The media and the Centre for Social Cohesion

This page features an analysis of the type of content the Centre for Social Cohesion either contributes to, promotes, inspires or provides to the UK press. It also examines what kind of reports are stimulated by the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) and tries to establish if a pattern emerges and whether any pattern can be said to constitute a ‘message’ on a particular theme or set of themes.  Here we try to examine the nature of the outlook and standpoint the CSC provides and how they (the people who run it) convey this standpoint or are used to convey this, or some other purpose.

The survey of its output used the Nexis database.  In doing so the first observation that can be made is that with the CSC press articles are prompted by, or are reliant on supporting evidence by the organisation, and are in some cases actually written by members of the CSC, mostly by Douglas Murray the Director of CSC. One other basic observation is that another main feature is that the CSC inspired stories also contain mention of a very small range of other similar types of think tanks and political action groups that bolster the view points on offer.

Using a search on the Nexis database with the search term ‘Centre for Social Cohesion’, and restricted to UK national newspapers, the results (the number of stories) can be initially grouped like this:

The Express (21), Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday (18), The Daily Telegraph (12), The Express Newspapers (11), The Sunday Telegraph (10), The Sunday Times (7), The Independent (6), News International Newspapers Information Services Ltd. (5), The Observer (5), The Guardian (4), Independent on Sunday (3), The Sunday Express (2), The Business (1), The Times (1).

Some of these results are duplicates, mostly in the Newspapers with the lower results: the Sun for instance, is really only two reports “FANATICS’ CALL TO PROSECUTE QUEEN”, The Sun (England), August 1, 2009; and ‘Terrorist mag row’, The Sun (England), April 20, 2009. The Sunday Express is really only 1 result, ‘Muslims back faith killings’, Sunday Express, July 27, 2008; the Guardian only really three.

The headlines do seem to repeat in the Express and Daily Mail and taken as a whole they all (without any discernable exception) have the recurring sole theme of offering an overwhelmingly negative view of Muslims; and it can also be argued, that this contains a hostile and extreme reaction at the expense of any countervailing view point. It could be easily stated that on the evidence of all these results the function of the CSC, certainly as regards The Express, is to provide an overwhelmingly negative view of Muslims in a concerted campaign. All of the other newspapers more or less follow this pattern except where they refer to the CSC as presenting this negative stereotype; such as Seumas Milne’s (2009) Guardian article, that explored the ideas underlying the new Government strategy to confront “nonviolent extremism.”  Milne offers us a clandestine caucus that seems to have cornered the market:

… It is a policy that has been driven by neoconservative-leaning thinktanks—such as Policy Exchange, the Centre for Social Cohesion and the government-funded Quilliam Foundation—who believe Islamism, a political trend as broad as socialism or liberalism, is the enemy, rather than the tiny takfiri groups who think it’s a good idea to blow people up on buses and tubes.[1]

Despite this evidence of the fervent propogationof a specific idea, the CSC however, describes itself as a “non-partisan think-tank” and one which studies “issues related to community cohesion in the UK”. ‘Cohesion’ as a term would seem to be some sort of government shibboleth: a prerequisite of discourse dating back to a change in government policy.[2] The CSC  also describes itself as “Committed to the promotion of human rights”, and (the contentious claim) that “it is the first think-tank in the UK to specialise in studying radicalisation and extremism within Britain.”[3]

The CSC also argues that its aims are: “to promote human rights, tolerance and greater cohesion among the UK’s ethnic and religious communities and within wider British society.” This is also coupled with a “focus on extremism, radicalisation and different forms of Islamism”. So it is not surprising that its focus, as far as the print media evidence provided here goes, should focus on Islam as such, but it is the nature of its focus which is problematic: its slant. It also argues that CSC staff members seek to “appear regularly in the media” and that here they are “commenting on a variety of issues relating to the promotion of human rights and social cohesion,” so we can view the output represented in the press as a desirable outcome for the CSC. This mission seems to have a particular meaning for the CSC which we will examine below.

