On September 14 last year, Ruth Kelly addressed a conference of university leaders from Universities UK (UUK) at their headquarters in Tavistock Square. Kelly then was speaking in her capicity as education secretary. Only nine weeks earlier, on July 7, Hasib Hussain had detonated a rucksack full of triacetone triperoxide on board a Number 30 bus in the road outside, killing 13 people.
Kelly said to the university heads: "Following the London bomb attacks in July, we are all having to re-examine certain policies. I believe that higher education institutions need to identify and confront unacceptable behaviour on their premises and within their communities. That means informing the police where criminal offences are being perpetrated or where there may be concerns about possible criminal acts. Institutions have a duty to support and look after the moderate majority as they study, to ensure that those students are not harassed, intimidated or pressured."
The day before her meeting, the Social Affairs Unit had published a report detailing 24 universities where Islamic radicalism was said to be flourishing. These included: Birmingham, Brunel, Durham, Leeds, Leeds Metropolitan, Luton, Leicester, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Reading, Swansea, and Wolverhampton.
The main threat to university students was seen to come from Al Muhajiroun, a group led by radical cleric Omar Bakri Mohammed which had officially disbanded in 2004, and the international Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. The first British branch of this movement, which despises democracy and wishes to establish a Caliphate, was founded by Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed. Both groups had been officially banned from university campuses.
Less than a week after Kelly's speech to university heads, Middlesex University became embroiled in a debate. The head of its Student Union, Keith Shilson, had invited representatives of Hizb ut-Tahrir to a question and answer session which it wanted to hold at its Trent Park campus on September 28, 2005. Even the notorious left wing National Union of Students (NUS) had officially banned Hizb ut-Tahrir from its unions because of their support for terrorism and for "publishing material that incites racial hatred".
Shilson was escorted from Middlesex University and had his studentship terminated. This evoked angry responses from Imran Waheed, spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir, who said: "Muslim students want to be able to engage in legitimate political expression at universities without fear of being branded 'extremist'." Faisal Hanjra of FOSIS (The Federation of Student Islamic Societies) said: "The recent media hype about extremism on campus has already done its damage, thanks to unfounded allegations linking 'Islamism' with individual universities."
The issue of Muslim extremism in Britain's colleges had been brewing for years, yet had rarely been objectively addressed. Though now the incident has been largely forgotten, the first outward sign of college radicalism manifested itself in 1995, more than a decade ago. The incident took place at Newham College of Further Education in east London, near where the extremist Islamic group Tablighi Jamaat currently wishes to construct a mega-mosque.
On Monday, February 27, 1995 at around 1 pm, an African student at the college was entering the building. A large group of Muslims were distributing leaflets. It is said that the student, Ayotunde David Obanubi, took a leaflet and then laughed. This caused the Muslims (of Pakistani/Bangladeshi origin) to pile onto him. About fifteen young Islamists, some of whom were already carrying knives and hammers, attacked Ayotunde. He was stabbed through the heart, and died on the college steps.
I remember the case I was living in east London at the time. This