind,
    but here is some more boring stuff about academic standards and ivory-towerism.

    Norman G. Finkelstein has published some correspondence relating to charges of academic plaigerism against one of Americans finest scholars, who continues to be employed at the world renowed institution of learning and research, Yale University, such is that university’s commitment to the highest standards expected of their professional academic staff.

    In Praise of Smoking Guns

    What puzzles me is that there are still some professional academics these days who continue to demand standards of their students that that they themselves actually practice – how they are still in a job is beyond me.

    Some more academic deadwood –
    Academic Freedom: Battle goes on at De Paul
    03 Nov 2007

    Anthropologist, Nadia Abu El-Haj, despite her shocking standards of refusing to take the easy route to a comfortable living by attacking Muslims, keeps her job. Political correctness gone mad, that’s what I call it –
    Embattled Barnard Anthropologist Is Awarded Tenure
    Annies Letters
    03 Nov 2007

    All the best

  6. Concerned Citizen,
    We don’t live in a neo-nazi state here in the UK, not yet anyway.

    People in a democracy are only responsible for the crimes they themselves commit. They aren’t responsible for the crimes of others, even if they do happen to be the same religion as the criminals. Just because you happen to be Jewish, Christian, Hindu or Muslim has nothing to do with criminal activity. We in the UK don’t indulge in collective punishment of Jews for instance, not yet anyway. Of course, with a nom de blog such as ‘Concerned Citizen’ I thought you would have known all this.

    So why isn’t the British government standing up to dictators such as The House of Saud, any idea?

    The British Government is guilty of the same crime as Hitler. ‘unprovoked aggression’, against an innocent defenceless Iraq that had no WMD anyway.

    Over the past 5 years alone, the British Government has spent billions of taxpayers money partcipating in the murder and maining of millions of people in Lebanon, Palestine (West Bank and Gaza), Iraq and Afganistan.

    To call the victims of my government ‘Islamofascists’ is just the kind of response I would expect from properly brainwashed ideological fanatics. Blame the victims.

    As far as my own expericence is concerned, when I look out of my window all I see in Scotland are Islamosocialists, Islamoliberals, Islamocelts and Islamo-SNPers. In fact, in a recent opinion poll survey, Scots nominated the Scottish-Pakistani accent as their favourite accent, and I can only concur.

    all the best!

    Perhaps the authors of the report should send it to Prof Alan Dershowitz, at Yale University in the US, for a peer review that will do it the justice it thoroughly deserves. The imprimatur of Prof Dersowitz is a widely recognised academic hallmark. It brings with it a certain unmistakable kudos.

  7. I couldn’t care less the number of pages of hate speech that you fluff off as nothing.

    When I look out my window, I see bombings ALL OVER THE WORLD in the name of ALLAH.

    I also see riots and murders when Muslims are insulted about a cartoon.

    If the “peaceful” Muslim want to be respected, then YOU WILL HAVE TO STAND UP AGAINST ISLAMOFASCISTS….and stop trying to prove how nice you are.

  8. It’s totally irrelevant, but because you seem determined to attack the messenger instead of the message, you focus on the wrong thing.

    In which case, Denis, I’m sure you’ll be more than happy to answer all of Gabriele’s various questions, no?

  9. “A report such this one, plays into the hands of those that see this discussion as just an attack on the Muslim community or Islam itself, and nourishes the hysteria of those who think that Muslims are the new Nazis.”

    Hear hear.

    You might be interested in this from an article by Dr MacEoin:

    “Civilization itself is at stake. The values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and the open society are as much or more at risk today than in the decades when we confronted, first German fascism and then Soviet communism.”

    Dr MacEoin’s political views don’t automatically mean that his report can be dismissed, of course. It’s just an interesting insight.

    The problem with the report, as you rightly say, is its flawed methodology. It isn’t entirely unsurprising that the Doctor and his supporters don’t seem that keen to talk about that.

  10. Apart from Rupert Murdoch and the British corporate news media,
    who else has carried out a peeer review of this ‘report’?

