Desperate Times ahead for Quilliam's Jihad Express

We are living in an uncertain world where the most frequent buzzword heard these days in government circles is austerity. So it seems hard times are just around the corner for the many think tanks out there who’ve grown fat on public funding. One such group is the Quilliam which is now trying to pimp its image to attract consultancy work elsewhere.

It promotes itself as Britain's first counter-extremism think tank. In their early days jihad proved to be a nice little earner for the group although in truth most of their jihadist credentials wouldn't past muster in a boy scout's jamboree.

When the group first set up in flash offices in central London with around 18 staff, the Labour Government gave Quilliam £660,000 from the Home Office and £140,000 from the Foreign Office with a further £100k earmarked for 2009-10.

Well one of their newest, and perhaps a tad naive, recruits is a young man called Talal Rajab who jumped on board the so-called jihad express after packing in quite a few years at uni.

I did try and Google him to get a sense of who he is but I probably know less about him now than I did before – let’s just say the poor lad is not a headline-maker.

I've not met him as far as I'm aware, and yet he seems to know a great deal about me – oh dear, not another aficionado of the inaccurate Wikipedia.

His first big break came when he was given the major role at the Quilliam to sit and watch the Islam Channel solidly for three months to produce a report claiming the channel radicalizes its viewers ... so after 12 weeks of solid viewing one can only imagine the damage it did to him. Did he have counseling afterwards?

Following his heroic efforts exposing the channel as promoting or condoning Islamist extremism, violent or otherwise the self-styled Mary Whitehouse of the Muslim world then decided to focus his attentions on Channel 4, in particular he selected the series.

After weeks of watching this (no wonder Quilliam has had its public funding pulled) he wrote a letter to David Abraham, the Chief Executive of Channel 4 expressing his "deep disappointment" that the channel had given two prominent Islamist extremists airtime from the Islam4UK group.

This all would have passed me by but then Talal Rajab wrote: "The previous Muslim featured in this series, on 9th November 2010, was Yvonne Ridley, a presenter on Press TV (a propaganda channel for the Iranian regime), and an outspoken supporter of many of Islam's most violent and intolerant strands."

Friends of mine in the media copied me in to his letter and with good reason. Here was some cheeky oik blatantly using my name, out of context, in a bid to pimp his credentials to bag some consultancy work to justify Quilliam's existence.

In some ways I felt a wee bit sorry for the kid as he reveals himself to be inexperienced when it comes to the media game which I’ve been playing for 35 years now.

He describes one of the TV channels I do some freelance work for as a "propaganda channel". Well if he knew anything about Ofcom he would know Press TV is governed by their rules and regulations and if it was a propaganda channel for the Iranian government it would have been shut down within weeks of broadcasting.

Yes, Press TV, like Channel 4, ITN, even the BBC, and many other stations has on a few occasions fallen foul of Ofcom regulations but if it was the sort of channel he claims it to be it would, as I said, have been closed down a long time ago. For his information the channel is state funded like the BBC, not state controlled ... there is a difference.

And how dare he call me an extremist without reference to anything? Of course extremism is hard to define but I have held the same socialist views and principles for the last 30 or so years.

I have always believed in God so when I embraced Islam it wasn't a huge leap from my Christian Faith.

Sadly when I put on a hijab in 2004 I was called an extremist – despite the fact I still held exactly the same political views, working class values and socialist principles I always held dear.

I usually shrug off all this nonsense because I genuinely believe little people like Talal whatsisname are irrelevant.

But I fear he is a victim of colonialism and for that I'm sorry but freedom of speech is something I was born with and intend to retain regardless of my faith, class or convictions and no one, especially the likes of him is going to change me.

I am a feminist and always have been. I am a big admirer of the women who inspired the suffragette movement - a movement if it were in operation today, the likes of Quilliam would write off as radical and extreme for that is exactly how those magnificent females were treated by some frightened men who feared change.

As I often say, if you are not radicalised you are not paying attention. I was radicalised on my mother's knee, on picket lines in the 70s, as a trade unionist in the 80s and like most of the working classes don't take kindly to having some self-appointed moral guardian voicing their disapproval. The days of the Boss Class are over Talal.

But what really got my dander up was the closing line of his letter to the head of Channel 4. It read: "We at Quilliam are happy to work with Channel 4 to ensure that free speech is upheld in a way that does not marginalise and misrepresent British Muslim communities – as we have previously done with a wide variety of other media organisations. We would very much welcome a meeting to discuss these concerns further."

Quilliam has no credibility in the Muslim community – they are as out of touch with reality as an ageing uncle at a Saturday’s concert.

And there we have it – Quilliam is, like everyone else, feeling the pinch in these austere times. In their desperation to put a few crumbs on the table they are trying to get more funding from the likes of Channel 4 by using and abusing Muslims.

David Abraham has ignored the Quilliam letter so far which could be why the wet-behind-the-ears Talal has now sent the letter out to everyone on Quilliam’s mailing list ranging from right-wing EDL supporting blogs to eminent politicians and journalists.

The sad thing is young Talal has much to learn about the media industry – for if he had done his homework he would have realised that of all the broadcasts from More4thought, mine is one of the most viewed.

If he had ever bothered to go on to my website, read my articles, go on to my Facebook account or turned up to any of my meetings he would find out that I am certainly not on the fringes, that I have many supporters in the Muslim and non Muslim communities both in the UK and across the world.

Furthermore, if he intends to write about me again, I would seriously advise him to make himself culturally aware of the working class Geordie lass. The first shot is free, Pet – annoy me again and you will forget all about radical Islam and wish you’d read up on feisty Northerners.

In fact may be Quilliam should extend its thinktank to Toon Army territory!

I am happy to advise ... for a fee of course.

Yvonne Ridley is a founder member of Women in Journalism, a member of the National Union of Journalists and of the International Federation of Journalists as well as a member of the Fawcett Society.