Earlier this week, the Quilliam Foundation was grilled by the Home Affairs Select Committee about their dubious links to Islamophobic organisations in the US, which raises serious concerns over the group’s credibility.
The Quilliam Foundation (QF) is no stranger to controversy, but Tuesday’s hearing in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee was more than they bargained for, or were accustomed to. Thoroughly researched MPs grilled QF on troubling concerns, which many have held for years about the organisation. The scrutiny covered the following:
The committee challenged QF as to why they signed a statement with the Islamophobic Gatestone Institute, an organisation obsessed with denying Islamophobia, and whose online contributors include the infamous Robert Spencer. Spencer runs the right-wing Jihad Watch website.
A 2011 report by the Center for American Progress found that Spencer and his website Jihad Watch had been cited 162 times in the manifesto of Norwegian terrorist, Anders Breivik, who massacred 77 people in 2011.
Spencer himself was banned from entering the UK by the British government, as his presence was “not conducive to the public good” – he was due to address an English Defence League (EDL) gathering.
Labour’s Chuka Umunna MP in shock over QF’s links with Gatestone commented:
“I just wonder what on earth an organisation like your own is doing associating with and signing statements organised by an organisation like the Gatestone.”
Concerns over homophobia and racism
QF appointed Chad Sweet to its US board of directors for two years from 2011. Labour MP Naz Shah reiterated this quote from Dr Nafeez Ahmed’s essay exposing Quilliam in the US:
“Chad Sweet’s political hero is an unabashed white supremacist sympathizer (sic). In late 2013, at the Heritage Foundation, the Texas senator declared his life-long admiration for the late senator Jesse Helms, a bigot who advocated continued racial segregation, rejected the Civil Rights Act as “the single most dangerous piece of legislation ever introduced,” dismissed the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill as “the University of Negroes and Communists,” and described gay people as “weak, morally sick wretches.”
In light of the above, Naz Shah MP then put it to QF:
“Would you agree that such alliances at the heart of Quilliam Foundation strip it of all credibility when it comes to dealing with tackling Islamophobia?”
Does the Quilliam Foundation have any credibility?
The select committee also quoted Professor Matthew Goodwin, who until very recently served on the Government’s working group on anti-Muslim hatred. He said of QF:
“Nor to my knowledge did the government engage with any researchers who specialise in radicalisation. Instead, the taskforce consulted widely with the Quilliam Foundation, a think-tank that, some say, lacks credibility with many ordinary Muslims, pushes theories of radicalisation that are typically not supported within the academic community, and undertakes research that is seldom subject to rigorous peer review.”
It is hard to find any serious security expert taking QF’s counter extremism work seriously. Many academics have also expressed grave concerns with QF’s theories. Worst of all, perhaps, is the total lack of credibility QF has amongst British Muslims, the very community supposedly benefiting most from their work. Go to any mosque or Muslim community centre in the UK and mention QF – you will receive a universal disapproval bordering on hostility.
Denial of all knowledge
“When in doubt, deny all knowledge” seems to have been QF’s approach to challenging questions. Indeed, every time Haras Rafiq of QF was posed a tricky question, he seemed to have no answer and reverted only to “pleading ignorance” each time.
Take for instance the Robert Spencer and Gatestone link, Rafiq claimed he was not even aware Spencer was a contributor to Gatestone’s website. It got better when Professor Matthew Goodwin’s quote was read out to QF, highlighting the group’s alleged lack of counter-terrorism expertise, and their lack of credibility among Muslim spheres, Rafiq claimed that the government’s working group on anti-Muslim hatred had never been in touch.
The icing on the cake though was when the committee pressed Rafiq on QF’s links to extremists in the US. Rafiq had the audacity to totally distance Quilliam’s US operation to the UK one, essentially claiming that they were completely different outfits. How depressing that the Select Committee, short on time, did not probe this point further; surely in the inter-connected world we live in, the same organisation across two different countries cannot divorce its theory or extremist connections from each other.
QF’s total inability to answer any of the allegations posed against them resulted in Chuka Umunna expressing his frustration at QF, asking whether they can see why they lack such credibility.
Witch-hunt of the MCB and Muslim figures
Not content with defending the indefensible, QF also went on the attack claiming that the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) had signed the controversial “Istanbul Declaration”, and worse still, allegedly supported anti-Semitism. It is a matter of fact that Dr Abdullah in his personal capacity signed the Istanbul statement, not the MCB. As for the anti-Semitism allegation, we suspect it had the MCB either scratching their heads or calling their lawyers – we have not heard the last of this we think.
QF also repeated the false accusation that Dr Haitham al-Haddad supported female genital mutilation, which has been debunked in the past as a useful tool to demonise Muslim activists.
Bradford Council of Mosques boycott Quilliam Foundation
Naz Shah MP started her questioning by informing QF of the decision of the Bradford Council of Mosques (BCM) to reschedule their hearing with the select committee, due to their desire not to share a platform with QF. BCM felt that the QF lacked credibility within the community, and did not wish to share a platform. Perhaps BCM felt it would damage their own credibility being on a panel with QF. BCM stated regarding QF in a letter to the select committee:
“A self styled set up which has serious reservations within the mainstream Islamic community regarding its integrity and legitimacy on the issue of counter extremism.”
A worrying revelation
Perhaps the most dangerous revelation of the night was Haras Rafiq’s admission that the QF “mentors” youngsters on the Government’s “Channel” programme. Quite aside from QF’s links to extremism, Islamophobia, and a general lack of credibility, as commented on by the select committee; more troubling were the antics of QF’s poster boy, Maajid Nawaz, who as many know, was caught during Ramadan, drunk, in a strip club, inappropriately touching a female dancer. Are these the sorts of people Channel is using to serve as mentors to young Muslims? If so, nobody will be surprised if their mentoring achieves nothing, and perhaps turns out to be counterproductive.
One final point worthy of note was Haras Rafiq’s claim that QF had been contacted by “Jame-Ahle-Sunnah” (allegedly an organisation with 600- 800 mosques).
The title “Jame-Ahle-Sunnah” is of course a generic title used by many Muslim organisations and individuals to define their theological stance.
Haras will no doubt come under pressure to be more specific about precisely whom he is referring to, and indeed whether the party in question (assuming it exists) really did request any assistance from QF.
Haras also claimed that QF has a vast outreach programme with a number of societies at universities, and that they visit schools regularly where they run workshops.
Precious little media coverage is available on this “vast outreach programme”, raising further doubts over Mr Rafiq’s assertions.
In light of the aforementioned evidence, it is difficult to see how the QF can maintain a position on Prime Minister David Cameron’s “Community Engagement Forum”, when they are clearly linked to anti-Muslim extremists themselves, and lack any serious credibility within the Muslim community.
One really wonders how much the PM really knew about Quilliam Foundation before inviting them on board.
5Pillars contacted the Quilliam Foundation for comment, instead they blocked us on Twitter.