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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Right-wing Think-tank Busted for Dodgy "Islamic Extremism" Report -

A Question of Receipts
By Brian Whitaker
Comment is Free

Last night's shouting match between Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman and Dean Godson of the Policy Exchange thinktank may have been fascinating television but I'm not sure it was very illuminating.

Back in October, Policy Exchange issued a much-publicised report on extremist literature sold at mosques and other Islamic institutions in Britain.

On visits to almost 100 of these places across the country, the thinktank's researchers found extremist material available - either openly or "under the table" - in around 25. Some of this material was certainly alarming, as I wrote at the time. More reassuringly, though, Policy Exchange has also pointed out that three-quarters of the places it surveyed were "nothing other than perfectly reputable centres of Muslim worship and learning".

Shortly before the report was published, Newsnight and Policy Exchange agreed a deal giving the BBC programme exclusive access to the findings. Newsnight's editor, Peter Barron, takes up the story on his blog:

Policy Exchange had given us the receipts to corroborate their claim that a quarter of the 100 mosques their researchers had visited were selling hate literature.
On the planned day of broadcast our reporter Richard Watson came to me and said he had a problem. He had put the claim and shown a receipt to one of the mosques mentioned in the report - The Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre in London. They had immediately denied selling the book and said the receipt was not theirs.
We decided to look at the rest of the receipts and quickly identified five of the 25 which looked suspicious. They appeared to have been created on a home computer, rather than printed professionally as you would expect. The printed names and addresses of some of the mosques contained simple errors and two of the receipts purportedly from different mosques appeared to have been written by the same hand.
I spoke to Policy Exchange to try to clear up these discrepancies but in the end I decided not to run the report.

Instead, Newsnight continued to investigate the suspicious receipts with the aid of a forensic scientist - and the result was last night's programme casting doubt on their authenticity. A Guardian report has more details here.

If substantiated, Newsnight's allegations will knock some of the shine off Policy Exchange, a thinktank closely associated with the Conservative party, which boasts that it is "committed to an evidence-based approach to policy development." [for the rest click on the heading]


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