A dodgy recommendation from Quilliam

Ben Chu

Quilliam Foundation A dodgy recommendation from Quilliam Quilliam, which styles itself as “Britain’s first counter-extremism think tank” and which was founded by a pair of former Islamist zealots, is often accused of being unrepresentative of UK Muslims. The fact that it has the ear of key ministers is attributed to the fact that it is skilled at telling right-wing politicians what they want to hear about the nature of the terror threat and Islam in Britain.

So it is interesting, in this context, to see Quilliam today recommend Lord Carlile to be a permanent overseer of the Coalition’s new Prevent counter-terrorism strategy. This is clearly part of some sort of a co-ordinated lobbying strategy on behalf of Carlile as (see update below) Paul Goodman made precisely the same recommendation on Conservative Home.

Carlile has history. He has been the most vocal defender of the draconian and illiberal system of control orders for terror suspects, both under the previous government and the present one. As the independent reviewer of  anti-terrorism laws (meaning he had access to classified intelligence), and a Liberal Democrat to boot, Carlile’s view was flourished constantly by the defenders of control orders to justify their retention. It was not until the former director of public prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, published his own review, in which he reached the opposite conclusion on control orders, that the wind was taken out of Carlile’s sails. The orders have now been watered down.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of Lord Carlile’s judgement, Quilliam’s championing of the peer for the role of counter-terror tsar is not going to change the mind of those Muslims who regard the think tank with suspicion.

UPDATE: Two tweets have reached me. Paul Goodman tells me:

“For the record, I didn’t speak to Quilliam before recommending Alex Carlile as a Prevent overseer.”

And there’s this from Quilliam:

“We’re a think-tank and don’t claim to ‘represent’ UK Muslims – any more than IPPR ‘represents’ whites. This is the UK, not Lebanon.”

I’ve also spoken to Quilliam and they tell me that they only saw Goodman’s blog after they’d made their own recommendation of Carlile.  So I’m happy to accept that there was no “co-ordinated lobbying strategy” on behalf of Carlile – at least not involving Quilliam and Goodman; I’m told that Carlile’s name has indeed been bandied around for such a position in counter-extremism circles.

Yet none of that alters the fact that putting Carlile in this role would be a controversial appointment given his record of vocal support for control orders. I asked Quilliam what they thought of control orders and they told me that although there are “draconian elements” to them, they feel they are the least bad option for protecting the public.

Incidentally, I think Quilliam makes a very fair point when it says that it does not claim to  ”represent” UK Muslims. But the think tank does claim to have a superior analysis of the roots of radicalisation and terrorism in that community. And it indisputably has a significant influence on policy. So it’s entirely reasonable for Muslims who disagree with Quilliam’s analysis to challenge its conclusions and the warm reception they are given by ministers.

UPDATE 2: As my good colleague John Rentoul has noted, Dean Godson, of Policy Exchange, wrote an article in The Times (paywall) yesterday which had this nugget of information about Carlile’s role behind the scenes in the formation of the new Prevent strategy:

“The bulk of the resistance…has come from Whitehall These panjandrums did not want support for attacks on British troops to be included within the definition of extremism in the glossary of terms at the end of the document. Their resistance to this key bit of text was eventually overcome thanks to the efforts of Lord Carlile of Berriew, the Liberal Democrat and independent overseer of the Prevent review, who was backed up by Mr Cameron.”

It rather sounds like Carlile has already moved from a reviewing role, to one in which he shapes policy.

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  • JohnJustice

    I think we can determine how much weight can be attached to you views on this matter by the deleted sentence “This is clearly part of some coordinated lobbying strategy…” Note the word “clearly”. Also the reference to Quilliam claiming to represent Muslims which Quilliam also convincingly refuted. Nor am I sure whether the word “superior” is appropriate in the sentence “But the think tank does claim to have a superior analysis..” suggesting as it does that Quilliam have a lofty attitude to these matters. Any think tank worth its salt obviously considers its own ideas to have more validity than others taking a different view. Specifically pointing this out in this way along with all the other stuff is clearly part of a strategy to discredit Quilliam.

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