More on Helen Ukpabio’s Legal Campaign against Supporters of Children Stigmatized as “Witches”

A press release from Leo Igwe, who recently featured on the UK Channel 4 documentary Return to Africa’s Witch Children as a supporter of children who have been stigmatized as witches by evangelists in Nigeria:

Reason, Justice and Human Rights Will Prevail

A Press Statement For Immediate release

I have been informed that Helen Ukpabio of the Liberty Gospel Church in Nigeria has sued me to court. She joined in the suit-the Goverment of Akwa Ibom state, Inspector General of Police, Commissioner of Police of Cross River State, Sam Ituama, Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network, and Gary Foxcroft of Stepping Stones Nigeria. The case came up for hearing on November 4 2009. It was adjourned to November 17, but the court did not sit. Now the case will come up on December 17 for hearing.

Helen applied to the Federal High Court in Calabar for the enforcement of her fundamental rights. She claimed, among other things,that the conference on Witchcraft and Child Rights, held on July 29 in Calabar – which her members disrupted- and the arrest of her church members on the said date constituted an infringement on their rights to practice their christian religious belief relating to witchcraft. She asked the court to issue perpetual injunctions restraining me and others –

From interfering with their practice of christianity and their deliverance of people with witchcraft spirit.

From holding seminars or workshops denouncing the christian religious belief in witchcraft

From arresting her and her church members etc.

Helen asked the court to order that I, the Akwa Ibom state government, Sam Ituama, CRARN and Gary Foxcroft pay her 200,000,000.000.00(two hundred billion) naira(800. 000 dollars) as damages for unlawful and unconstitutional infringement on her rights to belief in God, Satan, witchcraft, Heaven and Hell fire and for unlawful and unconstitutional detention of her two church members.

Helen used a copy of the welcome address in my bag which her members made away with on July 29 and an article by Dr Olusegun Fakoya among others as exhibits.

…She should be ready to pay damages to thousands of children who have been tortured, traumatized, abused and abandoned as a result of her misguided ministry. Helen should be ready to pay for the damage she has done to many homes and households across Nigeria.

…So, whatever the mischief this vicious woman and her rag tag ministry are planning, I am convinced that at the end of the day, reason, justice and human rights will prevail.

Leo Igwe, Ibadan, Nigeria

Apologies for the couple of snips in there; unfortunately, free speech is curtailed in the UK (see here) and so I have been unable to include passages in which Leo gives his free opinion of Ukpabio’s character and motivations. You can use your imagination, though. Here’s the moment when Ukpabio’s supporters invaded his conference, in July:

Leo previously provided a guest post to this blog here.

North London Central Mosque Loses Libel Case against Policy Exchange

Mr Justice Eady has a reputation as one of the worst blights on freedom of speech in the UK, with appalling judgements in libel cases that have led Lord Hoffman to denounce him as “hostile” to responsible journalism in the public interest. Most notoriously, he has ruled that it is libellous to describe chiropractors as “bogus”, and Tom Bower’s attempts to defend a libel action brought by the disgusting Richard Desmond were severely hampered by Eady’s insistence that vital evidence should be excluded from the case.

However, his rulings are not uniformly objectionable; he once threw out a case brought by the BNP against Searchlight, and he has now rejected a case brought by the North London Central Mosque against Policy Exchange. The Spittoon carries a quote:

“The Trustees of Policy Exchange are delighted to report that Mr Justice Eady yesterday struck out the claim brought against us by the North London Central Mosque.

North London Central Mosque commenced an action against Policy Exchange and Dr Denis MacEoin for libel, following publication of our study “The Hijacking of British Islam” in October 2007.

Six trustees who had advanced the claim on behalf of the North London Central Mosque were ordered to pay Policy Exchange’s costs of defending this action.

The High Court made a further Order that £75,000 of those costs be paid by North London Central Mosque within 28 days.”

I’ve blogged on this report, which details extremist literature available at a minority of mosques and Muslim bookshops, in the past; I noted that it was temperate in tone and that its central point was uncontroversial. This point was, as Policy Exchange put it, that 

…it is clear that the influence of Saudi Arabia is both powerful and malign. Much of the material featured here is connected in some way with the Saudi Kingdom – whether by virtue of being written by members of the Wahhabite religious establishment; being published and distributed by official, or semi-official Saudi institutions; or being found in Saudi-funded, or linked, mosques and schools in this country. For this reason, the report argues, there needs now to be a proper audit of the costs and benefits of the Saudi-UK relationship.

The report also gave a number of mosques a clean bill of health, which is inconsistent with an anti-Muslim bias. I thought the report could have been more nuanced – just because a bookshop has a dodgy text available it does not mean that the text is therefore being promoted – but clearly there is a problem. 

The main problem was that the author, Denis MacEoin, was let down by his collaborators. In December 2007, BBC Newsnight showed that receipts used to prove that certain texts could be bought from certain bookshops had been forged. Rather than investigating this discovery, Policy Exchange’s Dean Godson instead gave a blustering performance on the show and promised to sue for libel: in his words, action would be pursued “to trial or capitulation”. However, no trial or capitulation were forthcoming. Dominic Wightman, who collaborated with MacEoin on another report, for Civitas (as “Dominic Whiteman”), suggested to me some months ago that the anonymous researchers sent to the sites to purchase the books had made the forgeries in order to inflate their expenses, which seems a reasonable explanation (despite my problems with Wightman on other matters). Private Eye got to the heart of the matter in February (1203 p. 8) by pointing out that there was no need to rely on the receipts anyway: the presence of certain texts could be verified independently, and in some cases their vendors were quite happy to admit to selling them. Had Godson responded to Newsnight more in this vein than in duff libel threats of his own, the North London Central Mosque might perhaps have been more wary about chancing its arm at the High Court.