Daily Mail

All of the results in the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday represent an overwhelmingly negative view of Muslims, and in substance, are much the same stories as the Express, again with some of these articles being written by Douglas Murray. This negative stereotyping continues into all of the articles in The Daily Telegraph, Daily Star, Sunday Telegraph and The Sunday Times’ (which includes headlines such as ‘Family of teen Muslim invited men to rape her’[4], with the exception of 1 letter from August 3, 2008 complaining of the way the ‘Islam on Campus’ report was promoted by the CSC.

The time scale of the survey was till October 2009 and new reports appear fairly regularly on Nexis such as Melanie Philips’ (Daily Mail, October 19, 2009) observations on Rick Griffin’s appearance on BBC TV’s Question Time, this mentions the CSC as ‘anti-Islamist’:

So there are reports that an early proposal to fill the ‘ independent gadfly’ role on the panel by Douglas Murray, the right-of-centre director of the anti-Islamist Centre For Social Cohesion, was vetoed because of the danger of creating the impression that any of Griffin’s ideas were legitimate. Instead, playwright Bonnie Greer was selected. But as a Left-wing black American, she is unlikely to get under Griffin’s skin simply by virtue of the colour of her own.

Leaving aside the logic of this statement, previously in the Daily Mail the CSC was presented as ‘a respected think-tank’ (Daily Mail, February 26, 2009) and on examination this view (which may well be restricted to Philips peculiar outlook) seems to have recently emerged: the CSC is normally refered to as ‘an arm of the Civitas’ (September 2, 2008) and Philips herself has drawn heavily on the CSC’s reports (Daily Mail, July 8, 2008) and indeed is published by Civitas.

Express

In the Express, where Douglas Murray, Director of the CSC’s is quoted, we see headlines such as ‘Police dress in burkhas for a day’ with Murray quoted as stating:

It’s not the duty of police to empathise with particular sections of the community.[5]

Or, with headlines such as ‘Now non-Muslims seek ‘justice’ at the sharia courts’, Murray is quoted as saying:

…the unabated drive towards the full introduction of sharia law must be stopped.[6]

Or with the headline ‘ban the burkha here in Britain; even muslims don’t want it, Murray sees the burkha as part of the terrorist’s arsenal:

“One of the failed London bombers wore a burkha to get away, so the charge by some that the security issue is academic is also not true.[7]

This article also uses Ghaffar Hussain, “of the antiextremist think-tank Quilliam”; Hussein al-Alak, of the Iraq Solidarity UK; and Diana Nammi, of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation in London to back up its argument.

These types of articles are repeated with headlines such as ‘France’s president wants women unveiled should the burkha be banned?’ with the answer provided by Murray with:

YES – says Douglas Murray Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion.[8]

With the headline ‘fanatic freed to stir up hate’, Murray is quoted alongside(and to a certain extent conflated with) other authority figures such as far right-wing Pauline Neville-Jones, an un-named British Army veteran and an un-named ‘spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice’, with Murray’s summation as the decisive peroration of the article:

“The court has sent out the message that you can incite violence against British and American forces in Iraq and raise funds to kill them, and that your punishment will be nothing more than the most risible sentence.”[9]

Or with headlines such as ‘Schools could close for Islamic festivals’ Murray offers something of a manichean (if not totalitarian) declaration which simply avoids the question of Catholic or Jewish holidays or the variations between Scotland and England:

Either people are British and have a particular holiday system, or we decide to carve the country up into areas that are Muslim and nonMuslim, and I think that’s what this does.[10]

With an introductory paragraph that makes the bold assertion that:

MILLIONS of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been spent promoting terrorism and encouraging young Palestinians to hate the West, it emerged yesterday.[11]

Murray is quoted to simply reiterate the assertion and reiterate it again by introducing an analogy:

“political commentator and director of think-tank the Centre for Social Cohesion, who said the Government “was absolutely to blame” and had been “spending money like a drunken sailor”.

In connection with an attack on the BBC for letting ‘Al Qaeda suspect Binyam Mohamed’ speak ‘without demanding answers about his alleged terror links’, Murray is replaced by Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens (Christopher Hitchen’s son):

Al Qaeda expert Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, a senior researcher at the Centre for Social Cohesion think-tank, said: “The BBC’s responsibility is to licence-payers. Really, they didn’t press him hard enough on the issue of whether he had been to a training camp.[12]

What the CSC seem to be driving at is that all the main institutions of British society with the exception of thier own recently formed organisation promote terrorism.

