Radical groups face scrutiny

July 15, 2005

Universities are being advised on how to deal with extremist activity. Paul Hill and Phil Baty report

Two radical Islamist groups banned on university campuses but still highly active according to unpublished documents seen by The Times Higher are among those likely to be monitored by universities under new guidance on how to deal with extremism.

The Community Security Trust, which represents the Jewish community on issues of anti-Semitism, has identified eight "front organisations" for the banned Hizb ut-Tahrir (Hut) and Al-Muhajiroun (AM) groups. It said that Hut material was regularly distributed at freshers' fairs.

The Times Higher has established that one group, named by the Home Office as having "extremist tendencies", the Muslim Media Forum, has been active at Luton University.

Although Luton's website still refers international students to the group for support and guidance, the university said this week that the forum had not been an active society of the students' union for at least the past academic year. A spokeswoman said the website would be updated.

The Union of Jewish Students told the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee last September that Hut was "still prevalent" at several universities, including the University of Central England. UCE vice-chancellor Peter Knight said that there had been no problems since an incident when flyers were distributed in 2002. He said that the university and the students' union, kept a close eye on any potentially controversial activities.

But concerns also emerged this week that Muslim university staff and students could become innocent targets for anti-Muslim feeling or a backlash from the far right.

Wakkas Khan, president of Federation of Student Islamic Societies, said this week that "talk of terrorist recruitment gave a false impression that the minority of extremists are powerful and organised".

Paul Mackney, general secretary of lecturers' union Natfhe said the backlash against Muslims had begun. "Universities are a key site where valued of friendship and solidarity can be forged, or unmade."

Universities will this summer receive a 60-page document spelling out how they should respond to extreme political or religious activity and promote good race relations, amid growing evidence of extremism on campus.

The latest draft of the guidance document - which will be issued by Universities UK and the Standing Conference of Principals - is to be revised in light of last week's London bombings.

The draft document recommends that universities take steps to foster good relations with community and faith groups. But it also advises institutions to set up a response team of senior managers to deal with any extremist incident on the campus.

A UUK spokesperson said: "This guidance outlines the legislative framework and other means by which universities can address problems when they arise.

"UK universities benefit from being multicultural and diverse, as does the whole community. Universities have always been lively places for debate but that debate must take place within the boundaries of tolerance and respect for others."

It is understood that the guidance already refers to "an increased level of reported instances of extremist and intolerant activity" in universities - chiming with the warnings in recently leaked Government papers that Britain's universities are fertile recruiting grounds for Islamic extremist groups.

Government papers from April 2004 state that "extremist recruiters and organisations" are "circulating on campuses" seeking to recruit British Muslims.

The joint Home Office and Foreign Office papers add: "Students and professionals from better-off backgrounds have also become involved in extrem-ist politics and even terrorism.

"Extremists are known to target schools and colleges, where young people may be very inquisitive but less challenging and more susceptible to extremist reasoning/arguments. There is evidence of the presence of extremist organisations on campuses and (at) colleges."

paul.hill@thes.co.uk

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