The big taboo: campus extremism

Universities and ministers are ignoring the explosive problem of Muslim radicalism

By Douglas Murray, February 18, 2010

British universities have a problem they are studiously ignoring. The attempted blowing-up of a Detroit plane on Christmas Day by the former head of the University College London Islamic Society (ISoc) is just the latest example.

When I started the Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) three years ago, the first report I commissioned was on Muslim student radicalism at UK universities. The reasons were obvious. The 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was carried out by a British man radicalised while at the London School of Economics. In 2003, two students across the road at King’s College London went to Mike’s bar in Tel Aviv and carried out a suicide bombing, killing three and wounding 50.

It was not just such high-profile warnings of Islamic student radicalism that sounded an alarm, but persistent reports from concerned students and friends on campus, particularly young Jews amazed at the hate speech they were encountering. And so for a year, the CSC researched the literature in ISoc prayer-rooms, attended events, conducted face-to-face interviews, and recorded sermons at Friday prayers. Along the way, the picture became clearer. And a lot more worrying.

As well as uncovering a wealth of radical teaching, we also commissioned the respected polling company YouGov to carry out a poll of Muslim and non-Muslim attitudes on campus. We polled over 600 Muslim and 800 non-Muslim students from across the UK.

A third of Muslim students polled said they thought killing in the name of their religion could be justified. A similar proportion believed in the introduction of sharia law and the creation of a worldwide caliphate. Such radical sentiments doubled where the respondents were active members of their university’s Islamic society.

Islam on Campus was published in the summer of 2008 and has been cited by politicians and journalists across the world.

But the ISocs and their umbrella body, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), whose radicalism had been exposed in the report, were furious. They condemned the report, claiming that it would “sow discord amongst British people” and stressing “we reject their conclusions utterly”.

The Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell congratulated FOSIS, saying “I’m pleased at the speed with which groups such as the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, Universities UK, the National Union of Students and other political parties have dismissed the findings of the Centre for Social Cohesion report.”

I realised that even this late in the day, the government and the universities would only welcome someone willing to whitewash the problem.

Fortunately, in December 2008 they found someone. One June Edmunds of Cambridge university spent £78,690.26 of our (that is, taxpayer) money to look into exactly the same area. The resulting report, paid for by the government via the Economic and Social Research Council, did not represent value for money by any standard. Edmunds interviewed 26 students at three universities — 18 face-to-face and eight by email. That’s almost £80,000 to speak to 26 students.

Edmunds’s “study” revealed that there was no real problem. Among her academic babble she wrote that: “Europe in general and the UK in particular now hosts a new generation of Muslims who are politically engaged, either in mainstream parliamentary politics or extra-parliamentary politics. Its concerns are more global than those of the first generation, showing awareness of and concern for parts of the world unconnected with their ancestors’ domiciles.” How lovely it all sounds! And how far divorced from reality.

Naturally, FOSIS welcomed the report, stating: “The findings of the recent study further reiterates… that Muslim students and Islamic Societies in higher education… are not prone to extremism.” Which is unsurprising given that members of FOSIS were among the lucky few Edmunds interviewed to arrive at her conclusions.

Since all this we have had another student wannabe-bomber. As I write, an envoy of the proscribed terrorist group Hamas is again lecturing on Edmunds’s own campus. In the coming days, the Detroit bomber’s campus, UCL, will host a propaganda event featuring admirers of Ayatollah Khomeini.

Muslim organisations, university heads and government ministers have ignored the radical reality of our campuses for too long. It’s time they realised that messenger-shooting is not the same as trouble-shooting.

Douglas Murray is director of the Centre for Social Cohesion

Last updated: 4:35pm, June 3 2010


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