Douglas Murray also writes short articles for the Express, which tie in the CSC agenda with some sort of game of ‘topical terrorism’, with headlines such as ‘It’s no surprise Britons were among killers,’ in connection with the terrorist attacks in Mumbai.[13]And indeed he has also written several leader columns.[14]Murray’s findings here are self-referential and extol the work of the CSC:

AND the lessened life chances which multiculturalism has imposed on women from parallel communities could not be more starkly demonstrated than in some of the so-called “honour crime” cases revealed in a report by the Centre for Social Cohesion published this year. Among the terrible cases were examples of women who had been abused by their families, who had gone to the police for help and whom the police— thinking such things were a “community issue” — returned to their families only for them to be beaten again.[15]

The question arises as to why does the Express gives itself over to the theories of such a small mono-maniac group?

Another Leader column with Murray as the writer[16] had a longer version in UK edition than the Scottish one, concerning the Government’s aim to put £70million into Muslim communities to try to tackle extremism, this was used in a manner whereby his opponents are linked to terrorist bombings, and this too is seen as funding terrorism:

If, like the post-7/7 groups, Brown ends up asking for help from people who believe (like Ahmad Thompson of the Association For Muslim Lawyers) that British foreign policy is run by Jews and Freemasons, or (like Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain, speaking before 9/11) that Osama Bin Laden was a “freedom fighter”, then the £70million will be little more than a windfall for the radicals. A kind of midjihad bonus.

The elementary pattern of the headlines, articles and leaders have elements of contrivance for effect: the headline ‘Murders’ threat by Muslims’[17] is accompanied by:

‘ONE in three Muslim students believes it can be justified to kill someone because of their faith.’ […] Last night the Centre for Social Cohesion, an independent think-tank which commissioned the poll, called the results “deeply alarming”. […] YouGov questioned 600 Muslim and 800 non-Muslim students at colleges with active Islamic societies.

Polls are of course used to influence and set the agenda by passing off their findings as scientific and impartial. It is interesting to compare the local editions, such as the Lancashire edition, which used the headline ‘Religion justifies killings’[18] adding:

In a survey of 1,400 students at 12 leading British campuses, 32 per cent of Muslims polled thought murder in the name of religion could be justified.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance are also also used to bolster Express’ use of CSC (also interesting to look at the imagery which often accompanies these as a collage —on occasion Nexis will exerpt this in caption form). Indeed ‘the taxpayer’ is said to be funding terrorism:

TAXPAYERS’ money has been spent on stacking public libraries with the hate-filled works of extremist preachers like Abu Hamza.[19]

A library is a place where vastly different opinions are placed back to back — why Hamza’s work should be destroyed or forbidden is not outlined: if it is because it advocates killing in the name of religion then it shares that feature with the Old Testament.  This makes no mention of what material it is talking about, other than it is ‘like’ that which it demonised, and was slightly amended from the Express’ Cyril Dixon’s first edition to convey less information moving down from 336 words to 185, with an imputation of a connection between the local Muslim community:

Douglas Murray, of the Centre for Social Cohesion think tank that made the discovery, said: “This risks fuelling the tensions that lead to terrorism.” The think tank found inflammatory literature at libraries in areas with large Muslim populations like east London, Blackburn and Birmingham.[20]

Of course this begs the question where do the CSC get their information from, do they read primary sources?

