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Friday, August 06, 2010 

The Quilliam Foundation and accusations of McCarthyism part two.

Maajid Nawaz from the Quilliam Foundation has responded to yesterday's Guardian article on their "secret" report in what seems to be the characteristic style of the organisation: by making a wholly unsubstantiated attack on the journalist responsible, Vikram Dodd, denouncing him as a "regressive" for writing a "one-sided propaganda piece in favour of Islamist bigots".

In fact, as Dodd points out in the comments on Pickled Politics, his piece would not have been so one-sided (although it still isn't in my view, being a fair appraisal of the document even if it doesn't focus on the recommendations made on counter-terrorism policy) if QF had bothered to defend themselves when he twice phoned them up, instead deciding not to comment. As for why the Guardian decided not to post Nawaz's response, it's patently obvious: they weren't going to publish unfair abuse of Dodd, as is more than their right.

While putting in an otherwise fine defence of the document when not resorting to ad-hominem attacks, Nawaz's explanation for why it was meant to be secret in the first place is both far from convincing or adequate:

After listening to some of our critics, Quilliam had kept this paper out of the public limelight to avoid sensationalism. It seems, however, that a disgruntled civil servant decided to leak the hard copy we sent to the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) online, where it has now been read over 10,000 times.

Err, so after listening to the organisation's critics, it was decided that it was best to make sure that they couldn't read it in the first place. Well, that's certainly one way of avoiding people disagreeing with you. If Quilliam had really wanted to avoid "sensationalism", then putting it into the public domain would have ensured that would have been the case; the only reason it became a story was exactly because of the secrecy and leak. It could further have avoided it by bothering to defend the document when first asked, rather than shooting the messenger afterwards. It's this abrasive nature which QF's founders seem to relish that leads to "disgruntled civil servants" leaking documents, especially when they're all but insulted in the preamble to the document.

For all of Nawaz's bluster about leftist regressives, one of the few points he doesn't address is the remarks of Robert Lambert, co-founder and former leader of Scotland Yard's Muslim Contact Unit:

"The list demonises a whole range of groups that in my experience have made valuable contributions to counter-terrorism."

There's no arguing with Quilliam's main point that government obviously shouldn't be funding organisations whose ultimate aim, even if peaceful, is the dismantlement of democracy and imposition of Sharia law, yet many of the groups listed have only tenuous real links with Islamism, and as Lambert suggests, actively help with counter-terrorism. Regarding them as irredeemable, even if as Quilliam argues, they shouldn't be banned, is unhelpful in the extreme.

The nature of Nawaz's response only underlines how QF, funded by the government, although it doesn't admit so in their annual report (PDF), despite directing readers of the FAQ on their site to it, needs to change if it is going to be taken seriously. As Sunny points out in the comments on Nawaz's piece, "funding certain groups and not others simply increases the back-stabbing and annoys the hell out of ordinary Muslims (who are suspicious of govt funded programmes as it is)". It will annoy them even more to learn that Nawaz is being effectively funded to launch such fusillades against a journalist simply reporting on a document which should never have been secret in the first place. If Quilliam is meant to lead debate on the nature of Islamism and extremism in British society, then the attempts it makes to shut down and limit those debates are at odds with its very mission and the "shared secular democratic values" which Nawaz wants Muslim-led organisations to espouse. Through their brooking of no dissent, their welcome advice on how to counter radicalisation risks being drowned out, which would be the greatest tragedy of all.

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