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James Brandon: Exposing Islamic extremism on British university campuses – and what we can do about it

Picture 22 James Brandon is Head of Research and Communications at Quilliam.

This week, Quilliam, the counter-extremism think-tank, published a report on Islamist extremism on British university campuses, taking London’s City University as a case study.

As our report showed, during the 2009/20 academic year, City’s student Islamic Society (ISoc) repeatedly and openly preached a hard-line Islamist ideology on campus.

For instance, during Friday prayers held on campus during the 2009/10 academic year, the president of City University’s ISoc, one Saleh Patel, was recorded telling his congregation:

“When they say to us ‘the Islamic state teaches to cut the hand of the thief’, yes it does! And it also teaches us to stone the adulterer… When they tell us that the Islamic state tells us and teaches us to kill the apostate, yes it does! Because this is what Allah and his messenger [swt] have taught us and this is the religion of Allah and it is Allah who legislates and only Allah has the right to legislate.”

“When a person leaves one prayer, one prayer intentionally, he should be imprisoned for three days and three nights and told to repent. And if he doesn’t repent and offer his prayer then he should be killed. And the difference of opinion lies with regards to how he should be killed not as to what he is – a kafir or a Muslim”.

“When they say to us that Islam was spread by the sword, and there is no such thing as jihad, we say to them ‘no’. Islam believes in defensive and offensive jihad. The Qur’an is the proof, as is the Sunnah.”

So far, so familiar. However, more surprising to many people will be our discovery of the extensive opposition to the ISoc’s extremism that evolved spontaneously on City’s campus:


University lecturers wrote articles (such as this and this) in national newspapers drawing attention to the ISoc’s radicalisation. One lecturer even stood up in an ISoc event and bravely challenged the ISoc’s leader on his extremist views.
  • The student paper, led by a feisty British woman of Sikh background called Fran Singh, repeatedly held the ISoc to account, exposing their radical activities and bringing their extremism to national attention.
  • Muslim students also took up the cudgels. One group of Muslims, for instance, banded together and wrote a joint open letter to the student newspaper criticizing the ‘religiously intolerant and sexist views’ of the ISoc who they complained were ‘hijacking’ their religion.
  • These small groups of spirited individual show us how Britain’s multi-racial, multi-religious society should work – through people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs coming together to collectively defend Britain’s liberal values and its secular spaces.

    But however heartening such developments are, we must also face the cold hard facts that these groups did not acquire the critical mass needed to stop the ISoc from radicalising Muslim students on campus.
    Their efforts were sporadic, un-co-ordinated and, ultimately, unsuccessful.

    They also did not receive the full-backing of the university which for months largely ignored the ISoc’s growing radicalisation. Moreover, the ISoc itself responded to criticism with a deliberate campaign of threats and intimidation that frightened many of these opponents into silence.

    In the future things need to be done differently.

    Universities and national bodies such as the National Union of Students need to support liberal forces on campus who want to stand up to the small minority of individuals who promote fear, prejudice and hatred in the name of Islam. Universities should encourage students to challenge such ‘sub-criminal extremism’ that uses religion to justify violence and hatred towards others – just they are encouraged by universities to challenge racism and far-right extremism.

    Student societies, including those like the Conservative Future that have a national organisation behind them, should also take the lead against fighting Islamist extremism on campuses. At City such bodies were mostly silent on this important issue. CF’s national executive should encourage and motivate local branches to step up to this challenge.

    At a national level too, government needs to send out a clear message that Britain’s traditional liberal values will be defended wherever they are under threat – and that it will support all those who peacefully challenge such extremism.

    City University has shown us there are many young people – including many Muslims and others of immigrant background - who are fed up with Islamist extremism and want to do something about it. This doesn’t mean that the Government should throw money at such individuals and groups. However, it does mean providing clear moral leadership and laying out a clear vision for a Britain that is tolerant of religious and cultural differences while being intolerant of hate-preaching and extremism.


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