Monday, October 16, 2006

Universities Told to be Vigilant

The Guardian reports that universities in Britain are to be asked to keep an eye out for the radicalisation of Muslims on campus. There are mounting fears that universities are breeding grounds for extremism and real concern that they are not doing enough to stop it.

There are suggestions that universities vet external speakers to Islamic Society events and pass on information about Muslim students to police and special branch.

From the article:

The proposals are likely to cause anxiety among academics, and provoke anger [my emphasis] from British Muslim groups...

Wakkas Khan, president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, said: "It sounds to me to be potentially the widest infringement of the rights of Muslim students that there ever has been in this country. It is clearly targeting Muslim students and treating them to a higher level of suspicion and scrutiny. It sounds like you're guilty until you're proven innocent."

However, there is evidence that radicalisation is taking place on campuses. A friend told me that during a freshers' fair this year at one London campus the Islamic Society were proudly displaying a Hezbollah flag.

Even though it must be uncomfortable to be put under the spotlight, Muslim students must know why they are there. Why would they be so unwilling to go that extra mile to allay all fears over their activities? Reacting with anger and cries of unfair treatment will not remove that spotlight; it will just make it worse. On the other hand, welcoming the scrutiny and saying "We have nothing to hide" sends the message that there indeed is nothing to worry about.

UPDATE: The Mirror is reporting that Ruth Kelly "will order them [police chiefs and local councils] to identify the universities, schools and mosques where young Muslims are brainwashed - and then take the battle to the fanatics by aggressively countering their hate-filled propaganda."

Yet again, Muslim groups have a good opportunity to relieve the pressure. If they shout "Islamaphobia" (as the paper predicts) they will be under further suspicion. If they openly declare their support for any plans to tackle extremism they will go a long way to reassure the British public that they are not our enemy.