Muslims on campus in Britain

A briefing from the human rights group Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) has challenged the current thinking on extremism on campus. Entitled: ‘You ONLY Have the Right to Silence: Muslims on Campus in Britain’, the report has criticised the stance proposed by Education Ministers and the Glees/Pope report on the connection between extremism and universities.

IHRC has said that proposals such as the interviewing of all foreign students in conjunction with MI5 upon their application to university, banning of all faith societies, Education Secretary Ruth Kelly’s encouragement of fellow students to spy upon each other, the undermining of academic freedom and the implementation of racism as policy would not lead towards the intended enhancement of Britain’s security.

The briefing rebutted the claim of a terrorist threat on campus as “wholly exaggerated” devoid of any substantial evidence or research, and cited the report conducted by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), which found that following the July terrorist bombings, only 4% of Muslim students surveyed did not condemn the atrocity.

It continued by stating that the events of 9-11 and 7-7 were “being exploited and capitalized upon to silence any form of dissent or political activism on campus, specifically when Muslim students are involved and where the issue concerned is Palestine”.  It further added that the term ‘political activism’ was being tarnished with the label of “extremism” which it said was a “concerted effort to silence Muslim dissent”.

The report contended that political activism on campus was “something to be endorsed and encouraged, not stifled and suppressed” and drew a parallel between intolerant police states that banned all types of dissent and the current policy that was attempting to stifle political debate through censorship, harassment and prosecution.

The report described the claims that such measures would enhance public security as erroneous, and warned that such a move would not only lead towards a “climate of fear” and the “death of academic freedom [and] social activism”, but would also hasten to increase the “restrictive and discriminatory policy exclusion of Muslims”.

The report made specific mention of the case study of Muslim student Nasser Amin at SOAS, whose article in the student magazine Spirit that sought to discuss the legitimacy of Palestinian resistance, was accused of being anti-Semitic and supportive of terrorism. Following the media coverage Mr Amin received both “death threats on Zionist websites” as well as calls in parliament for prosecution. He subsequently received a public reprimand without a formal disciplinary hearing. The report said that such incidents were “shared by numerous students, activists and academics coming from a diversity of religious and cultural backgrounds”.

Briefing author Fahad Ansari said: “We stand at the edge of a defining moment in British history. We could resort to a neo-McCarthyite hysteria and route out all dissenters starting with all Muslims regardless of their beliefs. Or we – and that includes government, the security community and academia, as well as minority and majority communities – can work towards a security discourse based on thorough and open research that makes the goal of a cohesive society its main aim. For the ethically minded, there really isn’t a choice except the latter.”

Muslim Weekly, 27 January 2006

The IHRC report is downloadable (in Word format) here.