Despite what the pessimists say, there is one industry that is still flourishing in the UK. It consists of Islamists establishing their own think-tanks and pressure groups. They serve little purpose other than to bestow legitimacy upon ill-informed, extremist Muslim speakers, who can then attend conferences and get media access under the façade of expertise.
This is a surprisingly easy bandwagon to jump on. Come up with an intellectual-sounding name for your organisation, buy a website domain and give yourself an impressive-sounding job title. This was the route taken by Hamas cheerleader Azzam Tamimi. He recently addressed the prestigious UK Defence Academy, is a regular contributor to the Guardian website, and once told the BBC that suicide bombing in Palestine "is the straight way to pleasing my God and I would do it if I had the opportunity". He describes himself as Director of the Institute of Islamic Political Thought (IIPT). The domain registered to the IIPT says it has a website "coming soon" (it has been coming since 2007), but meanwhile offers you the chance to download Tamimi's CV. What exactly it is that he is meant to be directing remains unclear. What is beyond doubt is that Tamimi uses the IIPT to try to couch his views in an aura of academic respectability.
Then there is Anjem Choudary, former leader of the banned extremist group Al-Muhajiroun, who according to CNN called the 9/11 terrorist attacks "magnificent" and boasted that "the black flag of Shariah will fly over Downing Street". Choudary was a regular on the BBC in the wake of 7/7, last year spoke at the National Liberal Club on the need for Sharia in the UK, and calls himself a Principal Lecturer at the London School of Shariah. This consists of Choudary driving around east London trying to find people to preach his version of Sharia to. It is probably the first, and only, school in the world to be based in the back of a van.
However, the group which has probably obtained a credibility most disproportionate to its worth is the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK). Describing itself as a "unique empowerment system" with a "non-violent focus on Jihad", MPACUK has propelled its founder Asghar Bukhari into a position of some prominence. He is regularly consulted on Muslim issues by Sky and the BBC, who once even labelled him a "moderate". MPACUK regularly launches diatribes against the pervasive influence of the insidious "Israel lobby" in Britain and the US. Bukhari himself recently accused "Zionists" of murdering "little children for sport", adding that "any Muslim who fights against Israel and dies is a martyr and will be granted paradise".
These groups are taking advantage of a desire to "engage" with the extremist fringe in the spirit of "increased dialogue". Yet for such extremists, belligerence alone is no longer enough to get their voices heard. It must now be complemented with claims of academic respectability and of representing the Muslim community. No matter how tenuous these claims may be, it is an effective tactic. Increasingly, their views are not being placed under scrutiny; they are being put on a pedestal.