How a humble policeman backed Islamism

The role of "Islamist cop" Robert Lambert, in Muslim radical politics, has been an intriguing sideshow for some time now. As head of the Muslim Contact Unit at the Metropolitan Police, Mr Lambert promoted the view that national security was best served by talking to people on the wilder fringes of political Islam, because they were the authentic voices of the Muslim "street". His brand of radical chic was particularly influential on Ken Livingstone when he was London mayor.

It came as some surprise when this humble plod became co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre at Exeter University. That such a respected UK university should provide a platform for Mr Lambert's untested ideas raised a few eyebrows in academia.

However, it soon became clear that he was the placeman of the Cordoba Foundation and IslamExpo, two organisations which promote Islamist ideology in this country.

The EMRC has a distinct political mission, first to define Islamophobia in its own terms, and then expose it. At the same time it is committed to the view that strict adherence to Islam does not pose a threat to national security.

One might question how this rigid ideology fits with the enlightenment tradition of open-ended university research. But UK universities have learned to be flexible with positions of principle in the search for funding.

Thankfully, Exeter decided to draw the line when the EMRC started parading "serious errors of fact" as academic research. In its first publication, Mr Lambert and his co-director Jonathan Githens-Mazer, decided it was perfectly good academic practice to label Labour councillors in Tower Hamlets, and Poplar and Limehouse MP Jim Fitzpatrick, as Islamophobes. This is a horrible libel and I can only hope that personal apologies have been issued to each of the politicians involved.

If a student had been guilty of such sloppy practice, Exeter would have been within its rights to instigate serious disciplinary procedures. But the co-directors of the EMRC have been allowed to keep their jobs.

Exeter should be careful. Its reputation has been damaged by news of vice-chancellor Steve Smith's visit to Libya in 2003, to see dictator Muammar Gaddafi. And it hosts two of the UK's most active critics of Israel at its Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies in Ghada Karmi and Ilan Pappé.

The case of the EMRC suggests that Exeter University is learning the hard way that genuine academic pursuit involves engaging both sides of an argument.

    Last updated: 12:13pm, April 14 2011