Policy Exchange v Newsnight Update

Six months ago Dean Godson of Policy Exchange promised to pursue the BBC for libel “relentlessly, to trial or capitulation” if Newsnight dared to raise concerns about anomalies with receipts which the think-tank had presented as evidence that certain Islamic bookshops were selling extremist literature. I blogged the dispute here, and the Newsnight blog now carries an update:

On 19th December Policy Exchange released a statement standing by their report but advising readers that “as an evidence-based research organisation, we take the allegations made seriously”. It continued: “Our investigations must be allowed time to proceed.”

Well surely six months is enough? I contacted Policy Exchange’s external relations director Dr Steven King for an update. He got back to me this week with a statement saying that the independent inquiry had been “adjourned” because “the Muslim researchers who conducted the original investigation into the mosques have gone into hiding for fear of violent reprisals after Newsnight revealed their whereabouts on air, in breach of an undertaking given to Policy Exchange. Following the Newsnight broadcast, an Islamist website denounced the undercover researchers and called for them to be hunted down. Policy Exchange takes any allegations against its research methodology seriously, and so is keeping the investigation open in case circumstances change making it possible for it to be completed.”

Just to be clear – we didn’t identify the researchers, we reported which country they were in, which was the reason why PE said they could not be contacted for interview.

Policy Exchange’s most recent statement also states that the report “does not mention the receipts or rely on them as evidence, and Policy Exchange stands by the study’s content”.

Newsnight also tells us that the “Al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre and Masjid” and “Madrasa al-Tawhid” are availing themselves of the services of Carter-Ruck. But why aren’t some of the other booksellers mentioned on the Newsnight exposé following suit? A report in from Private Eye from February (1203 p. 8) offers a clue:

Newsnight’s killer claim was that its hacks had organised forensic tests which proved that receipts Policy Exchange said it had collected from the Muslim Education Centre in High Wycombe were dubious. When Policy Exhange said that the centre was selling such titles as Women Who Deserce to go to Hell…it couldn’t be believed. The BBC stuck by the accusation even though the Muslim Education Centre cheerily told reporters that the books were indeed on sale.

Similarly Newsnight said receipts from thr Al-Muntada Al-Islami Trust in west London were suspicious. The implication was that Policy Exchange was lying when it said that the works of Sayyed Qutb, the intellectual father of al-Qaeda and every other supporter of mass murder by suicide bombings, were on sale. Policy Exchange also quoted from a guide for Muslims living in the west which recommended “jihad against the unbelievers and the hypocrites…”. A second guide said that Muslims in the west couldn’t “stand up to honour a national flag, or a national anthem”.

…At the time the Eye was going to press, the al-Muntada online bookshop was offering both guidebooks – while Sayyed Qutb was at number four in its bestseller list!

The Eye’s report is somewhat obtuse: it can be true both that a bookshop is selling extremist literature and that someone decided to forge a receipt for some reason, and no counter-evidence is provided against the anomalies highlighted by Newsnight. And while Sayyed Qutb may be bad news, he was an etremely influential Islamic figure and the presence of his writings in an Islamic bookshop is hardly remarkable. One can also find controversial material in a number of Christian bookshops; a sensible method would be to look at a bookshop’s entire stock, and to take note of which materials appear to be particularly promoted.

However, having said that, the presence of extremist literature ought to be noted and challenged, and it should be recalled that the Policy Exchange report gave a number of mosques and bookshops a clean bill of health – hardly consistent with a crude anti-Muslim agenda. The problem is, though, that the issue of the receipts does undermine the report’s credibility, and it cannot be restored by making libel threats. Especially if such threats turn out to be bluster.