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Sunday 27 August 2006

Fundamentalist lessons to be learnt by Irish academe

"A FRIEND of mine was almost crying when he told me this story," said Muslim businessman Haras Rafiq at a London seminar ('Why Are Britain's Universities Incubating Islamist Extremism?') last week. "His son, of whom he was so proud, had come home after a term at university, refusing to share his family's food, sit at their table, use their family plates or even eat under the same roof because he had decided they believe in the wrong kind of Islam."

Such experiences are increasingly common in Britain these days. One desolate mother recently told of her beloved son coming home for his holidays bearded and wearing full religious regalia in place of his jeans and T-shirts and telling her curtly that she was no longer to watch television.

Such undergraduates are typical of those who have been and are being turned into extremists on university campuses in Britain. In some cases, they have become murderers. These days they don't have to go to Pakistan to learn how to kill people: there are several training camps in England.

In April 2004, Professor Anthony Glees, the director of Brunel University's centre for intelligence and security studies, said that political correctness made it difficult for academics to attack Islamic fundamentalism or oppose student societies that demanded the destruction of western society. The extent to which radical Islamic ideas are brewing in UK universities will "come as a shock" to people in years to come, he warned.

And shocked they were in July 2005. As the world had been amazed that the perpetrators of 9/11 were mostly middle-class and educated to third level, Britain was staggered that two of the four who between them murdered 52 people and wounded hundreds in London on 7/7 were former students at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Today, Waheed Zaman, 22, a biochemistry student at London Metropolitan University, is in custody charged with conspiracy to murder. One of 24 people - several with university connections - arrested last week in connection with the alleged plot to blow up aircraft, he was president of the Islamic Society: in two portable buildings used by his society, there were documents advocating jihad.

The problem is Europe-wide, said Professor Glees at the seminar, and the reaction of academics is not just to avoid the problem, but to undermine those who raise it.

Professor Tom Gallagher of Bradford University School of Peace Studies spoke of how rapidly-expanding higher education and falling academic standards were helping the Islamist cause. Because so many universities are desperate for money, they are prepared to take students of low calibre from home and abroad. Some - in receipt of generous donations from places like Saudi Arabia - are determined at all costs to be Islam-friendly and turn a blind eye to even the dodgiest-looking foreigners. What has emerged is a fifth column undermining our democracy from within, as the fascists did the Weimar Republic.

Easy prey for extremists, said Gallagher, are British students whose talents suit them to be plumbers or carpenters, but whose parents are starry-eyed about their becoming professionals. With poor grades, they end up on a pointless course at a mediocre university and realise that they'll end up in some dead-end job. This makes them perfect recruiting material for those promising to give them a way of making sense of their lives. First, they are offered brotherhood and, through Islamic teaching, clear instructions on how to live each minute of your life. Then comes the indoctrination in the victim culture, the propaganda videos showing the suffering of brothers and sisters in Palestine and Chechnya and Iraq at the hands of Christians and Jews: obviously, no one points out that more Muslims are killed by Muslims than by anyone else. Nor are they told of how the West rescued Kuwait, or saved Muslims in the Balkans. The videoed sermons preaching the extermination of Jews and infidels come next.

A few weeks ago, Sheikh Dr Sharheed Satardien, chief cleric of the Supreme Council of Ireland, warned that "fascism, fanaticism and radicalism . . . [are] now rife among our young". He's been rubbished since by Muslims who favour denial and obfuscation and, of course, in some cases are Islamists themselves. But he's right.

Before it's too late, the Irish academic establishment has a chance to learn from the terrible mistakes and cowardice of the British equivalents. A start would be to invite the imam of London Metropolitan University, Sheikh Musa Admani, who has been struggling on his campus against administrators in denial and triumphalist Islamists. He has seen how extremists take over Islamic societies: any moderates who survive the intimidation are demonised and expelled.

Like others at the seminar, he follows with alarm the role within the British National Union of Students of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies in the UK and Ireland (FOSIS). An umbrella organisation representing 90,000 students, FOSIS is the largest faction within the NUS. Though it presents itself as moderate, in April - with the help of some idiots on the left - it pushed for the reinstatement within the NUS of the banned Hizb ut Tahrir, an extremist international youth group which wants a worldwide Islamic government ruled by Sharia law. The motion was lost mainly because the president-elect, Gemma Tumely, had the guts to denounce Hizb ut Tahrir as homophobic, sexist and racist.

If I were President Hugh Brady of UCD, I'd look at the UCD Islamic Society website (www.ucd.ie/islamic), and then pick up the phone to Admani. A striking thread is provided by 27 harrowing photographs of children and an invitation to email photographs "of Palestinian children or youth suffering at the hands of the Israelis". The content of the site is mostly inoffensive, although I got a laugh out of the long paper explaining why in Islamic law two women witnesses equal just one man. (It's all about our little wits being addled by pre-menstrual tension, pregnancy, post-natal depression, the menopause and Allah knows what else.)

Having listened to Sheikh Admani, what most alarmed me on the site was the news that Muslim students in UCD have been given a new prayer room: "The room is fully functional and contains most of the requirements and needs of the Muslim students."

That must have seemed to the authorities to be a sensible and generous gesture. In Sheikh Admani's view, it is the first step to disaster. Have a multi-faith prayer-room by all means, he says, open to Jews and Christians and Hindus and Muslims alike, but once you give these guys a piece of territory, you've lost control.

Admani has many other practical suggestions about how to vet speakers and train imams and how to save young Muslims from being brainwashed to commit murder and suicide. "When do we have to go and fight and die to please Allah?" a group of students asked him once. "You can please Allah by living," he answered. The relief, apparently, was palpable.

Oh, and incidentally, the Department of Education might like to know that Haras Rafiq estimates that out of 120 or so private Muslim schools in the UK, no more than two or three are teaching their pupils how to fit into British society.

We're in trouble.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards