ESRC, Islamophobia, and the British sense of humour

A couple of years back a leading Scots philosopher, a friend, applied for funding to the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the main public research-funding body in the UK, to study the tradition of non-violence in Islam. After much delay, he received a letter from the ESRC in which an anonymous reviewer informed him that his bid had been rejected because ‘there is no tradition of non-violence in Islam’.

On 23 March 2010, the British Home Office’s counter-terrorism communications unit RICU announced its top 20 most influential “pro-Islamic” political bloggers. Topping the list are Ali Eteraz and the Angry Arab News Service. Eteraz is a US-based writer, an aggressive self-promoter, who is known less for his ‘pro-Islamic’ views than for his self-conscious cultivation of a ‘moderate’ image which has included forging friendly ties with the notoriously Islamophobic hate site Harry’s Place. Angry Arab News Service is run by As’ad AbuKhalil, a California-based Lebanese anarchist, and atheist. AbuKhalil’s daily output includes ritual denunciations of clerics and Islamists from North Africa to Saudi Arabia. He is an all opportunities offender (sometimes indiscriminately so).

The list was compiled based on research conducted by one David Stevens of Nottingham University whose work, according to his website, is focued ‘within the area of contemporary normative political philosophy’. The man obviously gazes from such Olympian heights that he can’t distinguish between the Pope and a pagan. And to his funders, it appears not to matter.

So who commissioned this exercise in fatuity? Why the ESRC of course.

Brian Whitaker notes:

In 2008, he received a grant of £27,666.47 from the Economic and Social Research Council to conduct a study of “radical weblogs” as well as “to provide more general advice and assistance on RICU business”. The precise nature of the work was described as “somewhat sensitive” – “Consequently, the exact aims and outcomes of the project will not be publicised.”

So it appears that for the ESRC any drivel will pass muster so long as it targets mere Muslims; but if it is something that aims to break stereotypes…well, ‘there is no tradition’ of doing that.

Watch out for next ESRC-funded research project by David Stevens (yes, he still has a job): the UK’s top 20 ‘pro-Christian’ websites. Heading the list will be one Richard Dawkins (notice the distinctly Anglo-Saxon Christian name?) who actually put ‘God’ in title of his bestselling book!

Author: Idrees Ahmad

I am a Lecturer in Digital Journalism at the University of Stirling and a former research fellow at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies. I am the author of The Road to Iraq: The Making of a Neoconservative War (Edinburgh University Press, 2014). I write for The Observer, The Nation, The Daily Beast, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Al Jazeera, Dissent, The National, VICE News, Huffington Post, In These Times, Le Monde Diplomatique, Die Tageszeitung (TAZ), Adbusters, Guernica, London Review of Books (Blog), The New Arab, Bella Caledonia, Asia Times, IPS News, Medium, Political Insight, The Drouth, Canadian Dimension, Tanqeed, Variant, etc. I have appeared as an on-air analyst on Al Jazeera, the BBC, TRT World, RAI TV, Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon, Alternative Radio with David Barsamian and several Pacifica Radio channels.

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