The Independent

Something subtler occurs with the coverage in the Independent, mostly by Jerome Taylor. Although the above pattern remains.  Are the CSC are being used as a cat’s paw in drawing ‘radicalised’ individuals into the public arena for the security services to observe? Or are they just freelance and biased Muslim baiters:

Douglas Murray, the director of the Centre for Social Cohesion, said he had agreed to attend the debate because “his opinions have to be countered”. But he said the Government should move quickly to ban the group.[21]

The CSC are also Jerome Taylor’s source for ‘expert’ advice on ‘terrorism’ (with a domestic slant) along with quotes from a “spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police” and a “security source”:

In the areas of London with large Tamil populations — such as Tooting, Mitcham and Harrow — donating to the Eelam cause is still as easy as going down the shops. The LTTE were proscribed as a terrorist organisation in March 2001 so those business and charities that once operated openly for the Tigers have since closed. But insiders say Tamils will continue to donate through the undiyal system, a shadowy money transfer network where LTTE-friendly businesses send money to Tiger-run businesses in Sri Lanka much like a backdoor Western Union system. Shortly before the war in Sri Lanka intensified, the Centre for Social Cohesion, a London-based think-tank, estimated that the undiyal system netted the LTTE £250,000 every month from Britain alone.

How this ‘estimate’ was made is not mentioned.  Coverage of the CSC (which makes no attempt to contextualise their work in any way) also confusingly presents them as advising the Home Office on who to ban from entering the UK.[22]

Jerome Taylor arguing that “Thousands of British Tamils will descend upon a major festival in London today despite accusations that it is a fundraising initiative for the Tamil Tigers, a banned terrorist group” quotes from “Dominic Whiteman, a specialist on Tamil fundraising at the centre-right think-tank the Centre for Social Cohesion”, who said:

…the police should not allow the events to go ahead. “Without doubt the London Heroes’ Day event has been a Tigers event where the LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s Heroes’ Day speech has been made available by video link,” Mr Whiteman said. “They are banned from congregating and this event should never be allowed to take place on British soil.”[23]

This call for bans, prohibitions, persecutions and censorship is an odd definition of promoting social cohesion.  Hermione Eyre in an article ostensibly on Feminism states (without attribution at the start of the article) extends this demonization into conspiracy that encompasses ‘the whole community’:

On Monday this week, a new study was published that suggested that current statistics on honour-based crimes against young men should be revised upwards. It revealed anecdotal instances where the whole community — taxi drivers, local councillors, police — all worked together to return young runaway men to the abusive domestic situation they were trying to escape. The findings were so shocking that they even made it out of special interest man-magazines and into the general press.

So the ‘whole community’ are to be what? At the close of the article it states that the study:

…was published by the Centre for Social Cohesion on Monday. Among its findings were details of a newsletter, sent to almost 1,250 Muslims in the Cardiff area that named and shamed specific women for non-Islamic behaviour. When issues such as this are “live”, I cannot see how it is possible to write off women’s studies at university as redundant and feminism as a thing of the past. It smacks of the liberated white female academic world pulling up the drawbridge after them. These are not just issues of faith, consumerism and culture: they are also issues of feminism. Or should that be masculinism?[24]

But the Independent (whose circulation is higher than 1,250) via the CSC has just done something similar.  The Independent has also used the work of the CSC in its leader columns (designed to influence opinion) and here the reports elide into the text:

The CSC report argues that such problems are no longer an issue of first-generation immigrants importing attitudes from “back home” but are “indigenous and self-perpetuating” as they are sustained by third- and fourth-generation immigrants. It is not a problem likely to die out as immigrants become more settled. But it would be wrong to assume that there is no resistance from Muslims themselves to this practice. The Government’s Forced Marriage Unit — a joint department within the Home Office and the Foreign Office — deals with forced marriages and organises repatriations and refuge for those women and girls caught up in the process. Thousands of British Muslims ask for their assistance every year. That is an encouraging sign.[25]

So from the Independent’s use and reporting of CSC, the reader would see its viewpoint is sanctioned by the newspaper, the CSC validated by its use alongside, and given the same accord, as government agencies such as the police and intelligence services, and presented as policy advisers to the Government. In contrast to this readers are not given any real details on the nature of the organisation, counter opinion as to its function and purpose, its track record in what it has promoted and provoked and so on.

Jerome Taylor the Independent writer who uses CSC material the most frequently has made something of a speciality of ‘Britain’s religious and ethnic minority communities’ with his work on ‘Minority Report’.[26] Some of his ‘reports’ here follow much the same pattern as that promoted by CSC, and contain a marked focus and ambiguous perspective on inflammatory issues.

