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Andrew Gilligan, Dispatches and “Islamic terrorism”

April 19, 2014 at 11:44 am

“Gilligan’s Island” was a sixties sitcom with an eponymous hero who was “bumbling, dim-witted [and] accident-prone”. Andrew Gilligan had nothing to do with that programme, but one can’t help thinking about him as he seems to be everywhere at the moment; the London Evening Standard, the Daily Telegraph and, this week, Channel 4’s Dispatches.

Having sprung to prominence as a reporter on the BBC’s flagship Radio 4 Today programme, he exposed the “sexing up” of Tony Blair’s infamous dossier on Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”. This episode, you may recall, led to the death – by “apparent suicide”, according to evidence given at the subsequent Hutton Inquiry – of Dr. David Kelly who was revealed as Gilligan’s source by the BBC. That whole murky episode aside, Gilligan has developed a bit of a career in right-wing publications as an “expert” on Britain’s Muslims.

On the back of his latest Dispatches programme (“Britain’s Islamic Republic”), he claims in today’s Daily Telegraph that one of Britain’s largest Muslim charities, Muslim Aid, “is linked to Islamic terrorists”. I have a feeling that Gilligan may well regret the sub-editor’s headline, for in the article which we have to assume he has written he has inserted “allegedly” before “linked” to cover his back against libel action. To support his claim he cites two donations from Muslim Aid. The first was to the Islamic University in Gaza which, says Gilligan, the New York Times described as “one of the prime means for Hamas to convert Palestinians to its Islamist cause”; the second was to a Palestinian charity which the US government has designated as a “sponsor of terrorism”. Neither “authorities” are known to be entirely objective in these matters; some readers of the NYT have claimed recently that “Reporting in the US is biased towards Israel. The [New York] Times is no different”. And according to one senior CNN journalist US designations of individuals and organisations as “terrorists” is based on nothing more than lists of names provided by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which are then rubber-stamped by Washington. No evidence, no investigation, no due process.

Interestingly, Gilligan was recruited to the Today programme by the then-editor, Rod Liddle, a man not known for his love of the Muslim community. It was while working for the BBC that Gilligan went to Iraq and Afghanistan and his reputation as an investigative reporter grew with a number of exposés. Post-Hutton, Gilligan joined the Spectator, a right-wing weekly magazine which includes Melanie Phillips (yes, that Melanie Phillips) and, that man again, Rod Liddle, amongst its contributors and columnists. Having worked for the Sunday Telegraph before he joined the BBC, Gilligan is now the star turn of that paper’s daily sister. He also writes for the London Evening Standard and works as a reporter for Channel 4’s Dispatches; interestingly, he turned up on Press TV presenting a weekly Forum programme until December last year. I wonder how he squared his distaste for “radical” Muslims with the Iranian TV channel’s ownership; perhaps he picks and chooses his “radical of the week”.

Over the past few days his articles have served as shameless self-promotion for this week’s Dispatches programme, prompting a number of allegations that he is neither objective nor balanced when it comes to his “investigation” of the Muslim community. Or some sections of the community, for he is quite keen to have his views endorsed by Muslims willing to get their 30 seconds of fame by appearing on television. On Dispatches this parade of “moderates” included Houriya Ahmed of the Centre for Social Cohesion, a think-tank that claims to be non-party political but which has distinctly (some would say extremely) right-wing leanings and is headed by Douglas Murray, another right-wing commentator not known for objectivity when it comes to discussing Muslims in Britain. Gilligan also depended a lot on Rashad Ali, who supported Murray in opposing a motion in a debate at University College London in January that “This house believes that UCL is NOT complicit in acts of terror”. Dispatches did not mention that Rashad Ali is an ex-member of Hizb-ut Tahrir (HT); instead, his on-screen name bar said he was “CENTRI”. This is not an exotic affliction. According to the Daily Express, it stands for “Counter Extremism Consultancy Research and Interventions”; it’s clearly an illiterate who worked out that particular acronym. Perhaps it is an affliction after all. The Express, of course, is another right-wing newspaper. Houriya Ahmed has written a book about Hizbut-Tahrir, and Rashad Ali has, apparently, also worked for the Quilliam Foundation, an “anti-extremist think-tank” founded by fellow ex-members of HT and funded by the British government. All very cosy, don’t you think?

Islamic Forum EuropeThe gist of Gilligan’s investigation seemed to boil down to this: Muslims in Islamic Forum Europe have “infiltrated” the local Labour Party and are exercising undue influence therein. Labour MP for Poplar and Canning Town Jim Fitzpatrick complained on the programme that the IFE has flooded his constituency party with members and is telling them which way to vote on party business. According to Gilligan, this tactic worked at the last General Election when, he claimed, with IFE support George Galloway overturned a large Labour majority to win Bethnal Green and Bow for Respect, ousting Labour’s Oona King. As Mr. Galloway has expressed an interest in standing against Jim Fitzpatrick in Poplar and Canning Town at the next General Election, maybe the sitting MP’s appearance on Dispatches was his way of kicking off the election campaign; or getting his excuses in first. Whatever the reason, anyone who has any knowledge about local politics in particular will know that all sorts of wheeling and dealing takes place behind closed doors, in all parties. Local political activists all over the country will be giving a collective sigh of relief after watching the programme and saying, “There but for the Grace of God…”

A press release from the Muslim Council of Britain (which was a secondary target of Gilligan’s investigation) points out that the Muslim community has been told for years now that its members need to get involved in the democratic process. The IFE has not, therefore, done anything radically different to what many other community groups, including faith-based organisations, have done for many years. It seems, though, that it has been too successful in encouraging people to be active in mainstream political parties for the likes of Gilligan and his right-wing audience. And if anyone is in any doubt about the nature of that audience at the Telegraph, look at his online London Editor column and the responses it has drawn from bloggers.

It would appear that Andrew Gilligan has abandoned objective investigative journalism to pursue a specific agenda, using people with lots of axes to grind to achieve his objectives. Apart from those mentioned above, he spoke to others whose credentials to speak on behalf of the community were neither explained nor questioned. If they didn’t get quite as much from the local council’s pot of money for community projects as they’d have liked, out they came to lambast Islamic Forum of Europe. Again, that’s a scenario which is repeated with local councils all over the country; it’s frequently a case of who you know or did you lobby the right person(s), not what not you know or do, nor the particular merits of your application for funds. But that’s local politics and it’s not unique to Tower Hamlets or the IFE.

Someone who knows Gilligan reasonably well has told MEMO that he is “apolitical” and that he is “a bit of a loner” although “not Islamophobic”. The recent headlines of his articles suggest that he has a problem with “radical” Muslims, and on the Telegraph website he addresses anyone wanting to complain about Dispatches thus: “I might also remind my new fans [ho, ho, he has a sense of humour too!] of something that a previous object of my attentions, Ken Livingstone, had to learn the hard way. We have amassed a great deal of material on this story, much of which has not so far emerged. Don’t rush in to any (further) denials which you may later come to regret.” So, not Islamophobic, perhaps, but arrogant, and he is not above issuing bullying threats to anyone who cares to disagree with him. Hmmm, isn’t that exactly what he accuses Islamic Forum of Europe of doing?

MEMO has a feeling that this one will run and run.