New questions on Exeter's Middle East funding

By Martin Bright, April 14, 2011
Campaigner: Halfon

Campaigner: Halfon

An MP campaigning on the funding by the Arab world of British universities has demanded an explanation from Exeter University over a donation from the Middle East broadcaster Al-Jazeera.

Conservative MP Robert Halfon has asked if the TV station has funded the European Muslim Research Centre at the university, which was recently forced to issue a public apology over "serious errors of fact" in its research.

Mr Halfon raised questions about the funding of the EMRC at the university earlier this year. The EMRC is devoted to the study of Islamophobia and combating the idea that "European Muslims, Islam and strict adherence to Islam poses a threat to the safety, cohesion and wellbeing of communities and countries in Europe".

A Freedom of Information request from the Harlow MP confirmed that the EMRC received £50,000 from the Cordoba Foundation and £50,000 from IslamExpo, but it also showed a £35,000 gift from Al-Jazeera Satellite Network.

The centre's co-directors, Robert Lambert and lecturer Jonathan Githens-Mazer, were obliged to publish a lengthy apology for the first piece of work published by the centre: Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies.

This was a series of anecdotal accounts of personal experiences of alleged Islamophobia. However, Labour councillors in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets objected to their portrayal as Islamophobes, as did local MP Jim Fitzpatrick. The apology, which included a recall of the original research paper, said: "The university has become aware that a third party account…in an earlier version of the academic report Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime: UK Case Studies, contained serious errors of fact which may lead a reader to misconstrue the conduct, actions and the intentions of Councillors Helal Abbas, Denise Jones, Ken Clark, Joshua Peck, Rachael Saunders, Michael Keith and Jim Fitzpatrick MP."

The apology went on to clarify that it was "not the position or finding of the university that the actions and intentions of those individuals were Islamophobic or racist in any way. Those individuals have passionately stressed to the university that they have worked throughout their careers to fight racism, discrimination and inequality in east London."

Questions have been raised in the past about the Islamist connections of the EMRC. The Cordoba Foundation is headed by Anas al-Tikriti, former president of the Muslim Association of Britain, which represents the views of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK.

Mr Halfon's FOI request also showed Exeter receiving over £1m from the Kurdistan regional government and donations from the Qatar National Research Foundation, the Emirates Foundation and the Gulf Research Foundation. It has also received over £30,000 for research from the Israel Nature and Natural Parks Protection Authority.

Last updated: 12:15pm, April 14 2011