Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

British universities and radicalisation

Just as the British left is unsure how to engage with Islamists, British universities are also unsure of how to act

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Yesterday, Quilliam released Radicalisation on British University Campuses: a case study, a study of a single London-based university campus during the last academic year. It provides solid evidence of the processes and methods that can be used by extreme Islamist students at academic institutions. One of the end results of this is the potential radicalisation of students towards Islamist-inspired terrorism.

This should be nothing new. A significant proportion of those convicted for terrorist-related crimes in the UK have been students at British universities and even members of university Islamic Societies (ISocs). Waheed Zaman (convicted for the 2006 liquid bomb plot) and Yassin Nassari (convicted for bomb and missile-making instructions) were former ISoc presidents at London universities.

Unfortunately, the paper found evidence of a violent ideology being spread by members of this particular ISoc. In Friday prayer sermons delivered on campus, the ISoc president declared:

“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.”

In addition to creating an environment in which radical ideologies had the potential to thrive, the paper also found evidence of the practical implications that these ideologies were having on campus life. Evidence is provided of how havoc was reaped by certain members of the ISoc leadership on other students and on the overall cohesion on the university campus.

In the Friday prayer sermons delivered on campus and on the ISoc’s website, these individuals espoused an ideology that was dangerously intolerant. They called women ‘deficient’ and said that they should be ‘forced to wear’ hijab, called for the ‘prohibition’ of homosexuality and referred to Shi‘a Muslims as ‘deviant’ and ‘rejectionist’.

The articulation of such intolerance during the last academic year had a direct and deeply damaging impact on university life as the year progressed. The ISoc leaders clamped down on those individuals who dared to speak out against them – smearing them as ‘Islamophobic’ and as displaying ‘an out right [sic] hatred for the Islamic way of life’. As a result, individuals reported feeling ‘intimidated’, ‘threatened’ and ‘scared’.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece for Progress on how the British Left should engage with Islamists. All too often, members of the Left are afraid to confront Islamists and lay challenges to viewpoints which are clearly contrary to the leftist values of equality and justice.

The same appears to be true for Islamism on university campuses. Traditional bastions of leftist politics, universities need to provide students with the support to challenge Islamist ideologies where they are put forward on campus. Aside from the illegal espousal of violent ideologies, the Left can and must play a central role in encouraging the championing of the rights of women, homosexuals and religious minorities on campuses against those who seek to subordinate them.

The argument is frequently made that students are naturally ‘radical’ and that university is the time for young people to experiment with more extreme (non-violent) political viewpoints. This is certainly true. But hand in hand with radical viewpoints we need to ensure the guarantee of freedom of speech whereby students are given the ability to challenge them free from any intimidation.

Everything that happened on this London campus took place during the last year of Labour’s leadership. It is clear that Labour’s Prevent agenda did not do enough to eradicate the spread of radically intolerant and, in this instance, even pro- terrorist ideologies among British university students. Under a refreshed leadership, Labour has the chance to rearticulate its values and show less tolerance for an ideology that directly undermines them.


Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.

It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

Our work depends on you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Lucy James

is a research fellow at Quilliam

1 comment

  • We’ve let them get away with their bullying and hate for far too long. It’s not the immans or the genuine religious people who are the problem; it’s the manner in which mosques attract spiteful people who use religion as a cloak to attack people in the community. I’ll write more about this after the election tomorrow for a mayor here in Tower Hamlets. Let’s hope the Labour party win.

Sign up to our daily roundup email