As some of you may have noticed, I usually do not comment immediately upon events and news. There are two main reasons for this, firstly I am very slow in updating my blog, secondly I believe that to have a detached view and analysis of what is going on, you need to have some time for reflection. This is even truer when you, yourself, have been involved in the story.
As you can read in some of my previous posts, I was one of the first academics to question and criticise the formerly media-acclaimed Policy Exchange’s report on extremist literature in British mosques and Islamic institutes authored by Dr MacEoin. This led to a couple of exchanges with the main researcher and author of the report, who often had a certain goliardic attitude towards legitimate methodological questions. Finally, what was at first an academic analysis and criticism of a flawed methodology, a dodgy research ethic, and a sensationalist (politically driven) report, ended in being shamed by the same mass media which used to praise it.
On the 13th of December, Newsnight’s journalist, Richard Watson, has shown during the Newsnight program, how the researchers involved in the collection of the material for the report faked and falsified the receipts, the same ones which Dr MacEoin guaranteed, in his comment on my blog, would have proven the ethical basis and trustworthiness of his report.
Dr MacEoin argued that my criticism of his flawed work and his possibly undercover, unethical, and forged research brought ‘nothing but shame’ on myself since my criticism was actually tacit approval of the material ‘discovered’ in the mosque. I suppose that now Dr MacEoin has to work hard to clean his name for shamefully using his academic title for a what appears to be nothing more than a scam. Of course, we can only judge from what we have, the report, Dr MacEoin’s comments, and Newsnight’s investigation.
To reach a final conclusion of the shameful story, we’d need a serious investigation, and to interview the researchers themselves. Yet what I am satisfied with is that the report, which was presented as a serious academic work, cannot be claimed as such. This is not research, this is not what we need. This is just ludicrous dilettantism, which unfortunately is spreading more and more.
There are some lessons that can be learnt from the Policy Exchange affair. Although peer-reviewing has its limits, and university research ethical committees are still too weak in their assessments, both are the only guarantee that a research can be reasonably trustworthy and eventual criticism will remain on analytical disagreements. I think that the mass media should be very careful when research and reports lack both these systems and are the products of institutes and associations with no real academic value.
The final lesson we have learnt is that the report did not tell us anything that we did not know before, but possibly has succeeded in alienating any possibility for serious research on the issue. A serious research would have asked: in which way is this material sold, by whom, for which reason, how is the material used by those who buy it, how is it different from those available on the Internet, which impact has it on those who read it, how is it perceived by the community, how is this literature part of a certain cultural tradition or linked to certain ethnic groups (if so), and many other questions.
Of course, the harm is already done, and even an anthropologist, who has the trust of the Muslim community, would refrain, after the damage that this report has done to respectable Islamic institutions and the wider Muslim community, to start such a research. Hence, I can only reaffirm that Policy Exchange hijacks professional research, because it wishes to hijack our minds with the atavic fear of the cruel Saladin.