New generation of Islamic radicals target UK universities

A students group that tackles Islamic extremism in British university campuses has come up with an important new report. Students Rights says that a new generation of intolerant radicals have been targeting British university campuses with homophobic and anti-women messages.

Over the past year, Islamic societies in 21 universities have hosted nearly 200 official events with these speakers. And at least a quarter of these events saw the organisers enforce controversial segregated seating for men and women students.

Some of the speakers are said to have a history of misogyny, promoting violence against homosexuals and advocating jihad against non-Muslims.

Over the past year such speakers have targeted prestigious universities such as University College London (UCL), Cambridge and Birmingham. Last month UCL banned an organisation called Islamic Education and Research Academy after it tried to enforce gender segregation at one of its events.

Raheem Kassam, who heads Student Rights, said: “I am distraught that, in the 21st century, British university campuses can be used to segregate and denigrate women. The acceptance of segregation on campuses is a far more serious issue than previously thought.”

The problem is that university authorities and students unions are reluctant to intervene – UCL is a rare exception – because they feel they cannot be seen to be opposing freedom of speech. However, they are free to act if there are complaints by students.

Secular students also have a possible legal recourse. While places of worship are free to practice gender segregation, enforcing segregation in a non-religious event may be in contravention of Britain’s equality laws.

This remains to be tested however.

In the meanwhile, university authorities are pleading helplessness. At Middlesex University, which is situated in a northwest London suburb with a substantial Jewish population, the students union invited some speakers to talk on ‘The Case for Boycotting, Divesting, and Sanctions against Israel.’

Student Rights thinks that given previous statements made by these speakers, the university should have tried to “counter their narrative.” They could have invited additional speakers, for instance. But the university says its hands are tied.

The local MP, Dr Matthew Offord, took up the matter in parliament, saying:

“A recent meeting was held at Middlesex University in which three speakers variously said that Israelis support the death of Palestinians, glorify in Palestinian deaths and loot the bodies of dead Palestinians.

“When I wrote to the vice-chancellor of Middlesex University about the anguish that such unfounded comments cause local residents, he advised that when he had intervened in the past about radical and offensive speakers, the student union had complained to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator and the university was fined and reprimanded.”

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