UPDATE: Unity adds, at Liberal Conspiracy:

The upshot of all this seems to be that the allegation that extremist literature was being distributed from the North London Central Mosque, or from a bookshop associated with it, does not rest solely on the evidence provided by the forged receipts exposed by Newsnight, but can be readily verified by other means.

This does not, however, appear to have been the case in regards to Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre, hence the apology and the decision to withdraw the report.

Despite efforts to spin the NLCM case as a clear win for Policy Exchange, it remains the case that:

a) it did have to withdraw the report due to it containing false allegations relating to the Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre,

b) it did have to issue the Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage an unequivocal and rather humiliating apology, and

c) the report did make use of fabricated evidence, albeit that it does appear that in the case of the North London Central Mosque, the faked receipts were not needed to sustain the allegations against it.

David Bahati and “The Family” in Uganda

In an NPR interview with Terry Gross, Jeff Sharlet reveals a link between David Bahati, the Ugandan MP responsible for the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill currently under consideration, and the The Family, the discreet “elite” US-based Christian organisation which enjoys considerable political patronage in a number of countries:

David Bahati, is a member of The Family. He appears to be a core member of The Family. He works, he organizes their Uganda National Prayer Breakfast and oversees a African sort of student leadership program designed to create future leaders for Africa, into which The Family has poured millions of dollars working through a very convoluted chain of linkages passing the money over to Uganda… Working with some research colleagues we discovered that David Bahati, the man behind this legislation, is really deeply, deeply involved in The Family’s work in Uganda, that the ethics minister of Uganda, Museveni’s kind of right hand man, a guy named Nsaba Buturo, is also helping to organize The Family’s National Prayer Breakfast. And here’s a guy who has been the main force for this Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda’s executive office and has been very vocal about what he’s doing, and in a rather extreme and hateful way. But these guys are not so much under the influence of The Family. They are, in Uganda, The Family.

…Looking at the, The Family’s 990s, where they’re moving their money to – into this African leadership academy called Cornerstone, which runs two programs: Youth Corps, which has described its in the past as an international quote, “invisible family binding together world leaders,” and also, an alumni organization designed to place Cornerstone grads – graduates of this sort of very elite educational program and politics and NGO’s through something called the African Youth Leadership Forum, which is run by -according to Ugandan media – which is run by David Bahati, this same legislator who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

And as for President Museveni:

… The Family identified [him] back in 1986 as a key man for Africa.

They wanted to steer him away from neutrality or leftist sympathies and bring him into conservative American alliances, and they were able to do so. They’ve since promoted Uganda as this bright spot – as I say, as this bright spot for African democracy, despite the fact that under their tutelage, Museveni has slowly shifted away from any even veneer of democracy: imprisoning journalists, tampering with elections, supporting – strongly supporting this Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009.

He’s come out just this – just last week and said that this bill is necessary because Europeans are recruiting homosexuals in Uganda, that Europeans are coming in and trying to make Ugandans gay. And he’s been rewarded for this because this is sort of where these sort of social issues and foreign affairs issues and free market fundamentalist issues all come together.

I blogged an anti-gay speech made by Museveni here.

Jeff wrote a book on The Family, entitled The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, which was published last year by HarperCollins. It’s a remarkable work, shining a light on a political back-channel which before now was only semi-visible to those with eyes to see, with passing references in news reports and Christian paperbacks. My full review can be seen here.

A few weeks ago I noted Bahati’s role in a  “servant leadership team” directed by a US-based “College of Prayer International”. Warren Throckmorton has more about this, here. I’ve also blogged previously on Nsaba Buturo, and I noted Museveni’s links to American evangelists here. Links between the US Christian Right and Africa are also the subject of a report which was published by Political Research Associates last week.

(Hat tip: Talk to Action)

VIGIL Network: Questions for Lord Ashcroft

Just under a year ago I noted the disappearance of the website of the VIGIL Network, a self-styled freelance intelligence gathering outfit which supposedly existed to expose Islamic extremism and terror threats. In late 2006 VIGIL had provided material for a BBC Newsnight article, featuring both its director, Dominic Wightman (using his “Dominic Whiteman” spelling) and Glen Jenvey. At the time I thought VIGIL was rather strange, and I wrote a posting expressing some concerns here. The VIGIL website was launched in mid-2007, as I blogged here.

So why did VIGIL disappear? Wightman has released an audio on YouTube (supposedly via a Venezuela-based lawyer posting from Costa Rica) and an article on his website in which he claims that the idea was flawed and that some of his collaborators wanted “more cash than the project could afford”. However, this explanation was only put forward a couple of months ago, after SpinWatch found documents showing that Wightman had declared bankruptcy after being sued by a VIGIL ex-employee – and that he had other business creditors besides. In an email to me early this year, Wightman explained that he had moved his assets and was planning to become bankrupt so that he could write freely about Islamic extremists without fear of being sued for libel; when the truth was revealed, he told me that his employee did not deserve payment and he would “never have paid her”. On his website, he also subjects this former employee to personal abuse.

