If you wanted an example of a well-integrated European Muslim, you couldn’t have done better than the pre-2001 version of Taimur Abdulwahab al-Abdaly. In Sweden in those years the Iraqi-born Abdaly played sports, went clubbing, worked as a DJ, and even had an Israeli girlfriend. But that was then; on December 11, the 28-year-old launched a suicide bomb attack in the center of Stockholm, Sweden, killing himself and injuring two others. So, what happened to Abdaly during the last decade? Unfortunately, what turned a regular Muslim adolescent into a fanatical jihadist is plain for everyone to see—it is the British educational system.
Abdaly moved to the U.K. in 2001 to study at the University of Bedfordshire in Luton, near London. A friend of Abdaly’s told London’s Daily Telegraph that once he started studying there, “everything changed . . . he had grown a beard and he was very serious. He talked about Afghanistan and religion. . . . Someone had taken advantage of him and had brainwashed him.” And so Abdaly becomes another name on the growing list of those who have passed through British schools and gone on to commit Islamist terrorist attacks. If the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, the war on terror is being lost in the labs and lounges of our universities.
A report I coauthored with Hannah Stuart and Houriya Ahmed for the Centre for Social Cohesion earlier this year showed that of all Islamism-inspired terrorists convicted in British courts or responsible for suicide bombings in the U.K. between 1999 and 2009, at least 31 percent attended a British university. Among the more famous, Omar Sheikh attended the prestigious London School of Economics before he masterminded the 2002 kidnapping and beheading of Daniel Pearl. And then there’s Omar Sharif, who went to King’s College London before his 2003 suicide bombing at a Tel Aviv pub called Mike’s Place that killed 3 and wounded 50. Furthermore, as we noted in our study, five terrorists have been senior members of a university Islamic society (ISOC). These include Waheed Zaman, part of the al Qaeda cell that aimed to set off homemade liquid bombs on transatlantic flights in 2006, and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to detonate a bomb concealed in his underpants on a flight to Detroit last Christmas Day.
It was the Abdulmutallab case that opened a window onto British academia’s culture of denial. As president of the University College London (UCL) Islamic society, Abdulmutallab was known to have organized extremist events and exhibits, one of which juxtaposed images of mujahedeen fighters against the collapse of the World Trade Center. One student who attended said that he was shocked. “It seemed to me like it was brainwashing,” he told the press, “like they were trying to indoctrinate people.” How could Abdulmutallab’s views have escaped the school’s attention? Under pressure from the media, UCL established an internal inquiry. Not surprisingly, the investigation concluded that UCL was in no way culpable for failing to notice either Abdulmutallab’s radical beliefs or the attempts of his ISOC to influence students.
Sometimes even when the school is paying attention it seems not to matter. Consider the case of Mohammed Atif Siddique, a student that Glasgow Metropolitan College staff saw accessing terrorist websites on several occasions. According to British court documents, school officials were “reluctant to do anything for fear of some accusation of racist conduct.” In 2007, Siddique was charged with terrorism-related offenses, like providing instruction or training for the purpose of assisting, preparing for, or participating in terrorism; and distributing or circulating a terrorist publication.
Of course, the reluctance, or inability, to describe things as they truly are is the price paid for political correctness. No one would hesitate to condemn a campus culture in which students were inspired by neo-Nazis to carry out terrorist acts in the name of white supremacy. And yet the liberals and leftists who typically fill faculty and administrative positions would never dream of holding the Muslim community to the same standards. Instead, they are much more likely to invent a convenient narrative, one in which, for example, Muslim threats of violence and terrorism are really just responses—and quite understandable ones at that—to Western war-mongering. In this view, suicide bombing is a legitimate defense of Muslim lands against the neo-imperialism of the West. The Islamists loudly denouncing British, as well as American, foreign policy, insulting our soldiers, and glorifying terrorism are just exercising their rights to freedom of speech. And by hosting clerics like Murtaza Khan, universities are admirably defending these rights—even as Khan advocates stoning women for adultery, preaches that Jews and Christians are the “enemies” of Muslims, and claims that it was the West, rather than al Qaeda, that slaughtered nearly 3,000 people on 9/11.
In the end, it is the moral bankruptcy of our academic intelligentsia that has allowed and now empowered radical clerics like Khan to operate on British campuses. At some point in the near future, another young Muslim educated in the U.K. will take what this cleric and many others say to heart. This student will try to murder as many people as possible because he thinks his religion demands it and the West deserves it. And university authorities will once again look the other way. Perhaps at some point British society will put its foot down, and complain that it’s sick of our tax money funding factories that turn young Muslims into terrorists. But in the meantime, we Brits can no longer feign surprise that our universities are churning out al Qaeda’s foot soldiers.
Robin Simcox is a research fellow at the Centre for Social Cohesion in London.