The Blog

Terrorism and the British Academy

12:00 AM, Oct 22, 2010 • By ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS and MICHAEL WEISS
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

London

Terrorism and the British Academy

Former UCL student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

One of the problems that Britain has faced in trying to wage a liberal intellectual campaign against radical Islam is that the British catechism of multiculturalism makes doing so all but impossible. This conflict is starkest in the academy, which tacitly acknowledges the threat of campus radicalization and yet refuses to deal with, or even acknowledge, one of its main causes—Islamist ideology. The result is that peculiarly English phenomenon: a hotbed of cold feet.

Over the last decade, more than a dozen students from British universities have either carried out or been convicted of terrorist offenses. Some of the more prominent of these include Omar Saeed Sheikh, the London School of Economics graduate who beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and more recently, Waheed Zaman, former president of the London Metropolitan University’s Islamic Society who was convicted earlier this year for plotting to detonate liquid explosives on board transatlantic airliners bound from London to the United States and Canada in 2006.  During this period, many British campuses have hosted, via their student-run Islamic Societies (ISOCs), countless “hate-preachers.”

Two recent reports published in London illustrate, on the one hand, the systemic menace posed by campus radicalization and, on the other, just how far universities will go to suicidally downplay or disregard this obvious fact. 

Last Monday, the government-sponsored Quilliam Foundation put out a case study of City University, London’s Islamic Society, which it has found to be a cynosure of Islamic radicalization and one which has already graduated a known terrorist, Ahmed Abdullah Ali, also convicted in that 2006 liquid bomb plot. Apart from posting to its website articles written by Abdullah Azzam, “intellectual godfather” of al Qaeda, and Abu Muhammed al-Maqdisi, mentor to former al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, City’s Islamic Society has also held regular Friday prayer sessions that disdain “man-made law,” applaud the murder of apostates and homosexuals, and endorse marital rape and wife-beating.

Contrast Quilliam’s alarming findings with what University College London has uncovered about itself. Once known as a redoubt of anti-clericalism, UCL has become internationally famous for graduating Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian who tried to murder 278 people on board a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit last Christmas Day. Two weeks ago, the university published the findings of a months-long inquiry, which found “no evidence to suggest either that...Abdulmutallab was radicalised while a student at UCL, or that conditions at UCL during that time or subsequently were conducive to the radicalization of students.” 

The first thing to point out about the conclusion is that, as the report itself acknowledges, Abdulmutallab was the third UCL student to attempt a terrorist attack, which bespeaks a pattern not a series of coincidences. Samar Alami, a chemical engineering graduate, put her degree to use by blowing up a car outside the Israeli Embassy in London in 1994. Mohammed Abushamma matriculated in 2008 after he’d already been arrested on terrorism-related charges (UCL staff only realized something was up when he skipped so many classes to attend his court hearings).  

The second thing that warrants mention is that one of the panelists on the UCL inquiry was Dr. Muhammed Abdul Bari, chairman of the East London Mosque, which was frequented by Abdulmutallab himself, not that the conflict of interest is stated in the report’s introduction. The East London Mosque has also twice hosted Anwar al-Awlaki, the al-Qaeda ideologue who has since admitted that Abdulmutallab was a student of his. Al-Awlaki, an American citizen, was recently designated for assassination by the White House because of his role in both the Detroit attack and in mentoring Nidal Malki Hassan, the Fort Hood murderer. In his first appearance at Dr. Bari’s mosque, in 2003, Awlaki ordered his audience never to cooperate with the police or security services under any circumstances. His second cameo, in 2009, was delivered via a pre-recorded video message, three days after a national newspaper had informed Dr. Bari that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had identified al-Awlaki as an ‘al-Qaeda supporter.’  Bari has dealt with such information by dismissing it and insinuating that an anti-Muslim bias was at the core of any complaint about his mosque’s guest sermonizers. 

Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers