Islamophobia: is this the year's most embarrassing academic report?

East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets  (Photo: DAVID ROSE)
East London Mosque in Tower Hamlets (Photo: DAVID ROSE)

I’ve been in the Far East for a few days, so I missed the big launch of Robert Lambert’s Islamophobia report at the East London Mosque on Saturday. But now I’ve got back, what a very special treat it is!

Bob Lambert, as readers of this blog will know, is a former policeman who has turned himself into one of Britain’s most important fellow-travellers of Islamism. As head of the Met’s Muslim Contact Unit, he brokered the deal which turned over the North London Central Mosque, in Finsbury Park, to supporters of the terrorist group Hamas. He has also fiercely defended the hardline Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) and its East London Mosque.

He is now an academic, generously funded by various Islamist groups and specialising in pseudo-scholarly defences of his clients – at least for the moment. I say that because the report he produced last week, under the name of Exeter University, must surely cause the Exeter authorities to ask whether they can any longer afford to be associated with him.

Reading it, I felt almost embarrassed for Lambert and his co-author, Jonathan Githens-Mazer, at having produced something so hopelessly weak. Far from being an academic or even pseudo-academic work, it is a political rant, and not a sophisticated one.

What else are we to make of passages such as the following, from page 14 of the report, about the people, sorry the “extremists,” who argued that Tory politicians should not attend October’s Islamist “Global Peace and Unity” event, where material glorifying terrorism was openly on sale:

“We conceive these extremists as neo-conservative ‘Know Nothings’, who, like their earlier American mid-19th century namesakes, represent a narrow view on British politics. Membership is limited – by class, by network, by education, by ideological orientation, and mostly by cliquishness. …They alone seek to define membership in the British club – on their terms or no terms at all, and is [sic] more than vaguely reminiscent of Lord Tebbit’s ‘cricket test’.”

Or this, about the anti-Islamist think-tank, the Quilliam Foundation (page 136):

“[F]rom the guide books to colonial counter-insurgency and Cold War counter-subversion…government and police chiefs have created and promoted the work of the Quilliam Foundation. We therefore refer to the government’s support for the Quilliam Foundation as discrimination because it treats Muslims unfairly and in a way that would not be countenanced in respect of other minority communities in the UK.”

Or the extraordinary passage about the IFE’s former president, and current head of the East London Mosque, Mohammed Abdul Bari, that opens this “academic research report:”

“Dr Bari is not the first advocate of social justice to be attacked by extremists from opposing ideological standpoints. It is no co-incidence that old Labour socialists Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn were attacked as ‘sell outs’ by Frank Furedi, Claire Fox, Brendan O’Neil and Mick Hume when they were leaders of the vanguard Revolutionary Communist Party in the 1980s and then, in contrast, as ‘diehard socialists’ when the revolutionary communists re-invented themselves as extremist liberals in the 2000s. Unwittingly, [Quilliam Foundation researchers] [Ed] Husain, [Maajid] Nawaz and [Shiraz] Maher are following the same path as Furedi, Fox, O’Neil and Hume in wearing new ideologies like new coats. Significantly, in both instances, the switch from a revolutionary ideology in youth to a reactionary ideology in early middle age is advantageous in terms of political influence, personal pecuniary advantage and economic security.

“Just like Benn, Livingstone and Corbyn, Dr Bari has not moved an inch in his commitment to social justice while his arch detractors have undergone role reversals. Indeed, just as extremists like Husain and Fox often mature into reactionary scourges of their younger selves mainstream politicians like Benn, Livingstone, Corbyn and Dr Bari invariably stay true to their political principles throughout their mature years.”

This is semi-deranged, the stuff of Private Eye’s Dave Spart.

The “research report’s” core “findings” are equally preposterous. They are, inter alia, that there is at the moment an outbreak of what the authors quite seriously call “terrorism” against Muslims in Britain. They say:

“Terrorism and political violence against Muslims is our deliberate and considered choice of description for a range of serious threats faced by Muslim communities in the UK… Threats of political violence from a diverse extremist nationalist milieu are every bit as credible as those that fall under an al-Qaeda umbrella… the government should treat both terrorist threats with equal importance and in the same way…. Violent extremist nationalists in the UK have a present capacity to inflict death and destruction on a scale that is broadly comparable to their UK counterparts who are inspired instead by al-Qaeda.”

