On Tuesday 11th October, the Middle East Monitor (MEMO) and the Cordoba Foundation (TCF) co-hosted the authors of the recent SpinWatch report on the spread of Islamophobia in the UK. The event took place in the House of Parliament and was sponsored by Simon Danczuk, MP for Rochdale, and chaired by the former foreign affairs editor for the Guardian, Victoria Brittain. The report entitled ‘Cold War on British Muslims: An Examination of Policy Exchange and Centre of Social Cohesion’ was presented by the co-authors Professor David Miller, Tom Griffin and Tom Mills, who briefly described their findings and their analyses. They were joined on the panel by Dr Robert Lambert, former head of the Muslim Contact Unit and co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC) at the University of Exeter and a part time lecturer at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV) at the University of St Andrews.
Dr Daud Abdullah, Director of MEMO opened the event and discussed the importance of the report highlighting the part played by the two institutions in vilifying the Muslim community over the last decade. ‘Being a Muslim in Britain and Europe today has a price – Islamophobia’. Dr Abdullah criticised the government and right wing organisations’ ‘double speak’; ‘on one hand we are told to participate and when we do, we are told we are infiltrators!’ He suggested that both the domestic and foreign policies of the incumbent coalition government bear the trademarks of the dominant neo-con elements led by Michael Gove, a former chair of Policy Exchange and now Secretary of State for Education. Throughout the period under review they have played a ‘very divisive’, he asserted.
Dr Robert Lambert suggested that both the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) and Policy Exchange (PE) were at the forefront of criticising Muslims. The CSC which has been subsumed into the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) is, according to Lambert, of lesser interest as it is less influential. On the other hand, he said the PE is more influential in shaping policy at government level. (Prof David Miller disagreed later, citing the latest Prevent strategy had cited the CSC as one of its main sources of information). Lambert concluded by raising concerns about the counter-subversive tactics fuelling government policy and policing in the UK; “Increasingly I see some of these most loyal and effective Muslims reclassified as extremists – the advice comes from Policy Exchange and the evidence for it is extremely thin.”
The SpinWatch authors where then given the platform to discuss their research findings. Prof David Miller set the scene by describing the role of think tanks and suggested they were really lobbyists pushing their own agendas and thus should be susceptible to the same scrutiny as other organisations and governmental bodies. CSC has implied that Islamist terrorism was only part of a broader ideological challenge facing the West. Douglas Murray, the neo-con director of CSC and now associate director of HJS, said in 2006 “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”. According to Miller “he wasn’t talking about Islamists or extremists…he was talking about Muslims.”
Tom Griffin – explained that the use of the term ‘cold war’ was a reference to the tactics used in the 1980s against communist organizations. He argued evidence showed that the same tactics were now being used to monitor Islamic societies with their ‘counter subversion’ policies. For example, the Centre for Social Cohesion published a report entitled ‘The A-Z of British Muslim organisations’, in which Interpal (a British charity working in Palestine) was targeted using Israeli counter subversion evidence. The biased and Islamophobic agenda is apparent when looking at their work on the BNP, and although they acknowledge the anti-Muslim rhetoric seeping through the BNP, it ignores the ideologies that influence the BNP. Griffin finished off by challenging the CSC to research the English Defence League (EDL), who have cited the same sources as those that Douglas Murray bases his speeches on.
The final author of the research, Tom Mills analysed Policy Exchange in more detail. He explained that the neo con suggestion that “in some ways since the 1960s a confidence in Western civilisation has been undermined and that is what gave rise to anti-Western feeling and how Islamism came about” is what is used by the likes of Michael Gove and his right wing colleagues to push forward their counter subversion policies. However, a more interesting feature of his presentation that caused a stir was the funding of these think tanks. The report, sponsored by The Cordoba Foundation, details the funders of both the CSC and the Policy Exchange, with Mills highlighting groups such as the Peter Cruddas Foundation and The Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust. The latter in turn also funds for a variety of pro-Israel and right wing think tanks, including Civitas, Israel-Diaspora Trust and the Anglo-Israel Association.
Anas Altikriti, the CEO and founder of the Cordoba Foundation closed the event by reiterating that the overriding narrative in today’s climate was being guided by the above mentioned groups, who were clearly influencing official policy. He reiterated his support for SpinWatch and the EMRC, whom TCF are proud donors of, and suggested that more work was needed to highlight the inconsistencies and double standards in policy and decision making.
Suffice to say that ‘The Cold War on British Muslims’ report will be used as a key reference point in months and years to come; the anti-Islam and pro-Israel propagators will certainly not be given free rein to continue to influence policy without challenge, and organisations such as the Middle East Monitor, The Cordoba Foundation, European Muslim Research Centre and SpinWatch will maintain a watchful eye.