Muslims 'isolated' by anti-extremist measures

January 13, 2011

Attempts to tackle the threat of religious extremism on campus have been blamed for universities' failure to provide a supportive environment for Muslim students.

Peter Hopkins, senior lecturer in social geography at Newcastle University, polled 29 Muslim students in the UK about their experiences of life at university. Respondents included Britons, Iraqis, Saudi Arabians and Malaysians.

Although the students said attitudes on campus were largely tolerant and liberal, they felt isolated.

In a paper published in the Royal Geographical Society journal Transactions, Dr Hopkins says attempts to crack down on extremism have led to increasing distrust.

The respondents said that after government guidance was published three years ago advising universities to address Islamic extremism, they began to sense that their everyday lives were being monitored.

One student told Dr Hopkins that it was like having a "24-hour guard in your house".

Another said that a senior figure at the university asked to be added to the Islamic Society's mailing list, but not those of other religious or social student groups.

In his paper, "Towards critical geographies of the university campus: understanding the contested experiences of Muslim students", Dr Hopkins says that "there was a sense among a number of students that the publication of the government guidance provoked a response from universities that has led to an increasing sense of distrust and insecurity being associated with the attitudes, behaviours and conduct of Muslim students".

He adds: "It is clear that aspects of their experiences of university campus are also interwoven with the national and the geopolitical."

Dr Hopkins told Times Higher Education that universities and the government needed to be "more careful" about how they dealt with such issues, avoiding the "culturally exclusive and institutionally discriminatory" practices that his study had identified.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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