(I have described my dealings with Wightman throughout this year here and here; he provided Tim Ireland and me with audio evidence proving that Glen Jenvey had concocted the bogus “Terror Target Sugar” Sun headline, but he also wanted to manipulate us into writing about another person from VIGIL against whom he has a grudge, and he tried to hoist on us a bogus document for that purpose. After the truth was discovered, Wightman claimed that his lies to us were justified in order to “expose” our supposed links to Muslim extremists.)

However, other documents show that during the time this employee worked for VIGIL, he had explained to her that payment was not forthcoming because promised donations had not arrived. Who had supposedly made these promises? Details are vague, but apparently Wightman claimed to have had a meeting with none other than Lord Ashcroft. This is not outside the realms of probability: Wightman has enjoyed a high-profile political endorsement from Patrick Mercer MP (currently Chairman of the House of Commons Sub-Committee on Counter-Terrorism), and in the wake of the Newsnight piece they posed together for photographs outside New Scotland Yard.

Lord Ashcroft is of course a very busy person who has a lot on his plate just now, but he also has staff to deal with enquiries. However, the question of whether Ashcroft indeed agreed to help with VIGIL is not one that they have been minded to answer. Tim has therefore made the relevant questions public:

1 – Wightman claimed in July 2006 that he was in contact with your PA at the time to arrange a meeting with you personally in London*. Is this claim true?

[*If your diaries and records let you down, you can always check your passport, as you may have been out of the country at the time.]

2 – Wightman also claimed that this meeting was arranged specifically to discuss funding for VIGIL. Is this claim true?

3 – Wightman went on to claim that the meeting took place, as scheduled, on Thursday 20 July, 2006. Is this claim true?

4 – Wightman also maintained that he left that meeting with a generous promise of funding. (He described the result as being beyond his expectations**.) Is this claim true?

[**The exceeded expectations he told others of may have referred to some small amount of funding where none was expected, or funding on a faster timetable than expected, rather than any amount beyond his known expectations (which were, early in VIGIL’s history, as high as £250,000) if, indeed, there was any truth to this claim at all.]

5 – Wightman then claimed that he went on to collect a cheque within 10 days of that meeting, implying heavily that it had come from you or your organisation. Is this claim true?

6 – Wightman went on to claim that subsequent delays in accessing the funds were the result of his/your wish to handle these funds discreetly through offshore trusts. Is this claim true?

UPDATE (June 2013): Ashcroft has momentarily engaged with the subject via Twitter:

Richard Bartholomew ?@Barthsnotes 1 Jun
@LordAshcroft Patrick Mercer worked closely with a group called the “VIGIL Network”. VIGIL’s director claimed to have links to you. Comment?
1:24 PM – 1 Jun 13

Lord Ashcroft ?@LordAshcroft 1 Jun
@Barthsnotes Tosh
1:36 PM – 1 Jun 13

Channel 4 Revisits Nigerian “Child-Witches”

Channel 4 television in the UK has just broadcast a new documentary about children accused of being witches in Akwa Ibom State in Nigeria, as a follow-up to the programme on the subject that went out a year ago (which I blogged here).  There’s some good news: it is now a crime to accuse a child of witchcraft in the state, punishable by ten years in prison, and arrests have been made – the documentary in particular noted the arrest of Bishop Sunday Ulup-Aya, who had boasted in the original programme of having killed 110 supposed “witches” (blogged here).  Some children have been successfully reintegrated into their families, and the Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network, which runs a home and school for accused children, has received some generous donations. Posters have appeared on the streets urging people not to make witchcraft accusations.

On the other hand, though, the documentary showed that horrific abuse is still occuring – including the case of Edet Nwanakwo, the boy who recently died after his father doused him in acid (blogged here). Gary Foxcroft, the British charity worker who has devoted himself to the cause of ending child-witchcraft accusations, hopes the problem will be overcome within five to ten years, but it’s clear that local attitudes remain quite entrenched.

The documentary also covered attempts by the evangelist Helen Ukpabio to hamper the work of CRARN and other groups opposed to the stigmatization of children. Ukpabio has published a number of books on how to diagnose children as witches, and she is famous for a lurid horror film on the subject, End of the Wicked. When the original documentary was aired last year, Ukpabio became the focus for considerable public anger and disgust – she claims that on a trip to London soon after, she was nearly killed by a mob. However, Ukpabio has many supporters, some of whom have left abusive comments on this blog from my previous postings on the subject. The new Channel 4 documentary shows how her followers disrupted a conference organised by the Nigerian sceptic Leo Igwe in August, and how the CRARN home was raided by police, with her lawyer in attendance (blogged here, and Leo provided this blog with a guest post that I was proud to host here). One child interviewed by Channel 4 said that the police hit her on the ear so hard that pus came out, and Elizabeth Ikpe-Ituama, who runs the CRARN home with her husband Sam, claims that she was threatened with a gun. Ukpabio is now suing the state government, those involved with CRARN, and the makers of the original Channel 4 documentary, claiming that she is the victim of fraud, that her religious freedom has been infringed, that her film was “pirated” because a clip was shown, and that Foxcroft and others sent “assassins” after her. She believes that she should receive – wait for it – eight hundred million British pounds (I actually recorded the programme and played that bit back to make sure I’d heard that correctly). She also, of course, wants CRARN to be shut down.

