« Home | Ipswich - a year after, women are no safer. » | Something positive for a change? » | What about our human rights?! » | The home secretarial legacy and Jack Straw's myopi... » | Scum-watch: We've won an award! » | The footballer, deportation and the dilution of as... » | The war against Christmas rears its ugly head once... » | The witch hunt over Manhunt is over. For now. » | Shake the bottle, wake the taste! » | The doctrine of pseudo-strength. » 

Thursday, December 13, 2007 

Policy Exchange rumbled by Newsnight.

Last night's Newsnight was one of those increasingly rare TV events that are genuinely unmissable - except that hardly anyone other than the usual obsessives would have been watching or even known about it. (You can watch the report by Richard Watson here and the confrontation between Jeremy Paxman and Policy Exchange's Dean Godson here.)

The story began with Newsnight and the right-wing thinktank Policy Exchange doing a deal that would have seen the programme have exclusive access to their latest report - the hijacking of British Islam (PDF), an alleged expose which claimed that out of 100 mosques visited across the country, in a quarter literature judged to be extremist was found - and ended with Policy Exchange threatening legal action while not really rebutting the central allegations made by Newsnight against the source of 5 of those books.

Instead of simply repeating what the Policy Exchange report had found and debating it, Newsnight requested the receipts from PE to check that everything was in order, perhaps considering the fallout from the then unresolved police complaints over Channel 4's Undercover Mosque. According to Peter Barron, Newsnight's editor, who was ferociously denounced by PE's Dean Godson, everything was set to go ahead as scheduled until the reporter Richard Watson raised his concerns over discrepancies he'd found in one of the invoices. Further investigation found another 4 irregularities with the receipts; one had the wrong address, one was from a mosque which didn't have a bookshop, one had the date on it from a day during Ramadan on a Friday when there most certainly wouldn't have been a book fair at the mosque in question, although it admitted it had a problem with rogue sellers; then there was the evidence from a forensic specialist, who found that one of the invoices had been written on top of the other, while the handwriting on two was in her opinion the same person's.

Faced with this evidence, Godson, instead of holding his hands up and admitting that his researchers might have well have purchased the books but then later embellished the receipts, or even attempting to come up with any real explanation, decided to take on Jeremy Paxman at his own game, out shouting, out gesticulating and out foaming at the mouth with indignation. It almost paid off, with Paxman at times looking distinctly uncomfortable at being assailed when that's his job, and especially when Godson claimed that they had in fact provided the researchers to talk to Barron despite Paxman's denial. (Barron contends that he only ever talked to one of them as he had claimed in an inconclusive conference phone conversation on the day the original report was meant to be broadcast.) His attacks on Barron if anything let him down the most, when the editor had no one way of defending himself. Then when questioned about why the researchers themselves hadn't been provided and were apparently all away on a jolly holiday in, err, Mauritania, he said the name "Salman Rushdie", as though what they had done were the equivalent of insulting the prophet Muhammad as Rushdie was accused of doing, and most perplexingly, claimed that even if the receipts were inaccurate it didn't affect the report.

Policy Exchange is still saying the exactly the same thing today, forced to issue a statement which again offers no real explanation for the doubts raised over the receipts:

The receipts are not, however, mentioned in the report and the report’s findings do not rely upon their existence.

That they are not mentioned in the report is neither here nor there, nor does it matter that the findings do not rely on their existence: their existence undermines the conclusions because it brings those conclusions into major doubt. If we can't trust the researchers to have properly sourced the material upon which the report is based, then the entire thing is worthless, something which even the notably sceptical Harry's Place has described as gilding the lily.

Even before the Newsnight report, Osama Saeed and a blogger called Dr Marranci had called into question some parts of it and its methodology. Osama questioned just where the material alleged to have originated from Edinburgh Central Mosque had actually came from, as they denied that it was anything they had ever stocked, while the mosque itself has a reputation for its moderation. A couple of weeks later the exact extremist literature featured in the report was apparently dumped in the doorway. The questions from Dr Marranci were met by Denis MacEoin, the report's main author, with little more than contempt. This sentence was the most revealing:

The point is that telling Muslims to hate all non-Muslims, to avoid contact with them as far as possible, tobelieve (sic) Jews are the cause of all the world’s degradation, and so on and on — this is deeply offensive to the host society

In other words, MacEoin considers that at the moment Muslims are just guests in "our" society, and not citizens just as much as we are. I don't wish to turn this into an ad hominem attack on MacEoin or Policy Exchange as a whole, but MacEoin is notable for his pro-Israeli views, also writing this passage previously:

I don’t like to speak in terms of historic moments or symbolic conflicts, but I’m afraid that, as this struggle intensifies, I am bound to do so.

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.


He's also not immune from irrational belief himself, as he recently wrote on CiF defending homeopathy, accusing Ben Goldacre of being ignorant and unscientific, without deeming to mention that his wife, is err, a homeopath.

As for Policy Exchange's accusations that Newsnight's behaviour shows an "agenda" at work, nothing could be more laughable. Newsnight had already given top-billing to a similar report on the extremist Islamist literature available in Tower Hamlets' libraries by a rival thinktank, the Centre of Social Cohesion, and has throughout the year run a series of reports on Hizb-ut-Tahrir, also by the reporter Richard Watson, not to mention the numerous times it's featured Ed Husain, and a couple of other defectors from HuT. As Osama Saeed also mentions, Newsnight Scotland featured the accusations the report made against the Edinburgh mosque, not showing the same scrutiny as the below the border version did. The programme itself could doubtless come up with other examples of its focus on Islam in Britain.

MacEoin is certainly right in one thing - we should and must condemn those mosques that did have such extremist literature for sale on their shelves. They can't use the defence that shops and libraries stock the same stuff, or that evangelical Christian groups have some rather unpleasant ideas which they express through pamphlets too; if such material as "women who deserve to go to hell" is on sale inside mosques, it's quite clearly unacceptable, even on debate within the faith grounds. We should however also though denounce thinktanks or media organisations which broadcast or release such information without properly checking, as Policy Exchange apparently didn't, that everything was in order. Their report and reputation has been tarnished by the Newsnight accusations, and resorting to legal action when it appears that unlike Channel 4, they've been found bang to rights, will only make matters even worse for them.

Related posts:
Osama Saeed - Newsnight rips apart mosque extremism report
Ministry of Truth - Can I get a receipt for that?
Sticks and Carrots - Predetermined Outcomes Part 2

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Share |

The receipts aren't the only problem.
http://remarksandculture.cafebabel.com/en/post/2007/11/07/The-hijacking-of-academia

Post a Comment

Links to this post

Create a Link

About

  • This is septicisle
profile

Links

    blogspot stats
    Subscribe

     Subscribe in a reader

Archives

Powered by Blogger
and Blogger Templates