Extremism on campus overstated

September 23, 2005

Reports of Islamic extremism on Britain's campuses have been "grossly exaggerated", according to a report.

But the survey, published on Thursday by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis), also reveals that one in ten Muslim students would not inform the police if they discovered a fellow Muslim was planning an attack.

The finding was described as "extremely worrying" by Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell.

The report - the result of a survey of Muslim students after the London bombings - also reveals that one in four Muslim students had suffered Islamophobia on campus. Fosis urged universities to help "remove suspicion and misconceptions" about Muslims and to aid their integration.

In a separate development, The Times Higher has been told that Special Branch began to compile evidence about extremism on campuses in February this year.

One source said that a resulting Special Branch report "chimed" with the findings of a study published last week by Anthony Glees of Brunel University, which concluded that extremists, including Islamist jihadists, animal-rights activists and the British National Party, were all active on Britain's campuses.

The Metropolitan Police refused to comment on the claims.

News of the Special Branch inquiry came as Middlesex University asked its students' union to cancel an invitation to the Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir to take part in a debate in light of concerns about the group's "reputation for extremist views".

The Fosis survey of Muslim students found that 25 per cent had experienced either physical or verbal Islamophobia on campus. When asked if they thought being a Muslim isolated them from other students, 65 per cent said no.

Fosis called for universities to "remove barriers that stand in the way of Muslim student integration" - by providing halal food, creating larger prayer rooms and ensuring that timetables do not clash with acts of worship. "Forcing students to choose between their faith and their studies is unacceptable," the report says.

It adds that exams and coursework should be marked anonymously to avoid "discrimination on the basis of someone's name".

Faisal Hanjra, Fosis's head of student affairs, said that the society was not suggesting that academics were Islamophobic.

"Along with the National Union of Students, we've been calling for anonymous marking to ensure that everything is as impartial as possible," he said.

The Fosis report also recommends alcohol-free course and social events and recommends that institutions review access to sports facilities and consider putting curtains on windows of sports halls to allow female Muslim students to participate.

"In the absence of such provisions, Muslim students become isolated.

Similarly, Muslim students need to be more inventive in finding ways they can get involved in student life without compromising their faith," it says.

Nonetheless, 69 per cent said their university or college "accommodated their needs" as a Muslim student.

* The National Union of Students published the findings of its internal review into anti-Semitism within the union this week, which was set up after the resignation of three Jewish committee members in April this year.

While the review clears the union of being "apathetic" to anti-Semitism, it recommends that the NUS identifies providers of kosher food for next year's conference and carries out a review of procedures at the conference to "ensure a swifter response to incidents".

paul.hill@thes.co.uk

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