A (2008) report pruriently dwells on attempts to set Muslims against Sikhs and seems to join in the goading that “risks damaging the historically tense relationship”.[27]This is not in isolation and is predated by another attempt at rhetorical devices, whereby questions such as “Is there really any animosity between Britain’s Sikhs and Muslims? are answered by reference to two reports. Taylor argues that the “BBC’s Religion and Ethics department has made more than 40 programmes on Islam but just four on Hinduism and one on Sikhism since 2001,” and couples this with a report from the think-tank Faith Matters.[28]

Taylor seems to have a close relationship and elective affinity with the CSC who in turn seem to lead him to stories. In a long blog on ‘hate preachers’ the CSC’s Houriya Ahmed preaches:

I have also just spoken to the press office — who, as soon as I mentioned ‘press’ in my email [Jerome Taylor of the Independent just blogged on this after I informed him], have decided to take an interest.[29]

Taylor circulates this back in Minority Report, asking “Should universities be doing more to stop hate preachers?” and including the ‘update’ and seems to enter the story himself:

Houriya Ahmed, from the Centre for Social Cohesion, has written a more detailed blog on this including how UEL actually cancelled an event earlier this year that Abu Usama had planned to speak out which suggests the university is being rather inconsistent. It seems they only bothered to clarify their position this afternoon once the press (ie. me) phoned them. [30]

Several other reports which draw on the CSC in Taylor’s capacity as Religious Affairs Correspondent, and are very close to the organisation and report and inflate the CSC’s relevance and importance, even although it seems part of the inflammatory process itself, as evinced by Taylor’s account of “Al Muhajiroun’s British based leader, Anjem Choudary”, who was “due to hold a debate with Douglas Murray of the Centre for Social Cohesion on Sharia law”.[31]

In an interview Taylor expressed a general view on how Islam is treated in the media:

‘Islam is continuously and routinely lampooned by the sway of columnists. The same level of criticism is rarely leveled at Christians, perhaps primarily because lots of readers might get offended and stop buying newspapers. But, yes, in the post 9/11 climate, particularly Islam has beena kind of free foray. ‘I’ve lost track of the columns I’ve read where somebody talks about the creation of Islam and they say it was written by a tribal chieftain, semi-illiterate chieftain orphan who married, had sex with twelve years olds and OKed the massacre of Jews. OK, in a sense they are historically correct factsabout Mohamed, we think. Is there a same approach to Christianity? Probably not; you don’t getthe same number of columns taking a highly critical approach to the foundations of Christianity. You know, it’s there but not as much as of other religions and one religion in particular.’[32]

Here he also adds that: ‘I hope my lack of faith makes me approach religion the same way I would approach any othersubject as a journalist,’ which he imagines to be ‘Thorough, objective and impartial’, adding ‘I don’t think religion should be treated any differently from any other subject […] if your faith gets in the way when you report that, thenyou are slightly failing to do your job properly.’ This does not seem to include faith in think tanks.