Unfortunately, the problem of child stigmatization is not just confined to Nigeria; back in February I blogged on a pastor promoting the belief in Cameroon, and the situation remains alarming in  Angola and Congo. There have also been cases reported in the UK, although these have been unfortunately conflated with other issues.

Rally Against Sharia in Central London

This afternoon there will be a “rally against Sharia Law” in central London, as part of the “One Law for All” campaign. Here’s the call:

SHOW YOUR OPPOSITION TO SHARIA LAW AND ALL RELIGIOUS-BASED TRIBUNALS IN BRITAIN, IRAN, IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN, SOMALIA AND ELSEWHERE

DEMAND AN END TO CULTURAL RELATIVISM AND RACISM

DEMAND ONE SECULAR LAW AND UNIVERSAL RIGHTS

DEFEND THE RIGHT TO ASYLUM FOR THOSE WHO HAVE FLED SHARIA

The organisers are secular-minded progressives who want no truck with groups such as the English Defence League; Peter Tatchell (whom I greatly respect) gives some background at Comment is Free:

 While other faiths are also often oppressive, sharia law is especially oppressive. Its interpretations stipulate the execution of Muslims who commit adultery, renounce their faith (apostates) or have same-sex relationships. Sharia methods of execution, such as stoning, are particularly brutal and cruel – witness the stoning to death this week in Somalia of a 20-year-old woman divorcee who was accused of adultery. This is the fourth stoning of an adulterer in Somalia in the last year.

…The key point of the protest is to show support for the many courageous, inspiring Muslims who are campaigning against the inequalities and inhumanities of sharia law, often at great risk to their liberty and life. Contrary to the way our critics are trying to misrepresent our campaign, this is not an attack on Muslims or Islam. Nor are we uniquely condemning sharia law. We reject all religious laws and courts, including those inspired by Judaist and Christian fundamentalism.

This is a subject I’ve blogged on: five years ago I noted how local Muslims in Nigeria were protesting against Sharia-based laws as a foreign, Saudi, imposition, and, later, how state enforcement at the hands of a religious police force in Kano was causing problems. The situation in Indonesia is similarly alarming and depressing.

Nevertheless, I have a couple of reservations about the rally. First, talk of “religious-based tribunals in Britain, … Somalia and elsewhere” is a crude polemical conflation of several different problems: (i) draconian and barbaric criminal penalties that shouldn’t be imposed on anyone no matter what they’ve done; (ii) the banning of activities that should be allowed in a free society; and (iii) a gender bias in judgements that discriminates against women. All of these should of course be opposed, but only the third point risks being indulged by British law; this is because unofficial sharia courts can take advantage of the  1996 Arbitration Act, which allows for a range of mediators to make judgements on civil disputes that can then be upheld by the county courts. And as I’ve noted previously, reports of the courts’ activities are certainly unencouraging: inheritances doled out unequally between male and female relatives, and women “persuaded” to drop complaints to the police about domestic violence. The obvious – and reasonable – fear is that some women are agreeing to be bound by the courts’ decisions as a result of community and family pressure rather than giving true consent. It certaintly seems to me that the 1996 act ought to be amended so that civil courts will not enforce decisions where there is evidence of gender bias.

Second, these problems do not encompass full complexity of sharia in its various schools and interpretations – it would be unhelpful if “sharia” were to become simply a synonym for “legally-sanctioned religious oppression”, the way “fatwa” has come to be understood as meaning “death sentence”. In the US, unremarkable niche financial products for Muslim customers who wish to arrange their finances in accordance with sharia principles have provoked ridiculous howls of outrage, and there is an effort underway to paint any Muslim who does not repudiate his or her religion’s legal traditions in toto as an extremist (see here and here).

Tatchell complains that

Sadly, the turn out in Hyde Park will probably be quite small. This is odd. Most liberals and leftwingers would protest loud and strong if these persecutions were perpetrated by a western regime or by Christian fundamentalists. But they get squeamish when it comes to challenging human rights abuses committed in the name of Islam. They fear being denouned as Islamophobic. They confuse protests against fundamentalist, political Islam, which seeks to establish a religious dictatorship, with an attack on Muslim people and the Muslim faith. These are two very different things. Saturday’s protest is in defence of Muslim people – and all people everywhere – who are victims of any form of religious tyranny.

That’s a noble sentiment. However, although I accept I may have a jaundiced view from looking at too many right-wing American websites, I’m not entirely convinced that the organisers want to be clear that they are not protesting against “the Muslim faith”.

New Report on the US Christian Right and Africa

Political Research Associates has just released a new report, Globalizing the Culture Wars, on the role of US Christian Right organisations in promoting anti-gay hostility in African churches as part of an exported “culture war”. The report, by a Zambian Anglican priest named Kapya Kaomoa, is timely: as has been widely reported, Uganda is currently considering a bill which would impose draconian penalties on gay people, those who fail to report gay people to the police, and those who speak in advocacy of gay rights. US Christian Right groups and leaders – as well as more ostensibly moderate evangelical figures, such as Rick Warren – have well-known links with conservative African clerics and political leaders, and it is reasonable to enquire as to their role in shaping events in Africa.

