An interesting feature of the recent controversy over the so-called “Muslim patrol” in Tower Hamlets was that some of those you might have expected to seize on the case as an excuse for a bit of anti-Muslim scaremongering balked at resuming their campaign against the Islamist menace on the basis of such flimsy evidence.
Ted Jeory of the Sunday Express admitted that he had suffered the “uncomfortable experience” of agreeing with Islamophobia Watch that the issue had been “blown out of all proportion”, in a way that “would only serve to inflame the far right”. And nobody familiar with Jeory’s journalistic record could accuse him of failing to hype up the mythical threat of Islamism in east London. Even the Telegraph‘s Andrew Gilligan, of “Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets” notoriety, claimed that he was offered the story but “didn’t use it because I wasn’t sure whether a few kids on YouTube had national importance”.
As a result the story was broken by The Commentator, a hardline right-wing blog linked to the neocon Henry Jackson Society, which has an established record of whipping up Islamophobia. It was immediately taken up by the mainstream right-wing press, including the Mail and the Sun. Trevor Kavanagh contributed a comment piece to the latter paper in which he denounced the supposedly widespread problem of “hooded gangs” who “roamed Muslim-populated suburbs ordering women to cover up and confiscating liquor”. Kavanagh went further, warning Sun readers that “thousands of young British-born Muslims have been radicalised – some of them trained in bomb-making and terror tactics in the badlands of Pakistan”, and he threw in a reference to Mali and Algeria for good measure. At Kavanagh’s hands, “a few kids on YouTube” had become part of the “global threat” of al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism.
Perhaps the Murdochs were so impressed by Kavanagh’s attempt to portray the “Muslim patrol” stunt as part of an international terrorist movement that they thought the same message should be conveyed to readers of one of their more upmarket publications. At any rate, yesterday the Times published an equally ludicrous article by Maajid Nawaz of the Quilliam Foundation under the heading “Muslim patrols are a sign of things to come”. Not content with describing the isolated actions of a few deluded Muslim youth in Tower Hamlets as comparable to “Hitler’s Brownshirts”, Nawaz went on to claim, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that there was a real danger that their ranks might be augmented by Islamist fighters returning from Syria – “the Muslim patrols could become a lot more dangerous and, perhaps willing to maim or kill if they are joined by battle-hardened jihadis”. Faced with such idiocy in what purports to be a serious newspaper, you can only rub your eyes in disbelief.
Nawaz’s motive for promoting this nonsense isn’t difficult to identify – he makes a good living out of wildly exaggerating the role of marginal groups of Islamist extremists and then presenting Quilliam as the only organisation with the specialist knowledge required to counter them effectively. But here he surely runs the risk of reducing himself to an object of ridicule, even among those who share much of his anti-Islamist world-view.
However, this didn’t prevent the Telegraph from publishing a report based on the Times piece in which Nawaz’s fantasies were uncritically repeated (“Muslim patrols could become more prevalent and more violent, warns anti-extremist”), and this report was in turn reproduced at Harry’s Place. When even the likes of Andrew Gilligan and Ted Jeory have recognised that association with the “Muslim patrols” hysteria would further damage their own already limited credibility, you can only conclude that other sections of the Islamophobia industry have entirely taken leave of their senses.