UK Poll Shows Extremism Among Muslim Students
But a scholar who has been probing radicalism in British universities called the report “extremely significant – and extremely worrying.”
“Those polled are, by their nature, going to constitute Britain’s future Muslim elite,” said Prof. Anthony Glees of the Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies at London’s Brunel University.
The report, released at the weekend, has stoked a long-running debate over the broader issue of the extent to which members of Britain’s Muslim community hold opinions at odds with Western norms – and what to do about it.
Billed as the most comprehensive of its kind, the report by the conservative Centre for Social Cohesion (CSC) is based on campus visits, attendance at meetings and face-to-face interviews. It is built around an opinion poll conducted by leading online polling firm YouGov, which in Glees’ view “has an outstanding reputation for reliability.”
In its most startling finding, almost one in three Muslim students polled said it was justifiable to kill in the name of religion. Of that group, most said this was an acceptable action if their religion was under attack, while a small number said it was okay to kill to promote one’s religion.
Forty percent of respondents supported the incorporation of Islamic law (shari’a) law into British law, while 33 percent backed the introduction of a worldwide caliphate, based on shari’a.
The poll surveyed 600 Muslim and 800 non-Muslim students at 12 prominent universities with active Islamic Societies (ISOCs), organizations claiming to represent the country’s 90,000 Muslim students.
The results showed that active members of ISOCs hold more radical views: While 33 percent of all Muslim respondents supported a caliphate, 58 percent of active ISOC members backed the idea. And while 32 percent of respondents said killing in the name of religion could be justified, 60 percent of active ISOC members held that view.
Although the authors concluded that the survey found “that Muslim students hold opinions and attitudes which are broad and varied, giving cause both for hope and concern,” critics lined up to slam the report, with some depicting it as a right-wing attack on Muslims.
“The authors of the report cannot hide behind a purportedly scientific survey to justify their own agenda of creating anything but cohesion in society,” several Muslim and non-Muslim student, community and labor groups said in a joint statement.
“The report is methodologically weak, it is unrepresentative and above all serves only to undermine the positive work carried out by Islamic societies across the country,” said Faisal Hanjra, president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, an umbrella group for ISOCs.
“This report is a reflection of the biases and prejudices of a right wing think tank – not the views of Muslim students across Britain,” said Wes Streeting, president of Britain’s National Union of Students (NUS), adding that respondents had been asked “vague and misleading questions.”
Hizb-ut Tahrir, a Sunni organization that promotes the establishment of a caliphate, also complained about the wording of the questions.
“The question about killing in the name of religion makes no distinction about what this means,” the group said in a statement, suggesting that respondents should instead have been asked questions like, “If your land is attacked, invaded and occupied, and people fight back based on their deep religious conviction, is this acceptable?”
(According to the CSC report, the actual question asked was, “Is it ever justifiable to kill in the name of religion?,” and the options given were “yes, in order to preserve and promote that religion,” “yes, but only if that religion is under attack,” “no, it is never justifiable” and “not sure.”)
The academic hierarchy also challenged the poll. Universities UK, a national organization representing campus heads, said it did not believe it was “a fair reflection of the views of British Muslim students.”
‘Subversive tendencies of Islamism’
Several high-profile terrorists have been British university students or graduates. An aeronautics engineering graduate rammed a burning vehicle into an airport terminal in Scotland in an abortive June 2007 suicide attack. One of eight men currently on trial for an alleged 2006 plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic is a former president of the ISOC at a London university. The jury began deliberations on Monday.
The CSC report said the concerns went beyond terrorism.
“The ideas, people and groups that individuals come into contact with during their university years inevitably help shape the rest of their lives,” it said.
Glees agreed: “We know that radical ideas held when studying will continue to drive political attitudes throughout a lifetime.”
The controversy over the CSC report is not the first of its kind relating to the issue of Islamic radicalism in British universities.
In 2005, Glees caused a furor when he named 23 British universities where he said Islamist “extremist and/or terror groups” had been detected. The Federation of Student Islamic Societies, NUS and Universities UK were among those who dismissed the claims, calling them anecdotal and inaccurate.
Glees is planning to produce a new report in September, on Saudi-funded Islamic study centers at British universities. Media reports on the forthcoming study have already drawn criticism.
The Labor government in 2006 named a prominent Muslim academic, Ataullah Siddiqui, as its chief adviser on Islam in higher education.
In a report he compiled for the government last year, Siddiqui recommended among other things that ISOCs be strengthened and encouraged, and that universities should be given guidance on Friday prayers, Ramadan and halal food.
The government said it intended to implement and fund many of the recommendations.
The U.K.-based Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity cautioned against strengthening ISOCs, however, saying that they “tend to follow radical Islamist and Wahhabi ideology” and that “many Muslim students are radicalized during their student years by these societies.”
Glees expressed concern Tuesday that in its focus on terrorism the government was ignoring “the subversive tendencies of Islamism.”
It hoped that giving Muslims greater political authority would help to prevent terrorism. “If young British Muslims are given more Islam, so the argument goes, they will be less inclined to become terrorists.”
But, Glees argued, “by giving power to Muslim communities it panders to the Muslim demand to be treated differently. That … will increase and not decrease the opportunities for Islamist ideas to subvert British political and cultural life.”
Glees said the government should be supporting “moves to integrate Muslims and non-Muslims, and to assimilate Muslims into British ways of life.”
“However, the fact is that the government is pulling in precisely the opposite direction, and as I will show in my September report, in this aim it is being supported, very strongly, by Arab and Islamic [university] funding which seeks to strengthen Muslim separatism rather than reduce it,” he said.
“I think this is a recipe for disaster, and I’ve made this point to the government.”