Kaomoa observes:

According to Evangelical Christianity and Democracy in Africa, by Terence Ranger, African evangelicals’ voting patterns are similar to those of US progressives. Ranger concludes that African evangelicals are likely to align with left-wing political movements. However, the success of US conservatives in depicting mainline churches as decadent has led Africans into siding with conservatives. (23)

But how has alliance been cemented? One notorious suggestion, made last year, was that wealthy US conservatives used “chicken dinners” to win over their African counterparts. That was, of course, a grossly  simplistic and condescending suggestion; David Virtue made the obvious rebuttal:

It is the crassest theological idiocy to believe that Africans, most of whom have received their undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate theological training in the West would ever succumb to a theological change of heart for a few lousy chicken dinners and alleged payoffs by certain American Evangelical bishops.

Here are men who have suffered for their faith. Some have lost family members… and friends in tribal wars. Many live on the edge of personal poverty, their congregations own no buildings, their populations are being wiped out by civil and tribal wars and an AIDS pandemic, and they are going to sell their immortal souls for chicken? Judas Iscariot did better with 30 pieces of silver for his betrayal…

However, Kaomoa does highlight evidence that superior Western material resources have been wielded in a way which is rather unsubtle. One has to wince when reading the following quote from a conservative leaflet given to African delegates at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference:

We have purchased cell phones for each of you to use during General Conference. There is no charge to you for the use of the phones.

Please considering voting for the following persons… (11)

We also learn that Ugandan bishops at the GAFCON conference were hazy about who funded their attendance:

All they knew, they told PRA, was that “unnamed friends” of Ugandan Archbishop Orombi funded them. (10)

Particularly belittling is evidence that materials supposedly written by African religious leaders habe been heavily re-edited to include talking-points provided by the Institute on Religion and Democracy; a text by Liberian Methodist superintendent Rev Jerry Kulah was re-written to include screeds against Churches that consider “sociopolitical issues” and against the “Arab-oil funds” being used to promote “the massive silent invasion of Islam”.

This does not mean that clerics have been “bought”, although Kaomoa considers that the nature of the funding process may be corrupting:

Funding from conservatives is highly personal – only bishops with US connections receive it – and unrestricted, unlike that of mainline churches, which demand strict accountability from African church for all the money they receive. Therefore, some African religious leaders…prefer it and view American conservatives as more generous than their progressive counterparts. (10-11)

Kaomoa avoids the trap of simply reducing anti-gay sentiment in African Christianity to an American import, and by describing how the idea of gay rights is seen as a form of neo-colonialism by some Africans he gives a sense of how local agency may serve as a counterbalance to an explanatory model based on conservative American strategies and propaganda (some other writings on the subject have been criticized for concentrating exclusively on the latter). However, I don’t think we get a full account of what motivates a conservative African Anglican cleric – in particular, there is little discussion of theology or Biblical interpretation.

The report also draws attention to some nuances: it is interesting to read that some conservatives – and some IRD activists – are opposed to idea of severing links with mainline churches on issues such as poverty relief, and that declarations by African Anglican church leaders disassociating from the US Episcopal Church are not always clear-cut:

In countries like Uganda and Nigeria, where civil society is weak, the declarations have been implemented. By contrast, in Zambia, Kenya. Botswana, Ghana, and other more democratic countries, their declarations were opposed or simoply taken as the leader’s person opinion. (11)

The whole report can be read here.

How the Sun Defended Bogus Alan Sugar Terror Threat Story

Tim Ireland has published the letter which the managing editor of the Sun, Graham Dudman, sent to the Press Complaints Commission as  a refutation of the claim that its January “Terror Target Sugar” story was bogus and that the paper had been deceived by Glen Jenvey, who Tim discovered had made postings to a Muslim website under the false name of Abu Islam to generate crucial material found in the Sun article. The letter is dated 27 January, a mere nine months before the paper finally made an apology:

OUR story on January 7 about a ‘hit list’ of top British Jews on the website Ummah.com was based on claims by Glen Jenvey who last week confessed to duping several newspapers and Tory MP Patrick Mercer by fabricating stories about Islamic fundamentalism.

Following Mr Jenvey’s confession, we apologise to Ummah.com for the article which we now accept was inaccurate.

However, no apology, public or private, has yet been received by Tim Ireland for Dudman’s disingenuous letter to the PCC. Here are some highlights:

In his complaint, the complainant [a moderator of Ummah.com] makes a number of claims suggesting that the article published in The Sun on January 7 is inaccurate. Most notably, he claims that the Website [Ummah.com] was accused by The Sun “of compiling a list of well known Jewish people to be targeted with a campaign of violence”. In fact, what the article actually said was that:

“… Sir Alan Sugar is among the top British Jews feared [our emphasis] targeted by Islamic extremists …”. Additionally, the article also made clear as early as the second paragraph that the list does not exist but that “fanatics called for a list… to be drawn up”.

We believe that this inaccuracy suggests a mis-reading of what was published and the basis for it.

