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November 2010

See no evil

The last time I was rude in print about an academic institution (SOAS), I had to waste much time over its whinging to the Press Complaints Commission. But what the hell! University College London, I thumb my nose at you. In dealing with the embarrassment of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, aka the Underpants Bomber, who attempted to blow up an Airbus over Detroit in December 2009, the UCL establishment has treated the media and the public as mugs.

Faced with embarrassing questions about how a lonely, vulnerable engineering student became a terrorist, they kicked the issue smartly into touch by announcing an "independent inquiry" to investigate if Abdulmutallab had been radicalised on the UCL campus, where he was big in the Islamic Society.

Apart from the panel's two secretaries (UCL), two UCL academics and a lay member of the UCL Council, the members were outsiders. The chair, Dame Fiona Caldicott, the Principal of Somerville College, Oxford, has also been President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists; Dame Sandra Burslem rose from being a humble lecturer in public administration in the 1970s at the polytechnic that became Manchester Metropolitan University to be Deputy Vice-Chancellor in the 1990s; and then there was John Worne, the Director of Strategy and External Relations, British Council. No vested interests there other than perhaps a certain tendresse for institutions. No knowledge of Islamic politics either, or they wouldn't have thought it a great wheeze to have Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain and chairman of the East London Mosque (which has close links with Saudi Arabia) as the token Muslim.

Dr Bari believes in a broad mosque. He has, for instance, defended a distinguished visitor to his establishment — Abdul Rahman al-Sudais, imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, who takes a dim view of the scum-of-the-earth monkeys and pigs that, for him, are the Jews. As recently as January 2009, Anwar al-Awlaki, the bin Laden of the internet and mentor to many terrorists, including Abdulmutallab, delivered a video message to Bari's mosque.

Which expert on campus radicalisation did the panel recruit? None. Nor did they interview anyone who knew anything about it or — according to their report's bibliography — even read publications like Islam on Campus or Islamist Terrorism, the British Connections from the Centre for Social Cohesion. Their ignorant, pointless report finding no evidence of anything embarrassing has been disembowelled by Nick Cohen and Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens in Standpoint blogs and by others, such as Student Rights, who fight extremism on campus. On BBC Radio London, I made a modest assault, following an interview with smoothy ex-diplomat Sir Stephen Wall, whose present great-and-goodery includes being frontman for the UCL Council. The interviewer told me I was harsh. I was and am. Wall was pathetic. The report is pathetic. UCL's "nothing-to-do-with-us-guv" routine is pathetic. As for the Provost, Malcolm Grant, he's chairing a working group of vice-chancellors to address the issue of extremism on campuses. My breath is bated.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards