Attempt to link Islamic societies to terrorism
Last Thursday BBC Radio 4 broadcast a Report programme in which they attempted to “investigate” the links between British university Islamic societies (or ISocs) with terrorism, on the basis that Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalib, who attempted to blow up a plane near Detroit last Christmas, had been president of the ISoc at University College London. In doing this they turn to some of the familiar talking heads, Ed Husain among them, giving the societies themselves a voice only at the beginning. (Available on iPlayer apparently permanently.)
Among those they first interview are Hamza Tzortzis, who is a former HT member (or at least, former activist) who has since left, and Qasim Rafiq of FOSIS, who had been Abdulmuttalib’s predecessor as president of UCL ISoc, who said that most people who get radicalsied do so through watching BBC News and al-Jazeera. After him came Ed Husain, whose view that the separation of men from women, the latter submitting their questions in writing, “are examples of the hardline form of Islam that has become endemic in many ISocs”. He himself said that the practice belongs in Saudi Arabia, not in Britain. He also alleged that the views given out in “event after event after event”, the literature present in prayer rooms and the content of Friday sermons “clearly does provide the extremist mood music to which suicide bombers dance”.
OK … besides the suggestion of dancing to “mood music” (mood music is background music; you don’t dance to it), this amounts to blaming ISocs for people becoming suicide bombers when there is no definite link. The programme points out that six former ISoc members have become involved in terrorism, but that is a small fraction of how many there have been. If ISocs convey any view on politics, it ought to be one based on the tenets of Islam and influenced by concern for the Ummah, not for what the government might want Muslims to think. As for the matter of separating men from women, people may disagree with it, but the issue has no place in any discussion on terrorism.
Next, there is a female (supposed) former ISoc member, who alleges that there is a culture of intolerance in the prayer room in which sisters who do not wear hijab, do not pray “correctly”, or do not share the common view on certain political issues like Palestine or the Iraq war, are looked down on. While the issues of people “correcting” each others’ prayers based on instructions from unreliable, sectarian sources is a well-known problem, not just in ISocs, what “moderate” views on Palestine and Iraq were objected to is not explained. She also alleged that the “hijabi sisters” would refuse to associate with her if they knew she had non-Muslim friends, male or female; this could only have been a certain section of them rather than all or even most. I’ve seen women in hijab socialising quite happily with obviously non-Muslim women on many occasions, including around the university quarter around Gower Street where UCL is.
They then interviewed the provost of UCL whose opinion was that university authorities cannot be the police, and that restricting outside speakers will not make a great deal of difference to terrorism as “the influences on young minds are many and varied”. The reporter then said that his team had discovered that an al-Muhajiroun presentation had taken place last December, with Anjem Choudhary chairing and a video-linked message from Omar Bakri Mohammed. The university had given a statement that they had been deceived by the person who booked the room who said he was from a London youth centre, that complaints had been made about the conduct of some attendees, and that the person who booked that meeting would not be allowed back.
There then followed an interrogation of Daud Abdullah over his signing of the Istanbul Declaration, which called for Muslims to fight foreign warships sent to police the “ceasefire” and prevent the smuggling of guns into Gaza “by all means and ways”. This leads to them arguing over what that phrase meant and whether it includes or excludes military means, but the real question should have been what it has to do with British students being radicalised and how much his course contributes to that. Daud Abdullah is then heard explaining that Hamas won the Palestinian election in 2006 and thus represents the will of the Palestinian people, and on that basis he supports them; he did, however, express disapproval to the killing of civilians, whoever they are.
After Daud Abdullah, they moved onto Shahidul Mursaleen, a member of the “moderate group” Minhaj-ul-Quran, who told how he had found himself unable to promote or arrange events on certain campuses because of interference from HT students. If such things are going on, surely they should be seeking help from the university authorities so that one group cannot prevent another from operating. Normally, however, universities reserve much of their poster space for internal use, which includes registered student societies and does not include outside organisations. Did the MQ group have permission to put the posters up? Surely they should try and settle these matters through the proper channels rather than running to the media.
Next came Anthony Glees, professor of security studies at Buckingham university, who alleged that universities had become “safe spaces for radicalisation that can lead to a state where a student is ready to be recruited by al-Qa’ida”. He blamed political correctness for allowing such radicalisation to be presented as free speech, such that those responsible could not be touched:
There is only free speech within the law; you should not be at liberty to incite people, you should not be at liberty to radicalise people so that they turn to terror. Joining al-Qa’ida is not like joining the Young Socialists or the Young Conservatives. It is a step change and it marks a move towards total abhorrence and hatred for everything the liberal democracy of this country stands for.
But the fact that al-Qa’ida depise western liberal democracy is not why anyone is fighting them; it is their behaviour as fighters and their behaviour when they get a chance to rule, or influence rulers, that motivates people to fight them. The west itself has produced a number of ideologies over the years whose followers despise liberal democracy, as well as academics who have acted as apologists for every dictatorial regime from Pinochet to the Khmer Rouge. This is not the same as inciting people to commit terrorist acts, as they would have gone to prison if they had done that, and quite rightly so. And as for “radicalising people” etc., if this is done by clearly teaching them that al-Qa’ida are fighting for Islam and that it is the duty of Muslims to support them, this should clearly not be allowed, but talks by former Guantanamo Bay prisoners and slideshows about atrocities in Iraq or Afghanistan, even though they may have this effect on some people, are free speech. As Qasim Rafiq said, people could be radicalised by simply watching the news, but in any case, the real radicalisation likely comes through websites anyway.
In short, this is yet another attempt to blame the Muslm community in the UK and its institutions for a terrorist act it had nothing to do with. They cannot find any real evidence that Umar Abdulmuttalib acted under the influence of “radicals” in the UK, so they make completely irrelevant attacks on elements of conservative Islam that they find objectionable, but which does not attract significant protest from those affected, and draw attention to some problems which are real, but which again have nothing to do with the Christmas bombing attempt. Sectarian bias and political control of ISocs is a real issue in some places, and if the Muslim student community tolerate it, it may be because they get their central job (organising Friday prayers and Ramadan fast-breaking facilities, for example) done efficiently enough that they can be ignored the rest of the time. None of these problems necessarily contributed to the terrorist act in Detroit or any other; the fact that they attack ISocs generally indicates that they cannot find any concrete evidence of a link.
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