Try “mis-reading” the meaning of this headline:

One wonders if Dudman gave the same explanation to Alan Sugar, who began legal proceedings against the Sun a few weeks after the above was published. He continues:

The facts of the matter are that a posting was made on the Website by someone using the avatar ‘Saladin 1970’ asking fellow users to help in order compile a list of individuals who support Israel. In response to a posting asking for a list of “top Jews we can target”, ‘Saladin1970’ provided a link to another website (www.thejc.com) which referred to a number of prominent British Jews including Sir Alan Sugar, Foreign Secretary David Milliband and the musician Mark Ronson, amongst many others. ‘Saladin1970’ is not an avatar for either a journalist or an agent for The Sun, nor is he connected in some way to Glen Jenvey (the terrorism expert quoted in the article).

The identity of Saladin1970 remains unknown, but it is likely that he or she is a genuine Islamic extremist rather than an impersonator (see this discussion at Harry’s Place), and it’s clear that his or her idea of creating a list of Jews “so that we can write polite letters reminding them of the injustices of Israel” has an intimidatory undertone to it . However, the only person to raise Sugar’s name specifically was Abu Islam, who also upped the stakes from letter-writing with the following:

polite will not work.

Target them with Demo’s out-side their Home’s and Business hit and run demo’s showing and exposing their war crimes in their support.

But Dudman avoids mentioning Abu Islam at all in this part of his letter. It looks like Dudman is keen to shift the entire substantive content of the article onto material from Saladin1970. Why is this, if he is confident that Abu Islam was not Jenvey? (The thread, by the way, did not garner much interest from forum users in general; a certain MadMax offered to add names to the list, but does not reappear again, and an AbuMubarak was against the whole idea, but that’s all there was.)

Dudman continues:

It is clear from even just a cursory review that the Website carries numerous extreme views and is widely used by Islamic extremists to discuss radical and/or extremist subjects. We have reviewed both the thread which prompted the article and other threads on the Website and we have no doubt that it was reasonable for The Sun to describe the Website as a “fanatics website”. For example, the Website contains one message board entitled “Does anyone here recognise Israel’s right to exist” which contains threads that include quotes such as “Muslims are a patient people. Jews are a greedy people. Who will win in the end?” (posted by ‘AbuMusaab’ at 7:56am on 4 January 2009); “you are a fool if you think that the Muslims will let you live in peace” (posted by ‘SunniHammer’ at 8:39am on 4 January 2009); and “you won’t find any peace until all of you thieves were kicked out from the Palestine inshallah” (posted by ‘Ammarcool’ at 9:56am on 4 January 2009). These are just three examples.

In light of this, in our view, to regard Islamic extremists as being in the business of sending “polite letters” is naive and extreme. This is based on the expert opinion of Glen Jenvey, an expert in radical Islam. In any event, as a matter of common knowledge, we are unaware of a single incident of Islamic extremists writing polite letters. It is quite obviously a euphemism which almost does not require expert opinion to establish…The matters raised in the article are plainly matters of public interest. Exposing, even at the earliest of stages, a proposed conspiracy to cause harm to prominent British Jews is a matter that The Sun is and should be free to report. It is not the case that public interest is and can only be served by reporting such matters to the police.

Yes, a large forum with many users has some nasty stuff on it. But none of this amounts to anything close to a terrorist conspiracy against Alan Sugar, as is clearly trumpeted in the Sun‘s headline, and was clearly derived specifically from Abu Islam’s posts. And a “conspiracy” needs two or more people: all we’ve got is Saladin1970, who is just mouthing off and is generally ignored, and Abu Islam, who doesn’t count because he’s really Glen Jenvey.

Dudman then goes on to list Jenvey’s credentials:

…We should add that Mr Jenvey is an extremely well respected expert on terrorism who has contributed to various radio and television programmes in this country. In this respect, we make the following points:

1. As recently as November 2008 Mr Jenvey was interviewed by BBC Radio 4’s File on Four programme on the subject of “Violent Extremism”. Mr Jenvey was introduced on air during that programme as “an investigator who has been monitoring extremist websites for years”. Mr Jenvey has also contributed to articles for The Sunday Times and CNN amongst others.

2. The Sun has used Mr Jenvey as an expert on terror-related matters previously and has had no reason to doubt the veracity of his views.

3. John Coles (the journalist responsible for the article) was also assured by the South West News Service (“SWNS”), the news organisation which originally supplied the story to The Sun , that Mr Jenvey was a reliable expert. SWNS had dealt with Mr Jenvey on an earlier terror-related story and, in this respect, SWNS had been reassured by Conservative MP Patrick Mercer (Chairman of the House of Commons Counter-Terrorism sub-committee) that “Glen Jenvey is an extremely capable and knowledgeable analyst of fundamentalist matters and ought to be listened to. If he says that this is a risk worth looking at, then we must take it seriously. He and I have done quite a lot of work together, and he is a source of reference for me”.

Of course, since then Mercer has repudiated his association with Jenvey – although questions remain about when exactly he realised that Jenvey was not a source to be trusted. The extent to which the various media outlets listed above received true information from Jenvey rather than material concocted by Jenvey will probably never be known, although I’ve been told he was good at finding Jihadi videos that would only be posted on-line for short periods.