I think “broadly comparable” in this context must mean “not comparable at all.” The number of Muslims killed by “violent extremist nationalists” in Britain is nil, or very close to it. The number of people killed by al-Qaeda is 52.

Over the last ten years, half a dozen or so white right-wingers have indeed been convicted of possessing explosives and other weapons. But all were loners who were not acting in concert with any group, nor in most cases did they have any specific plans or targets. By contrast, there have over the same period been 127 convictions for Islamist-related terrorism in the UK, plus a number of other British subjects or residents convicted in other countries, and a number of further cases currently going through the British courts. Many of these convictions relate to serious and carefully-organised plots against specific targets involving substantial numbers of people.

The authors get round this little problem by redefining terrorism. In their words: “Terrorism cannot be understood only in terms of violence. It has to be understood primarily in terms of propaganda. Violence and propaganda, however, have much in common. Violence aims at behaviour modification by coercion. Propaganda aims at the same by persuasion. Terrorism can be seen as a combination of the two.”

Lambert and Githens-Mazer are undeniably well-qualified to talk about propaganda – but to equate, say, the anti-Muslim frothings of the English Defence League with the murder of people on the London Underground is an abuse of language that would not be tolerated in a tabloid newspaper, let alone an academic report.

Even on the actual violence side of their argument, there’s a problem. Lambert and Githens-Mazer claim in their report that there has been “an alarming rise in what can best be described as anti-Muslim hate crime.” They say that “violent attack[s]” against Muslim women wearing the niqab, burka or hijab “have become commonplace in parts of the UK.” They say that “intimidation and violence against Muslims has become warranted and routine” and that many Muslim communities are under a “state of siege.”

Though these are described as “research findings,” the report gives no research or evidence whatever to back any of them up, and no figures. Indeed, there are none to give. According to the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), police have only been breaking down hate crime data into five strands, one of which is faith, since 2008.

We can, however, attempt to see whether Lambert and Githens-Mazer have a point by looking at overall hate crime figures in heavily-Muslim areas. Here, for instance, are the figures for race and/or faith hate offences in London’s main Muslim borough, Tower Hamlets. The majority of these, of course, would not have been crimes of violence.

2003/4                      694

2004/5                      600

2006/7                       632

2007/8                       440

2008/9                      373

2009/10                    353

I chose Tower Hamlets because the vast majority of its non-white population is Muslim, and therefore most of the victims here would have been Muslim. And the truth, in this borough at least, is the polar opposite of what Lambert and Githens-Mazer claim. In this Muslim area, there has been a 50% reduction in hate crime.

The figures for the first four years are from April to April and are from the annual reports of the Metropolitan Police Authority’s Race Hate Crime Forum. The figures for the last two years are October to October from the Met Police website.

In England and Wales as a whole, according to the latest Home Office statistics, the number of racially or religiously aggravated offences has fallen by 11.4 per cent over the last four years for which figures are available (page 20 of this PDF.)

As I say, statistics for purely faith hate crime alone going back over a long period are harder to find. But the latest online minutes of the Tower Hamlets Interfaith Forum, for the meeting held on 5 October 2010, show that in the months of August and September there were – wait for it – a grand total of seven faith hate crimes reported to the police in the borough, not all of which from the description in fact appear to be faith hate crimes. The previous minutes, for the 15 June meeting, showed a total of eight faith hate crimes between April 1 and June 14, of which only two were against Muslims.

It is true that earlier this week new figures from ACPO showed a year-on-year rise in reported faith hate crimes in England and Wales as a whole. These numbers, however, were not available to Lambert and Githens-Mazer when they wrote their report, and are described by Acpo as having been published this week for “the first time.”

Nor is it clear what faiths the victims were – if Tower Hamlets is any guide, the majority will not have been Muslim – or whether the increase is a longer-term trend (the only two years for which figures are available are 2008 and 2009, and it is unwise to compare figures for two years in isolation.)

