Four years ago, on Christmas Day, a young Muslim who had recently finished his studies at a British university tried to blow up a plane over Detroit. Had Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab's plan succeeded, he would have killed all the people on the trans-continental plane he was on, and many more on the ground below. Fortunately Abdulmutallab's bomb failed to go off properly and, in what must be an undesirable outcome for even the most committed jihadi, he succeeded only in setting fire to his genitals.
One of the more technically notable facts about the would-be Detroit bomber is that he had recently been the head of the Islamic Society at University College London. Some of us had warned for some time that Islamic societies at British university campuses in general, and London campuses in particular, had become hotbeds of Islamic extremism. We had been criticized for doing so, but the facts were behind us.
What was educational for those of us who saw the post-Detroit cover-up was that it began with denial and ended with a whitewash. UCL's President (one Malcolm Grant) persistently went onto the media to declare that there was nothing to see here. So what that Abdulmutallab had organized extremist events repeatedly on the UCL campus? So what that outside figures as well as other students had expressed their concerns about this? So what that this former student had almost succeeded in carrying out an act of terrorism? Professor Grant and his colleagues insisted that there was nothing to see at UCL.
After the denial came the whitewash. A panel of "experts" was put together. Of the panel, only one participant had any experience or knowledge of Islam, and he was from the Muslim Council of Britain. Amazing though it may seem, the panel Grant composed to look into his own conduct found him innocent. He remains in place and has taken a side-job as Chairman of the National Health Service in England. He is due to retire from UCL later this year after covering himself with garlands.
How extraordinary it is, considering that there was nothing to notice in 2009, that there have been more former Islamic society (ISOC) members convicted each year since, with the last convicted and sent to prison for terrorism offenses just a few weeks ago. But what is doubly extraordinary it is that not just an individual, but a whole sector of our society, can continue to ignore completely something that is going on repeatedly and consistently.
Take events in recent days alone. The organization Student Rights, a group which monitors extremism, revealed on June 26th that the Federation of Student Islamic Societies' (FOSIS) annual conference is being addressed by the likes of Sheikh Shady Al-Suleiman. Sheikh Shady -- who is more troubling than he sounds -- has a fine track record to recommend him to FOSIS. He has said, for instance, that Muslims should "ask Allah to save your Muslim brothers and sisters all around the world, especially in Gaza right now and for Allah to give them victory over their enemies, and for Allah to destroy the enemies of Islam." Perhaps he just forgot to add the "of course what we all really want is a viable two-state solution."
Sheikh Shady also argues that there is a war underway against Islam, and that the terrorist group Hamas, for instance, is targeted solely because it is composed of Muslims: "They have been put under siege, oppressively and aggressively, unjustly. Why? Because they say there is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his messenger."
How can it be that the main umbrella organization of student Islamic societies in the UK could keep inviting people like this? Perhaps because they have learned from investigations, such as those nominally conducted on the orders of president Grant, that there is no problem with extremist speakers on UK universities. Perhaps because they have learned that they can get away with absolutely anything.
Why would they have to reform their ways when the most thorough "official" investigation to date managed to prove such a magnificent white-wash? Only a matter of days after the beheading of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, the President of FOSIS even had the temerity to declare that his organization was "the biggest barrier to violent extremism."
To study the history of extremist activity on UK campuses is to come to a number of irrevocable conclusions. Among them is the realization that there is a serious problem, and that British universities are breeding-grounds of the most appalling hatred against America, the UK, Israel, free-thinkers, "apostates" and religious and sexual minorities. It also spurs a realization that terrorism is never enough steps away from student Islamic societies as it is from, say student Labour Party clubs or any chosen sports society.
What comes next is worse. It is that organizations and individuals who lie and lie and lie again can – in this situation – get away with it. This is the case from FOSIS and the individual student societies which pretend that they are not doing what they are doing, and not inviting who they are inviting, or inciting when they are inciting. And it goes all the way to the backside-covering careerists such as Malcolm Grant who can fib and fib and expect -- quite rightly -- to get away with it.
Perhaps we can conclude that the Grants of this world – people who worry more about their pension-pots than about their society -- have always been with us. But how it makes one wish that one day they might finally come face-to-face with the hatred they have helped nurture and cover for, and finally face up to it.