4. After speaking to Mr Jenvey, John Coles contacted the Community Sceurity Trust, the charity which oversees security for Britain’s Jewish community, and was given the contact number for its security spokesman, Mark Gardiner (who is also quoted in the article). Mr Coles subsequently briefed Mr Gardiner about the story and specifically mentioned Mr Jenvey by name. At no point during this conversation, did Mr Gardiner suggest that Mr Jenvey was someone not to be trusted.

This is weak – presumably Gardiner didn’t say anything positive about Jenvey either, otherwise surely Dudman would have quoted him.

5. To confirm, Mr Jenvey was not paid for his contribution to the article.

As Tim points out, all this means is that the Sun dealt with Jenvey through the South West News Service, rather than directly.

Further:

The complainant would also be trying to discredit Mr Jenvey (and by implication the article published in The Sun on 7 January) without any foundation. In this respect, the complaint includes a link to a website (http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2009/01/glen_jenvey_has.asp) which contains a number of extremely serious allegations against Mr Jenvey. As well as the allegation that Mr Jenvey, ‘Richard Tims’ and ‘Abuislam’ are all one and the same, which I deal with above, the website also makes a number of personal attacks on Mr Jenvey. Those attacks include allegations, amongst many others, regarding Mr Jenvey’s sexuality as well as claims that he is a paedophile (eg “or is it that he likes young muslin boys around?”). Mr Jenvey categorically denies that he is a paedophile. In this respect, we understand that Mr Jenvey has been in a stable relationship for the past 16 years. The website also contains a purported interview with an individual claiming to be Mr Jenvey’s daughter. This interview is manifestly false. Mr Jenvey does not have a daughter.

Mr Jenvey informs us that when he has been critical of the Website in the past, he has been subjected to similar personal attacks. The allegations concerning Mr Jenvey on www.bloggerheads.com is again a tactic we understand that the Website has chosen to use before and, as before, they are based on false claims.

This is the most egregiously bogus part of the letter. When Tim published the evidence that Jenvey was Abu Islam on his Bloggerheads site, this naturally generated a lot of interest in Jenvey. Various bits of information were then posted by readers in the comments section, drawn from all kinds of websites. This material was then assessed by the commentators, and some of it rejected as false – including the claim that Jenvey had a daughter, which appears to have been concocted by Islamists. Dudman must know that material which appears in the comments section of a blog is not the same as an actual blog post – or if he doesn’t know, he’s no business playing a central role in running a newspaper in 2009.

And besides, the evidence linking Abu Islam to Glen Jenvey was presented by Tim but did not rely on Tim as an authority – any reader could verify it independently by following the chain of events and the links Tim provided (like here). Why did Dudman apparently fail to do this? And as for the supposed paedophile accusation, Tim notes that

Further, the text The Sun claim was published by me ‘to discredit Glen Jenvey’ does not accuse Glen Jenvey of being a paedophile, as a wider quote from that passage reveals (“‘is bin laden a gay? or is it that he just likes young muslin boys around? is jihad a form of child sex?”). The comment is about Osama Bin Laden, and was originally posted to ummah.com under the name ‘saddam01’, which according to Ummah.com is yet another alias of… Glen Jenvey! Yes, the ‘paedophile’ text wasn’t *about* Glen Jenvey, and it was most likely written *by* Glen Jenvey!

…It has been put to me by the PCC that the accusation that I called Jenvey a paedophile may have been an honest mistake resulting from an unfortunately-placed line-break in a print-out/fax, but my response to this is that – if this is the case – then The Sun appear to have taken no care before making this very serious accusation. Further to this, if it were an error in reading a print-out/fax, then it is clear that they did not look at the website itself. Therefore, they did not even look at the evidence I presented on my website in any depth before banking so much on their ‘expert’…

This is very serious, as subsequent events have shown that Jenvey is psychologically fragile. In the months that followed Tim’s blog post, Jenvey made a number of anonymous postings to various websites accusing Tim of being a paedophile – could it be that Jenvey justified this to himself because of Dudman’s claim that Tim had accused him of this?

Tim also notes the perhaps deliberate ambiguity in the last sentence quoted above, that “The allegations concerning Mr Jenvey on www.bloggerheads.com is again a tactic we understand that the Website has chosen to use before”. By “the Website”, Dudman means Ummah.com – but the natural reading of the sentence suggests Bloggerheads.

After defending the article, Dudman ends with a bit of a non-sequiter:

Without withdrawing any what I have set out above, I have arranged for the article to be removed from The Sun’s website and I trust that this is now the end of the matter.

In all, this letter does not give the impression of having been written by a defender of truth concerned with the public interest. Rather, it gives the impression of having been written by someone trying to cover their backside by any expedient to hand – for the most part, this means resorting irrelevant distractions and engaging in misrepresentations of Tim and his writing. Remember that the next time you read the Sun.

And remember that Tim is still getting grief from semi-anonymous bullies who don’t like the fact that he’s dared to delve deeply into the antics of dubious self-described “terror trackers” – that’s one story the media has so far shown no interest in.

Channel 4 Documentary on “The Israel Lobby”

A Channel 4 Dispatches documentary by Peter Oborne on “the Israel lobby” in the UK has provoked a predictably wrathful response, which in many cases consist of bad faith accusations of anti-Semitism; however, while many of these attacks can be dismissed, the documentary was problematic and unfocused. Oborne moved between funding for MPs to visit Israel, a few notes on pro-Israel groups in the UK, and finally a look at some websites in the USA and Israel that take a pugnacious approach to criticism of Israel in the British media.