Notes

  1. Comment & Debate: This counter-terror plan is in ruins. Try one that works: Ministers want Muslims to accept shared values. Luckily they already do, including opposition to wars of aggression, The Guardian (London) – Final Edition, March 26, 2009; Pg. 31, Seumas Milne.
  2. See: IDeA: Improvement and Development Agency for local government, (2009) Community cohesion policy: Background and definition, which provides detail on how the policy framework evolved. In 2001 the then Home Secretary David Blunkett established the Community Cohesion Review team under Ted Cantle. This is arguably the point at which ‘Community cohesion’ as a term and a policy aspiration gained common currency in local government. Ruth Kelly, then Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced the creation of the Commission on Integration and Cohesion in June 2006. Some reports such as Maria Hudson’s (2006) Understanding Social Cohesion: Everyday Interactions in Diverse Communities, Policy Studies Institute, offer criticism of the government’s social cohesion agenda arguing that this “centred on the lack of clarity over the meaning of the term and a tendency to decouple social cohesion from issues of racial equality”.
  3. 2009 The Centre For Social Cohesion, About Us, what we do.  Why the intellectual prostitution of a think tank (given their, at times highly propagandistic and compromised history) should be the place for objective study is not explained.
  4. The Sunday Times (London), February 3, 2008
  5. The Express, August 4, 2009 (Scottish Edition), Police dress in burkhas for a day, Paul Jeeves.
  6. The Express, July 22, 2009, 1st Edition, Now non-Muslims seek ‘justice’ at the sharia courts, Paul Jeeves.
  7. The Express, June 24, 2009, 1st Edition, BAN THE BURKHA HERE IN BRITAIN; Even Muslims don’t want it, Mark Reynolds.
  8. The Express, June 24, 2009, U.K. 1st Edition, FRANCE’S PRESIDENT WANTS WOMEN UNVEILED SHOULD THE BURKHA BE BANNED?
  9. The Express, May 7, 2009 Thursday, 1st Edition, FANATIC FREED TO STIR UP HATE; Anger over our soft justice, John Twomey
  10. The Express, April 21, 2009, 1st Edition, Schools could close for Islamic festivals, Chris Riches.
  11. The Express, March 16, 2009, U.K. 1st Edition, ‘How GBP 100m of your cash goes to fund terror, Dana Gloger.
  12. The Express, March 14, 2009 Saturday , U.K. 1st Edition, BBC accused of being too ‘soft’ on ex-terror suspect, Cyril Dixon.
  13. The Express, November 29, 2008, It’s no surprise Britons were among killers
  14. The Express, August 15, 2008, AS RACE WARS SPLIT GEORGIA, COULD IT HAPPEN IN BRITAIN?; Douglas Murray.
  15. The Express, August 15, 2008, AS RACE WARS SPLIT GEORGIA, COULD IT HAPPEN IN BRITAIN?; Douglas Murray.
  16. The Express, August 1, 2007, Scottish Edition, Politicians must rediscover art of the possible; Douglas Murray. Other leaders include: The Express, July 28, 2007, U.K. 1st Edition, ‘Brown can’t stop floods but he CAN plug leaky UK borders’; Douglas Murray
  17. The Express, July 28, 2008, U.K. 1st Edition, ‘Murders’ threat by Muslims.
  18. The Express, July 28, 2008, Religion ‘justifies killings’.
  19. The Express, September 7, 2007, Uproar over Hamza’s rants in public libraries.
  20. The Express, September 7, 2007, U.K. 1st Edition, Uproar over Hamza rants in libraries, Cyril Dixon. Again this uses the TaxPayers’ Alliance as a source backing up the CSC.
  21. Independent, June 17, 2009,Al Muhajiroun’s return presents test for terror laws; Controversial Islamist group stands accused of radicalising young Muslims ,Jerome Taylor.
  22. The Independent, February 26, 2009, First Edition, Call to ban ‘spokesman for Hizbollah
  23. Jerome Taylor, The Independent, November 27, 2008, First Edition, Heroes’ Day – or a terrorist fundraiser?; Commemoration of Tamil ‘martyrs’ linked with support for Tigers.
  24. Hermione Eyre, Whoever said feminism was a thing of the past? The Independent, February 9, 2008.
  25. The Independent, February 4, 2008, First Edition, ‘We must not turn a blind eye to this cruelty.’
  26. IndyBlogs Home, Jerome Taylor, Independent News & Media 2007. This also states he ‘joined The Independent’s Foreign Desk in 2005 and is now a Home News reporter with a particular penchant for religious affairs.’
  27. Jerome Taylor, 8 October 2008, Minority Report: Freshers week ‘seduction website’ angers Sikhs.
  28. 9 September 2008, Minority Report: Is there really any animosity between Britain’s Sikhs and Muslims? Jerome Taylor
  29. Extremist to speak at University of East London, Houriya Ahmed on June 17, 2009
  30. Minority Report, Should universities be doing more to stop hate preachers?, Jerome Taylor, 17 June 2009.
  31. Islamist group has to abandon relaunch debate, Jerome Taylor, 18 June 2009
  32. Annikka Mutanen (2008 – 2009) To do, or not to do God, Faith in British and Finnish journalism, Reuters Institute Fellowship paper, Oxford University.

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