Why is the Public Interest News Foundation Funding the Conspiracy Theorists of 5 Pillars?

18th June 2020

The Public Interest News Foundation (PINF) is a body which was launched by the Independent Publishers Task Force in 2019, which in turn was set up by IMPRESS: the independent monitor for the press. The PINF has been funded by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust to provide grants to independent news providers. Successful applicants will receive the sum of £3000 from the PINF. 

The criteria for eligibility for a grant include the requirement that applicants are:

  • Committed to high standards of journalism

and have:

  • A track record of publishing journalism that provides a demonstrable benefit to the public.

The PINF seeks to encourage independent news providers, because it regards them as “the true antidote to fake news.”

Among the groups in receipt of the award is one outlet in particular which – judged against those criteria – could not have been a worse choice. Indeed, the decision to fund this online journal calls into question, in a fundamental manner, the judgement of PINF.

The PINF has awarded a grant to 5 Pillars. However, 5 Pillars is a fake news site with a long and disgraceful track record of peddling disturbing conspiracy theories about terrorist attacks, attacking interfaith work with Jews, and defences of notorious hate preachers. That is the very opposite of the “high standards of journalism” that the PINF seeks to promote.  

What follows is a brief overview of 5 Pillars’  “high standards of journalism” and its “benefit to the public”.

5 Pillars has promoted a range of distasteful and untrue conspiracy theories. For example,  Roshan Muhammed Salih – who is the Editor of 5 Pillars – wrote an article entitled ”Was Michael Adebolajo an MI5 agent?” This is what Mr Saih had to say:

“Now let’s go a step further and ask something the mainstream media will never ask but ordinary people are defintely asking. Did Michael Adebolago and his friend hack that British soldier to death on the orders of MI5 because they had some leverage over them and they were compelled to do it? Did MI5 set the whole thing up to demonize Muslims and Islam and therefore guarantee more taxpayer’s money to fight “al Qaeda-inspired” terrorism?

Well, I can’t possibly answer these questions but let’s face it, the only way you could deny the possibility is if you trust the integrity of MI5 100 per cent. And do you really think it is wise to trust an organization whose middle name is “subterfuge?”

The pedding of “false flag” narratives is also evident in an article entitled “False flags and Israeli terrorism”, where the author, Kashif Ahmed stated:

“I believe 9/11 was Israel’s macabre, crowning glory but it’s been going on for a lot longer than that”

Similar conspiracizing is evident in another article by Kashif Ahmed, “Samantha Lewthwaite: Myths and legends from the war on terror”. The article speculates that the notorious female terrorist might be an MI6 agent. It calls a string of terrorist attacks and even the Sandy Hook mass shooting in America “painfully obvious, Anglo-American-Israeli false flag” operations.

Roshan Muhammed Salih wrote a quite remarkable piece on the murder by ISIS of the American journalist, James Foley: Did Western intelligence murder James Foley?. In it, he opined:

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist and don’t usually hang out at “9/11 truth” conventions, writes Roshan Muhammed Salih, but am I the only sane person in the world who finds that James Foley beheading video a bit fishy?”

He speculates that “perhaps Foley just wasn’t killed at all”, concluding:

“But I do know that Western politicians and media are lying b******s because they have form; I also know that false flags come as second nature to them; and I’m certainly not going to take their statements at face value.”

The journal also published conspiracy theories surrounding the Pakistani Taliban massacre at a school in Peshawar in an article by 5 Pillars’ deputy editor, Dilly Hussain entitled “Peshawar School Massacre – A Vicious Cycle of Violence and Bloodshed” in which he stated:

“Additionally, ever since Pakistan joined the US-led war on terror, it’s been open season for private security firms such as Black Water, Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and foreign intelligence services such as Israel’s Mossad and India’s RAW to carry out false flag ‘terrorist attacks’ to cement western military presence in the region.”

Conspiracism was also promoted in 5 Pillars’ reporting on the San Bernardino Massacre. Extensive space was provided by 5 Pillars to reproduce the views of the Islamist preacher Yasir Qadhi, who stated:

“Seriously, I am not at all into conspiracy theories, but this case just doesn’t make ANY sense whatsoever. I hope the community is extra persistent in demanding to VERIFY any evidence presented. Sadly, we have seen explicit evidence of some corrupt authorities manipulating the truth (e.g., case of Chicago police shootings recently).

If indeed the couple is guilty, I have no sympathy for them. But at this stage, presented with what we know, I can’t help feel something is seriously wrong with the picture being presented, and that we are being asked to believe something that really doesn’t add up.”

