Rosie Waterhouse: Universities must take action on Muslim extremism

One cold lunchtime at City University London, 100 male Muslim students were praying in rows on the ground. Above on a balcony, a dozen female Muslim students, dressed in black and wearing the niqab – a veil covering their face apart from their eyes – handed out leaflets. These said they were demonstrating because the university had allocated a "multi-faith" space as their new prayer room. "It is impermissible for Muslims to offer prayers in a place where other than our Lord, Allah, is worshipped", it said.

The site of their prayer room was changed late last year after a group of Muslim students was attacked by local youths, in what police said was a racist incident after leaving their former prayer room. The lunchtime protest was the latest in a series of events staged by City's Islamic Society in the past year which has brought them into conflict with university authorities.

In April 2009, organisers invited three radical Islamist preachers to address the society's annual dinner, with the "brothers" and "sisters" segregated, and the latter forbidden to ask questions. One preacher, Anwar al-Awlaki , was to speak by video-link from Yemen, because he is banned from Britain for alleged links to terrorists. But the then vice-chancellor Malcolm Gilles intervened and the video-link was banned.

After this I met Gillies to say I was concerned about the activities of the Islamic Society. Several research papers and Ed Husein's alarming book, The Islamist suggested that certain British universities, including City, were potential recruiting grounds for violent extremists. We agreed this was a sensitive subject but I argued that it was time universities took action. Gillies, who has since moved to London Metropolitan University, said there were two taboo topics among vice-chancellors – Islamic extremism and pensions.

My anxiety continued. I was particularly disturbed by the sight of Muslim female students wearing the niqab, a dress statement I find offensive and threatening. Don't they value the rights and freedoms they enjoy in Britain? In Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan they are forced to cover up and denied an education.

One of my journalism students, who is a Muslim woman, interviewed four British-born Muslim girls who said they began to wear the niqab only after coming to City and joining the Islamic Society. They found it "liberating", they said.

I think the niqab should be banned at university. Some of my colleagues agree with me; others don't. But the issue should be debated. Should universities be more vigilant in monitoring Islamic societies and the literature they disseminate? Some of the material contains extremist ideology, at worst promoting "jihad", variously translated as personal struggle and holy war, at best advocating total separation from the "kufir"– non-believers or infidels – and effectively promoting religious hatred, now a criminal offence in English law.

City's Islamic Society website has links to blogs from known extremists including Awlaki. He encourages all Muslims to support "jihad" including fundraising for and joining Mujahideen fighters. A US citizen, Awlaki preached at American mosques attended by three of the 11 September hijackers.

Vice-chancellors have been reluctant to act, but concern is growing. A planned Islamic Society event at UCL in November 2009 was banned on the somewhat spurious grounds of health and safety. In late December it emerged that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, arrested on Christmas Day for the attempted bombing of an aircraft on a flight to Detroit from Amsterdam, was a former president of UCL's Islamic Society.

Last month City's acting vice-chancellor Professor Julius Weinberg talked to staff and students about debate in universities. In the interests of free speech people with whom you profoundly disagree should be allowed to speak, Weinberg said, but he would not allow gender segregation or anyone to speak who advocated violence.

"There are people we would ban," said Weinberg. "People who were calling for behaviours that are outside the law." Where do we go from here? It will be a brave vice-chancellor who confronts the issue. But at least we have started a debate at City.

The writer is the director of the MA in investigative journalism at City University London.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Crewe Teacher Perm Ch...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education is the lea...

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: KS1 KS2 Teaching Cheshire

Primary Teacher

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Long term position in large p...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal