Media attacks on Islamic societies at universities are whipping up Islamophobia

Unsubstantiated media reports on Islamic societies at University campuses inciting extremism are whipping up Islamophobia

Press release from One Society Many Cultures

Following the failed terrorist attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on 25 December 2009, many media reports have used the fact that the perpetrator was a student in London who was active in a student Islamic Society to imply this appalling act was incited by the perfectly normal activities of Islamic Societies in London colleges.

Such views have been rejected by Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London (UCL), who said reports that Abdulmutallab developed extreme views whilst studying at UCL were “spectacular insinuation”, and has ordered a review of the 23-year-old’s time at the university.

Attacks on Islamic Societies are unjustified, and whip up an atmosphere of fear and even hatred towards all Muslims.

Islamic Societies – like Jewish, Christian and other faith groups – are a normal part of student life. Islamic Societies give their members social support, discuss issues of faith, and, among many other activities, are a means of inter-faith and inter-community dialogue.

Islamic Societies also respond to Islamaphobia – for example following a vicious assault on Muslim students leaving prayers at City University in November, the Islamic Societies supported the victims and gathered support for widespread condemnation of the perpetrators.

Responses to this terrorist attack that encourage hostility to all Muslims and their expressions of faith add to an atmosphere which is already leading to stepped up attacks and assaults on Muslims.

In addition to the incident at City University mentioned above, in recent months there has been a rise in physical attacks on Muslims, including two murders of a taxi driver in Birmingham and a man in Tooting, South London. In Rochdale in the North West a Muslim woman was violently attacked by a BNP supporter who attempted to rip off her Hijab. Fascist and far right groups have held numerous overtly anti-Muslim demonstrations, including two outside a Mosque.

Sabby Dhalu, National Assembly Against Racism Co-ordinator said:

“Part of the route to countering terrorism lies in ensuring that Britain’s Muslim communities are respected and included in all aspects of society. The overwhelming majority of Muslims resident in the UK abhor acts like that attempted by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on 25 December 2009, and support the work of the police and others in identifying those advocating such inhuman acts.

“Isolating and stigmatising all Muslims in response to such incidents undermines these efforts and the basis of an integrated society where all are free to express their faith and culture as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others to do the same.

“Unilateral and unsubstantiated attacks on the role of Islamic Societies in London colleges, propagated by right-wing institutes like the Centre for Social Cohesion, undermine these efforts and whip up fear and prejudice against Muslims.

“Such attacks on the Islamic faith as a whole would be utterly rejected if the target was Jewish or Christian societies.

“The media should stop giving prime time to those whose only contribution is to whip up Islamaphobia, which can lead to increased violence against Muslims as recent cases demonstrate, and whose prejudiced and sneering views about a faith practiced by over a billion people in the world, serve no purpose in fighting terrorism.”

Faisal Hanjra, spokesman for Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) said:

“It was with great relief that we learnt that this attempted terror attack on a US airliner was thwarted; it is though deeply concerning that this individual who was known to the security services was allowed to slip through the various layers of security and bring on board explosive material.

“This is clearly a very complicated case, with numerous dimensions and complexities. What is needed is a fully informed picture as to the whereabouts and behaviour of the individual in question in the run up to recent events.

“We reaffirm our stance that there is no credible evidence to suggest that university campuses in the UK are arenas of radicalisation or that students are particularly at risk of the threat of radicalisation.

“We remain committed, in conjunction with various partners and organisations, to ensure that universities remain safe places for both students and staff.”

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari Muslim Council of Britain Secretary General said:

“We all have a collective duty to stand against those who wish to perpetrate terror against innocent civilians where-ever it may occur. Terror and violence is not the way to convey a message however legitimate the cause may be. It is totally counter-productive. While the suspected individual has been arrested and charged, the due process of the law should take its course and all individuals are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. There has been hysterical commentary on its alleged links to the United Kingdom, even though terrorism is now a transient phenomenon and draws its strength from informal transnational networks. The overwhelming majority of Muslims have no truck with extremists. This is borne out by credible research showing that Muslims in the UK are the most patriotic in Europe.

“Moreover there are approximately 100,000 Muslim students at universities across the UK, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding and play a full and active role in student life. Muslim students, who come to study in the UK from across the world have contributed immensely to the culture, society and economy of the UK. The actions of one misguided individual should not tarnish the reputation of the majority. We will let terrorists win if bigotry is allowed to flourish.”

Bell Ribeiro-Addy, NUS Black Students Officer said:

“The NUS Black Students Campaign condemns the attempted terrorist attack on 25th December.  Terrorist attacks are indiscriminate, taking victims of all backgrounds, all walks of life, of all faiths and none.

“The NUS Black Students Campaign believes the most effective way of combating terrorism is to work with all communities, including the Muslim community, including on campuses.

“On campuses, Muslim students have become the victims of a hostile climate which saw students stabbed at City University, and Muslim women having their Hijabs ripped off. Such divisions only work to the advantage of all extremists who want to see our society divided. 

“We therefore fully support the efforts of the Muslim community, including the Federation of Student Islamic Societies on campuses, in building cross-community relations across society.”

Notes to editors:

1. Advance notice: There will be a “One Society Many Cultures” session at the “Progressive Agenda to stop the Right in 2010” conference, Saturday 30 January, TUC Congress House, Great Russell Street, WC1H

Speakers include: Ken Livingstone, Sadiq Khan MP, Tessa Jowell MP, Doreen Lawrence, Speech Debelle, Jon McClure Reverend and the Makers, Jenny Jones AM Green Party, Mike Tuffrey leader London Assembly Liberal Democrats, Professor Tariq Ramadan, Edie Friedman Jewish Council for Racial Equality, Bruce Kent Vice President CND, Karen Buck MP, Anas Altikriti, Jon Cruddas MP, George Galloway MP, Wilf Sullivan TUC Race Equality Officer and many others.

2. One Society Many Cultures is a campaign that defends our most fundamental human rights including the rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and cultural expression. It took hundreds of years of struggles, including international and civil wars, to establish the freedoms of religious and cultural expression and these must be vigorously upheld subject only to the proportionate protection of the human rights and freedoms of others. These universal rights must be defended for all groups in society.