Finally, according to ACPO, the total number of reported faith hate crimes, for all faiths, across the whole country, over the whole of last year was 2,083 – or six a day – less than half the number of, for instance, homophobic hate crimes. And again, the vast majority of those 2,083 crimes would not have been violent.

Buried deep in Lambert and Githens-Mazer’s report is the coy admission that, for all the authors’ inflammatory claims about waves of Islamophobic terrorism and communities under siege, there is, ahem, “insufficient data to establish [the] scale of anti-Muslim hate crimes.”

Even Britain’s Muslims themselves have, it seems, been distressingly reluctant to furnish the authors with the longed-for apocalyptic picture. Quite the funniest part of the report is where Lambert and Githens-Mazer complain that with many Muslims they interviewed “anti-Muslim hate crime was implausibly denied or demonstrably neglected by Muslim interviewees who had direct knowledge of it,” accusing them of “wilfully burying their heads in the sand.” False consciousness, eh, lads?

Further evidence of the dynamic duo’s iron-hard scholarly rigour comes on page 32, where they claim that “since 9/11 arson, criminal damage, violence and intimidation against mosques, Islamic institutions and Muslim organisations has increased dramatically.” By page 104, however, they are stating: “How many out of approximately 1600 mosques, Islamic centres and Muslim organisations in the UK have been attacked since 9/11? Our research project aims to answer these questions…Much painstaking research lies ahead before we can provide an accurate picture” (my italics).

Deciding on the answer before you have done the research, or peddling false conclusions in defiance of the available evidence, are, of course, the most serious crimes in academia.

But the primary purpose of the Lambert- Githens-Mazer dodgy dossier is not academic; it is political. The authors’ real aim is not to defend Britain’s Muslims, but to defend their own paymasters, the Islamist leaders of the IFE and its allies. As they put it: “It is impossible to deal effectively with the multi-faceted problem of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred without grasping the nettle of neo-Conservative campaigning against effective, credible, politically-active Muslims like Dr Bari.”

The reason Islamists need to claim a rising tide of “anti-Muslim hatred,” however slender the evidence, is three-fold. First, it furthers their agenda of promoting distance between Muslims and non-Muslims. Second, it is aimed at frightening Muslims into their camp. Third, it enables them to stifle criticism; any attacks on Islamists can be dismissed as “Islamophobic” attacks against all Muslims.

Much of the report amounts to a cry of pain against the likes of me, Martin Bright, Qulliam and Policy Exchange who, the report flatteringly concedes, have helped weaken Islamism’s influence in the British state; and a call for Islamist and IFE-dominated bodies to be given back their “partnership relationships” with the authorities. (There’s also a whole chapter on my Dispatches documentary about the IFE; more on that tomorrow, but for now see Ted Jeory’s deeply-informed demolition of it here.)

Lambert and Githens-Mazer’s client relationship is clear and direct. Their Exeter University unit, the European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC) – and this latest report – is funded by the Cordoba Foundation, which has been described by David Cameron as a “front for the [Islamist] Muslim Brotherhood.”

The Spanish city of Cordoba was, of course, the capital of the last European Islamic caliphate. The Cordoba Foundation’s director of research, Abdullah Folik, is a trustee of the IFE, which believes, in its own words, in creating a new caliphate in Europe and in transforming the “very infrastructure of society, its institutions, its culture, its political order and its creed … from ignorance to Islam.”

The report and the EMRC are also funded by Islam Expo, one of whose directors is Mohammed Sawalha, described by the BBC’s Panorama as a former senior commander in Hamas and put in by Lambert as a trustee of his favourite North London Central Mosque (not coincidentally, there is also a frothing defence of the mosque in the report.)

Sitting on the EMRC’s advisory board, among others, are Bari and Bashir Nafi, accused by the US of being a senior terrorist in Palestinian Islamic Jihad (he denies this.)

The report is so transparently shrill and dishonest that I really don’t think the Islamists have got their money’s worth. Even the usual suspects online and in the press seem to have ignored it and the report is no longer available to download from the Cordoba website. Perhaps they’ve realised what an own goal it is.

The more important financial question is for Exeter University. I know universities need to get income from wherever they can these days, but the price of this particular funding in terms of political pain, media attention and academic credibility could turn out to be rather high.

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