Report: British universities to be asked to ‘spy’ on Muslim students
Also, all religious schools in Britain will be required to enroll those of other faiths and non-believers.
In a move sure to set off more fireworks between Tony Blair’s government and the Muslim community in Britain, lecturers and university staff will be asked to spy on “Asian looking” and Muslim students whom they suspect are “involved with Islamic extremism and supporting terrorist violence.”
The Guardian reports that universities will be told to report these students to police because the government believes that campuses have become “fertile ground” for recruiting would-be extremists.
Wakkas Khan, president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, said: “It sounds to me to be potentially the widest infringement of the rights of Muslim students that there ever has been in this country. It is clearly targeting Muslim students and treating them to a higher level of suspicion and scrutiny. It sounds like you’re guilty until you’re proven innocent.”
Gemma Tumelty, president of the National Union of Students, said: “They are going to treat everyone Muslim with suspicion on the basis of their faith. It’s bearing on the side of McCarthyism.”
The 18-page document sent to universities that outlines the proposal apparently acknowledges that universities will not be happy about passing information to British police’s special branch, for fear it amounts to collaborating with the “secret police.” It also singles out Islamic societies on campus.
The document urges close attention be paid to university Islamic societies and – under the heading “inspiring radical speakers” – says: “Islamic societies have tended to invite more radical speakers or preachers on to campuses … They can be forceful, persuasive and eloquent. They are able to fill a vacuum created by young Muslims’ feelings of alienation from their parents’ generation by providing greater ‘clarity’ from an Islamic point of view on a range of issues, and potentially a greater sense of purpose about how Muslim students can respond.”
It suggests checks should be made on external speakers at Islamic society events: “The control of university or college Islamic societies by certain extremist individuals can play a significant role in the extent of Islamist extremism on campus.”
The Times of London reports that the government plans for schools, universities, and colleges comes a day after the news that Britain’s religious schools of all faiths will be required to offer at least a quarter of their places to students of other faiths or “non-believers.” About one-third of the state-run schools in Britain are religious in orientation, primarily Christian. The Times reports that four-fifths of the top secondary (British equivalent of US high school) schools are faith-based.
There are seven Muslim state schools in England, and five more are recommended for public funding. Tony Blair hopes to bring more of the 150 private Muslim schools into the state sector. There are two Sikh schools, 37 Jewish schools, 2,041 Catholic schools and 4,646 Church of England schools.
The Daily Telegraph reports that British Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, who has been accused of “stigmatizing Muslims,” will try to defuse the row with that community by ” calling on the whole of society to share the burden of fighting extremism in all its forms.”
Ms Kelly, who specifically widened the debate to include the threat of the extreme right, will urge community leaders to consider whether they are doing enough to tackle extremism in schools, colleges and universities and to promote national cohesion. Identifying “hot spot” neighborhoods which breed hatred should be a priority, she will add.
“In major parts of Britain the new extremism we’re facing is the single biggest security issue for local communities,” she will say. “This is not just a problem for Muslim communities. The far right is still with us, still poisonous, still trying to create and exploit divisions. Extremism is an issue for all of us. We all must play our part in responding to it.”
While the Church of England schools have said they will set aside a quarter of their places for people outside the faith, The Telegraph reports that Catholic and Muslim school authorities have responded angrily to the idea. The Catholic education service said it was deeply saddened by the idea.
Its director, Oona Stannard, said: “Far from leading to improved community cohesion it would lead to division. It is hardly a recipe for cohesion and parental choice when Catholic families seeking to bring their children up in the faith are turned away from Catholic schools to make way for quotas of children from families of other religions or none at all,” she said. “The Government is treating Catholic schools as part of the problem when in fact they are part of the solution. It wants to take away the rights of governing bodies, the ramifications will be enormous if these quotas are railroaded through at the eleventh hour,” she said.
Idris Mears, the director of the Association of Muslim Schools, said that less than one percent of Muslim children in Britain have access to state-run schools. He said a third of Christian children and two-fifths of those from Jewish homes do have access to similar facilities in their faiths. “Parents would be very unhappy if they moved to be near a Muslim school and found it had to provide a quarter of places to other children,” he said.
The BBC reports that these initiatives, along with former Foreign Secretary Jack Clark’s criticism of Muslim women wearing veils in public and the case of a Muslim teaching assistant suspended because she would not remove her veil in a classroom, has led a Muslim politician to attack his own party. Lord Nazir Ahmed, a Labour peer in the House of Lords, accused the government of “demonizing the Muslim community” and that it was fashionable these days for politicians to “have a go at the Muslims.”
The Times reported Friday that the Blair government also drew fire when it released its report on human rights abuses last week. While the report criticized Hizbullah and Syria for their roles in the recent Lebanon war, it didn’t mention any of Israel’s actions. Three of the major human rights organizations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the office of the United Nation High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued reports or warnings that said both Hizbullah and Israel committed war crimes and violations of international law during their conflict. The British Foreign Office offer an explanation for the discrepancy: “the war came too late to be dealt with comprehensively and that Israel’s part would be covered next year.”
Guardian Article link:
By Tom Regan | csmonitor.com posted October 16, 2006 at 11:30 a.m.