At this moment in Britain, unbeknownst to most students and universities there is a continual and concerted effort by Islamist organisations affiliated to groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir to both promote and proliferate Islamism amongst the Muslim student body. I, like the vast majority was also completely ignorant to this when I arrived at Queen Mary University in September of last year but since that time the situation has become all too clear.
In an observable pattern, under the ubiquitous guise of discussions on topics such as ISIS or Islamophobia, varying degrees of radical Islamists and PR operators are invited on to campuses to effectively preach conspiracy with their narratives going un-impeded, met only by welcome applause from the students who invite them. Contrary to popular conceptions, this ideological ‘entryism’ does not take place in shady backrooms, it is taking place in well postered events in the same lecture theatres that students use every day.
My first experience of this was a talk in January on ‘the rise of ISIS’ at SOAS given by Abdullah Andalusi, a regular face of Islamism in the media and a frequent speaker on campuses, flanked by Dilwar Hussain, writer for 5pillars.com. The two were well versed in Islamism and provided a well-engineered narrative of western imperialism from the destruction of the idyllic Ottoman Caliphate to the Algerian civil war and the wests creation of ISIS as a straw man for its war on Islam. Both excessively dropped the phrase “I’m not a conspiracy theorist but…” before delivering their most dubious points, something amusing but for the fact that the majority of the SOAS students took them seriously. The most remarkable part of Abdullah Andalusi’s Islamist narrative was the assertion that Osama Bin Laden was a Liberal and that it was accepting western values which had created terrorism, thus supporting the importance of pursuing Islamic orthodoxy. Similarly, one month following – in February a familiar crowd appeared at Queen Mary University to speak on ‘2014: The year of islamophobia’. However, this panel was not only graced by Abdullah Andalusi, Dilwar Hussain but two other controversial speakers: Moazzem Begg the former director of CAGE, the organisation which in recent press releases described Mohammed Emwazi as ‘extremely gentle’ before he, as they allege, was radicalised by MI5. Alongside him Haitham Al-Haddad, the Saudi trained imam known for describing homosexuals as “scourge” and supporting Female Genitle Mutilation. Notably Haitham Al-Haddad was not listed on the posters for the event, thereby preventing any serious opposition to his presence on campus.
Weeks after Haddad’s appearance at Queen Mary he was refused a platform at Westminster following allegations that Mohammed Emwazi had been radicalised as a student at the university. Unfortunately, Mohammed Emwazi was not an anomaly and it has become increasingly clear that the most susceptible British candidates for extremism are young men at leading British universities. These Islamist speakers appearing on two campuses in two months equally do not represent an anomaly but a widespread problem in British and especially London Universities. Toxic ideologies entering campuses, often facilitated by student organisations, are a widespread problem. Often characterised as an insular movement – this on the contrary represents open and aggressive ‘entryism’. At its most effective this has seen Hizb ut-Tahrir supporters elected to leading positions in Student Unions as with the president and vice president of the University of Westminster in 2011.
‘Entryism’ serves to both spread Islamism to those most vulnerable to it but also to re-affirm and harden the views of those already conclusively aligned. Whilst leading Liberals like Maajid Nawaz who understand Islamism have identified this problem on campuses, liberal students still face major obstacles in engaging with it: firstly ignorance and secondly apathy. The vast majority of the student body are unaware of the concept of ‘Islamism’ and how it differs from Islam. Without this basic awareness, cohesive opposition becomes extremely difficult. Compounding the dilemma, the small number of engaged liberals on campuses who do identify the problem are plagued by apathy. We collectively cringe at the illiberal choice of banning organisations and speakers thus forcing ourselves into inaction by our own respect for freedom of speech. Alternatively we are faced with the seemingly insurmountable alternative task of ‘democratically’ engaging with these ideologies, something far more problematic than any media commentators at this time seem to understand. It is with this collective inertia in mind that when it emerged a student attending the al-Haddad talk was arrested attempting to cross the border into Syria I was not shocked. We should all expect more of the same as long as students and the community allow Islamists an unchallenged red carpet platform in universities.