The subsequent investigation found that the shooters  – a married couple – “were talking to each other about jihad and martyrdom before they talked about her coming to the United States”

By contrast, 5 Pillars spoke out against Jewish and Muslim organisations working together on charitable causes. When some Muslim organisations got together with Jewish institutions on the “Mitzvah Day” project, the Editor, Roshan Muhammed Salih, stated:

“But I fear that our community leaders are selling this cause out for the sake of gaining entrance into the establishment fold. And if we don’t stop them now from going down this shameless route it will be completely normal for Muslims to work alongside those who are directly or indirectly oppressing our Palestinian brothers and sisters.

Where is the shame of these community leaders? Where is the love of Palestine in their hearts?

Personally, I want a Muslim leadership that will not be cowed by government threats or bogus accusations of anti semitism. I want a leadership that truly represents the community and not their own vested interests. And I want to be part of a Muslim community that is led by lions, not by mice.”

It is difficult to see how an article like this meets the PINF’s criteria of providing “a demonstrable benefit to the public”. 

In a similar vein, Salih was the driving force behind the bullying of a mosque to cancel an exhibition that celebrated Muslims who had protected Jews during the Holocaust. 

Not content with trying to torpedo cooperation between Muslims and Jews, 5 Pillars published a lengthy article by the disgraced Anglican vicar, Stephen Sizer. Sizer had previously been found to have published a link on his Facebook page to a 9/11 conspiracy theory article entitled ‘”9-11/Israel did it”, asking his readers: “Is this anti-Semitic? If so, no doubt I’ll be asked to remove it. It raises so many questions”. He was later disciplined by the Church of England. 

As a final point: 5 Pillars is supportive of a number of extreme preachers. They have a particular soft spot for the Islamist hate preacher, Haitham al Haddad. Haddad is infamous for denouncing the “scourge of homosexuality” which he describes as a “criminal act”. The journal publishes articles that defend this preacher, and hosts videos containing his sermons. For example, when Westminster University’s LGBTI Society sought to exclude Haddad from campus, 5 Pillars published a defence of the preacher, in which he was quoted as saying:

“There is a clear attempt being made to almost criminalise certain aspects of being a Muslim. In the religion of Islam it is clear-cut that homosexual acts are a sin and are unlawful in the Shariah.”

They are also supportive of other Islamist preachers and activists, including Abdurraheem Green, Ibrahim Hewitt, and Hizb ut Tahrir’s Abdul Wahid, to name a few. It is beyond the scope of this article to detail their views, but they are easily researched. 

As a footnote, the Deputy Editor of 5 Pillars, Dilly Hussain, launched a stream of invective against the Muslim feminist, “Mini Topia”, who had stated in a debate on the BBC’s Asian Network that she  ”wouldn’t agree with any state which tries to curtail anyone else’s right based on their religion, their sexuality, their creed or their political leaning”. In response, Mr Hussain published a series of Tweets, in which he called her “pisshead drunken liberal garbage”, a “stupid liberal cow”, “drunk and on the pull on a night out with your girlfriends”, a “fat cow”, and a “clubber, alcohol drinker, liberal bullshitter”. Again, it is hard to see how attacking a Muslim feminist with sectarian, gendered insults is “a demonstrable benefit to the public”. 

Now, try this for a thought experiment. Imagine that a far right American website published articles speculating that terrorist attacks were “false flags”, that people murdered by terrorists were possibly still alive, and that supposed terrorists were in fact agents of the security services. Such a website would swiftly be removed from news aggregation services and from social media. That was the response to David Icke and Alex Jones. 

It is really rather extraordinary to see a body which is devoted to improving the accuracy of news outlets not sanctioning, but actually funding an organisation such as 5 Pillars. 

The Public Interest News Foundation must act swiftly to correct this serious error, and should withdraw the award to 5 Pillars.

UPDATE

PINF have put out the following statement:

On 18 June, the trustees became aware of concerns relating to the journalism and related social media activity of 5 Pillars. By this point, the grant to 5 Pillars had been paid and could not be withdrawn.

We take extremely seriously the concerns that were raised about some of the material on the 5 Pillars website and related social media accounts. PINF exists to promote active citizenship and community engagement by supporting public interest journalism with high standards. We do not wish to support journalism that does not provide a benefit to the public.

In response to this situation, PINF is taking the following steps:

· We are encouraging anyone with concerns about the journalism and related social media activity of 5 Pillars to raise these concerns with IMPRESS as a matter of urgency;

· We have confirmed with 5 Pillars that the grant must only be used for charitable objects and activities and must be repaid if 5 Pillars is the subject of an adverse regulatory decision by IMPRESS; and

· We are reviewing our grantmaking policies and procedures to ensure that our expectations of public interest journalism are set out more clearly in future, and that future grantees meet these expectations.