    Rolled-up Trousers blog mentions an article by ‘Big Sticks and Small Carrots’ blog –
    Predetermied Outcomes
    02 Nov 2007

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to make a comment.
    All the best !

    And I seem to remember that Salmon Rushide, far from being defended, was actually attacked by some of the British corporate news media.

    Indeed, the British government itself re-established diplomatic ties with Iran in spite of the fact Iran had re-affirmed its death sentence on Salman, a British subject.

    Of course, that’s when the UK (and the US) needed Iranian support in order to attack Iraq, which was then illegaly occupying Kuwait.

    Today, of course, Iran is the enemy and therefore, that means, that history has to be altered in order to show that we always supported Salman Rushdie and his right to free speech, against those extremist pesky Perian types.

  11. A very interesting and illuminating piece. Thank you for writing this. My view is that, regardless of the accuracy of the PE’s methodology, mainstream Muslim groups can and probably shoudl do more to shun any mosque which does propogate extremist material and views. Happily, this seems to be a relatively small number of mosques. The MCB have said that there is little they can really do, even if they wanted to, but it would be very easy for them to draw up a code of conduct and refuse affiliation to any mosque or institute which does not meet it. That’s not the same as bannign the offensive literature, it is simply saying that while these places are free to preach whatever they like, unless they push a moderate message then moderate and mainstream Muslim groups want nothign to do with them. Sadly, the MCB refuses to do this.

  12. Dear Tony T,

    thank you for replying to my comment. First of all, I think that if you become a bit acquainted with my work and maybe read my book Jihad Beyond Islam you will see and understand my position and the fact that actually I point at issues troubling the Muslim communities which are more concerning than the few pages, written and authored often in another country, found in the mosques (by the way the report did not look at Islamic book shops and second hand book shops in some neighborhoods).

    I am surprised to know that I have ‘influence’ with Muslims. I would be very happy if it was so. I hope that my academic work may be as useful as possible to everybody.
    Yet I disagree with you when you say that my technical observations and criticism of the report is counterproductive. I have the duty, as a scholar to improve the quality of research. A report such this one, plays into the hands of those that see this discussion as just an attack on the Muslim community or Islam itself, and nourishes the hysteria of those who think that Muslims are the new Nazis. Also it complicates further research since it was certainly not independent from political games and ideology. Criticism helps to achieve better research. I also would prefer to see research conducted about radicalism in general instead of this over focus on Muslims. By the way, I invite you to visit some libraries in the Vatican, or even some Christian churches in various European countries, and you may be extremely surprised to find material dehumanising and demonising other religious groups and people. I have never found a group that has not, in some dusty corners, written material that could be at least defined controversial.
    I think that radicalism is dangerous as a form and species in itself. I wonder what we may find if we start to visit BNP and other less known right-wing (or extreme left-wing) associations and organizations. Well, all this focus on one trouble is of course reducing attention to the others.
    Best wishes

  13. Dr Marranci, thank you for taking the trouble to respond to me in person.

    Some of the material that was found in the mosques was truly horrific. This appeared not just in a few back street masjid but in some of our biggest and most high profile places of worship, such as the East London and Regents Park mosques.

    I think you are being unfair to Denis MacEoin and Policy Exchange. Their report was a wake up call to society – especially moderate Muslims – as to what kinds of extremist literature are available in places of worship.

    Can you imagine if bookshops within St Pauls Cathedral or Westminster Abbey were found to be stocking the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion? There would be outrage and universal condemnation.

    This is not about state censorship, which I agree is a bad idea. It’s about self-policing. Young Muslims coming to Friday prayers should not receive mixed and confusing messages about what is acceptable. If they pass stalls inside the precincts of the mosque selling hate literature they may believe that, at some level, this is acceptable.

    People like you who clearly have contact and influence with Muslims have a special responsibility to advise them wisely. By directing your disapproval at the Policy Exchange report rather than at the hate literature that encourages reactionary – and even violent – attitudes to gays, women, Jews, Christians and apostates, you did not help.