But what does it all add up to? Do some MPs support Israel because they get donations from pro-Israel groups, or do they get donations from pro-Israel groups because they support Israel? There was no sense of what motivates pro-Israel MPs – doubtless the extra funding is welcome, but the reality is that scenes of Islamist fanaticism in Gaza and the West Bank and its violent consequences in Israel proper are far more effective in shoring up support for Israel. There’s some interesting background about Poju Zabludowicz, the chairman of the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre and a major donor to the organisation – but although we learn that Zabludowicz has a business interest in the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, Oborne is unable to show that BICOM does his bidding. The BICOM website does not give the impression of being run by “Greater Israel” settler fanatics; it promotes the fairly mainline solution of peace in return for territorial compromise, including some “land swaps” around the Green Line, which would presumably include Ma’ale Adumim anyway. One can argue over whether this really would be a just solution to the occupation, but it’s hardly an extreme position.

Moving on to the media, the existence of websites and organisations dedicated to attacking criticism of Israel is less than revelationary, and we’re subjected to that old journalistic standby of concocting some action by having a camera crew show up at an office unannounced and not getting very far with underlings who tell Oborne that no-one is available for interview. Why didn’t he just phone ahead? Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger tells Oborne that after publishing an article comparing Israel to apartheid-era South Africa he received a hostile deputation from Gerald Ronson and Henry Grunwald; but although he tells us that other (unnamed) editors avoid criticising Israel to escape the hassle that follows, he doesn’t appear to have been cowed by the encounter. Oborne is on firmer ground when considering how the BBC appears to have buckled under pressure – the observation that it was willing to broadcast a humanitarian charity appeal during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon but baulked at doing so in relation to Gaza earlier this year does indeed speak for itself. But some proportion is needed: the BBC Trust found that Jeremy Bowen had been at fault over a couple of statements which had probably prompted email campaigns, but most of complaints against him were rejected and Bowen remains in post. Of course it was annoying to see the crowing that followed the Trust’s findings, but given that every word Bowen writes and speaks is doubtless scrutinized at length by hostile readers, that’s a very limited achievement.

Oborne appears to have read John Mearsheimer and Stephan Walt’s book The Israel Lobby, which looks at the situation in the USA. It’s a shame that he didn’t also read Walter Russell Mead’s review in Foreign Affairs, which engaged with the book seriously and so was able to make a critique which was the all the more powerfulMead’s most general complaint also fits the bill for the Oborne documentary:

 Mearsheimer and Walt fail to define “the lobby” in a clear way. Their accounts of the ways in which it exercises power, as well as their descriptions of the power it wields, are incoherent. Their use of evidence is uneven…

Craig Murray Gets Libel Threat from Quilliam Foundation

The Quilliam Foundation exists to counter Islamic extremism in the UK by promoting a moderate Muslim alternative. This is of course a worthy aim, although the Foundation has critics who complain that it is a establishment-backed venture that uses public money to manipulate Muslim opinion for politicized ends. One of those critics is blogger and author (and “renegade former ambassador”) Craig Murray, who is now facing the threat of a libel action from the Foundation and its directors.

Without going into too many details, Murray made an accusation about the filing of the Foundation’s accounts, and expressed his views concerning the psychological character of the Foundation’s director, Ed Husain. This led to a bizarre subterfuge from the Foundation:

Yesterday afternoon I received an unusual phone call. A man telephoned me and said that he had been following my blog for some time and was most impressed by it, and would like to know how to make a donation. I replied truly that I was extremely grateful, but the website really was just me, and therefore I did not request donations, unless for some specific expense like an election campaign.

You may be surprised to hear that people do not generally phone me up out of the blue and offer cash, so I was a bit suspicious. I did go on and suggest that if he wanted to be helpful he could buy my books, but he lost interest in the conversation very quickly in a manner that just seemed wrong compared to his initial eagerness.

So when I got a letter today from lawyers threatening libel action, I wondered if this was an attempt to get financial information on what funds they might target. So today I phoned him back. He gave his name as Ed, so I asked directly if he was Ed Husain or Ed Jagger of the Quilliam Foundation. At first he replied “I am not Ed Husain”. I had to ask again before he admitted he was indeed Ed Jagger of the Quilliam Foundation.

I put it to him that he had lied when he phoned and said he wanted to make a donation. He said that he just wanted to establish my contact details for the lawyer.

Murray has shown a willingness to give the Foundation a full right of reply, and to amend any details on his site that prove to be incorrect. His personal views about Husain’s character are not based on any pretended medical expertise or access to private information, and should be dismissed as fair comment and/or meaningless abuse. To push on with a libel case is disproportionate and wasteful: Murray has limited assets, and the Foundation is unlikely to recover its costs even if it wins. And English libel law is so inherently unfair that winning a claim proves nothing anyway.

Murray now tells us that the Foundation is targeting his webhost – a strategy which sometimes works in shutting down websites without going to court, but which never reflects well on the person who resorts to it. It was a strategy previously used against Murray by the Uzbek billionaire Alisher Usmanov.