Let’s not go to extremes

October 22, 2015

The irony of Rupert Sutton’s letter is that his organisation’s lack of credibility is the very reason why we raised concerns about Downing Street’s apparent plagiarism of its output (“Credibility of sources is vital”, Letters, 15 October).

Sutton works for Student Rights, the campus-monitoring arm of neoconservative thinktank the Henry Jackson Society – about which he claims we raise no “substantive criticisms”. On the contrary, our report on the HJS details the many flaws in its research and its authoritarian and Islamophobic tendencies.

The former director of Student Rights was Raheem Kassam, who proved too right-wing even for the UK Independence Party as Nigel Farage’s aide. Now HJS’ associate director is Douglas Murray, who once said that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”. Do such views qualify the HJS as fit to label others as “extremists”?

Sutton’s claim that Spinwatch is “funded by the very extremists whom the policy aims to challenge” reveals the contested nature of the term “extremism”. For the HJS, it appears that politically active British Muslim groups are extremist if they have the temerity to question British foreign policy, the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, or support Palestinian human rights.

It is this kind of misrepresentation that might lead readers to view his organisation – not Spinwatch – as trading in “smears and innuendo”.

Spinwatch is transparent about its donors, HJS is not. It chose to withdraw from its role in two All Party Parliamentary Groups rather than reveal its funders, as Westminster rules require.

Our research did, however, uncover some donors to the HJS, such as the New York-based Abstraction Fund, which also funds the Gatestone Institute. Gatestone publishes the Islamophobic writings of Geert Wilders, Robert Spencer, Lars Hedegaard and others.

So, we agree with Rupert Sutton: credibility of sources is vital. The debate on extremism is far too important to be left to the covert influence of shoddy research produced by neoconservative thinktanks.

David Miller and Hilary Aked
University of Bath; Spinwatch

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