  14. Gabriele,
    Before I bother to read your full comment, let me put you right. If you had actually taken the trouble to read my details on the report, you’d have seen that I have an MA in Persian, Arabic and Islamic Studies from Edinburgh, a PhD in Persian Studies (focussing on Shi’ite Islam) from Cambridge, have written several books and a great many articles on Islamic subjects, contributed to The Encyclopedia of Islam, the Encyclopedia Iranica, the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam in the Modern World, and many other reference books. taught Islamic civilization and Arabic-English translation at the University of Fez, taught Arabic and Islamic Studies at Newcastle University, and some Persian at Durham. The fact that I’m also a novelist doesn’t figure in this at all. It’s totally irrelevant, but because you seem determined to attack the messenger instead of the message, you focus on the wrong thing. I’ll read your remarks in more detail later. But I already see denial writ large on what is there. Read the texts, then add to the 100 mosques we visited the estimated 1600 mosques in this country, and you may accept that we have a problem. And that the Muslims we worked with agreed it was a problem for them too.

  15. Dear Tony T,

    Although I do not think that ‘neutral environment’ exists, I have to say that my main point was not whether or not this material should be in these institutions. Yet I reject any form of censorship.
    I am very concerned about a report which is receiving lots of attention but it is based on a very bad methodology and accademic practises.
    I think that the report does not tell us practically anything that we did not know before (other that there are very few recognised Islamic institutions that even have these kind of literature).
    I see the report as just a political game, which really we do not need. I think that it just instrumental to the (supposed and now gone) elector campaign.
    As an anthropologist which for many years has worked on these aspects, I can tell you that radicalization and religious violence are not the result of few pages read within a mosque; as nobody (other than few mentally disturbed people) would become murder by reading crime stories or thriller. Finally, I agree with the conclusion of your comments.
    thank for reading my blog and for your comments.

  16. The “Waterstones” defence won’t wash.

    A university library is a facility where books from all kinds of perspectives are presented in a neutral environment.

    A mosque is a place of worship and instruction which perfectly legitimately excludes texts that are ‘unIslamic’. One would never find pornographic literature, Hindu scriptures or homosexual handbooks in a mosque. One would find all these things in a university library or a branch of Waterstones.

    Mosque authorities would intervene immediately if, say, the Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (which validates gay relationships and describes gay sex) was being sold on site. Why then would they NOT intervene when extremist literature was being sold? The answer is that one is regarded as being within the parameters of respectability and the other is not.

    The vast majority of British people would find it astonishing that a book that won the Booker Prize would be unacceptable to Muslims but a book that called for homosexuals to be murdered would be acceptable. Of course, the majority of Muslims would be uncomforatable with either but Inyat Bunglawala, FOSIS and other Islamists have responded to the Policy Exchange report by defending mosques that stock extreme material. Ironically, they have done so on ‘freedom of speech’ grounds. Not a position they took over Salman Rushdie.

    The bottom line is that most mosques shun extemist literature and want nothing to do with Islamism, correctly seeing as a politicised perversion of Islam. The minority of mosques that embrace, or at least tolerate, extremism will be marginalised withing British society and condemned by all right thinking people.

  17. How many people that go to mosques actually read the literature available there, besides the Qur’an and some books on hadith? Very few.

  18. And what about the ‘real’ academic, ye olde time Christian Orientalist Neal Robinson, who wrote the introduction to the Policy Exchange ‘research’? Previously, he publicly opposed accrediting the European Institute of Human Sciences, on the grounds that it had links to Yusuf Qaradawi, so we know ‘real’ academics can also have dubious political intentions.

    I think it’s worth noting some of the works listed in the appendix, which I assume constitute the literature deemed unacceptable. It includes Ghulam Sarwar’s ‘Islam: Belief and Teachings’, a book so popular among British Muslims it is now in its eight edition. How this can be construed, even in part, as hate literature?

    I think I am coming round to the view of Russell McCutcheon who, I gather, insists that all writing in the field of religions should be expository, and not with the aim of convincing anyone of the good or ill, truth or falsity, of any particular religion or religious group (if indeed you can unproblematically talk about religion or religions as being one thing).

  19. A truly excellently written article. Very informative and shows the Policy Exchange agenda for what it really is. To cause more anti-Muslim sentiment.

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