WorldNetDaily Distorts Report into Islamism at UK University

WorldNetDaily “reports”:

Taliban taking over university life?

Undercover agents of the United Kingdom’s MI5 Security Service have discovered that Islamic extremists have created a “Taliban-type culture” in Britain’s universities that is dedicated to installing Islamic law and intimidating faculty, staff and students, according to a report from Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

This week a top-secret report detailing the attempt to radicalize the campuses has been sent to vice-chancellors across the nation by Jonathan Evans, the head of the security service.

The document contains a stark warning from the MI5 chief that in the past year there has “been sewn on campuses in England and Wales the seeds of Shariah law which has intimidated students and staff.”…

Apparently, the document is so top secret that only a fringe Birther website on the west coast of the USA has got wind of it – there are no other media reports anywhere.

However, it just so happens that two days before the WND article, the UK Sunday Times carried a similar story about a report into university Talibanisation:

Islamist extremists imposed ‘Taliban rule’ at British university

Islamist extremists at a British university tried to impose a Taliban-style culture of intimidation, creating a “chilling effect” on the lives of staff and students.

…A confidential report on the radicalisation of British universities found that Islamists at City University London engaged in “sub-criminal extremism”, abusing staff and students and leaving them feeling threatened.

The report, circulated last week to more than 90 vice-chancellors in England and Wales, documents how members of the university’s 180-strong Islamic society said adulterers should be stoned and forced women students to wear the hijab. One, after hearing a homophobic visiting preacher, said Islam condemned homosexuals to a violent death.

…The 38-page report by Quilliam, a think tank partly funded by the Home Office, will reinforce fears in government about the way that some British universities are failing to prevent extremists from using them as incubators of terrorism.

So, did vice-chancellors receive two confidential reports on the subject of Islamist extremism over the past week… or has WND decided to sensationalise the Sunday Times article? Given WND’s history of lies and pseudo-journalism (see many posts at ConWebWatch), I’m willing to bet it’s the latter: there is no report from MI5, just the one from Quilliam, which WND has learnt about second-hand via the Sunday Times and fed through the mangle of WND editor Joseph Farah’s obsessions.

However, it should also be noted that the Sunday Times article is itself guilty of sensationalism; the report is not “confidential” (let alone “top secret”) – it’s freely available from the Quilliam website. And the phrase “Taliban-style” (or WND’s “Taliban-type”) does not appear. There is only one passing comparison to the Taliban:

…In essence, the ISoc’s [Islamic Society]  ideology is one that aspires to a system of law mirroring countries like Saudi Arabia or Taliban-era Afghanistan, where moral misconduct is punishable by the state.

As for the actual problem:

…It is clear that the ISoc’s members, without necessarily breaking any laws, have had a chilling effect on the academic and social life at City University. Through exerting its own freedom of speech, expression and action, the ISoc successfully and deliberately reduced the freedoms of others, as well as undermined efforts to improve understanding between people from different racial, religious and social backgrounds. Thus, the ISoc leadership directly undermined two of the five key objectives put forward by the government for university campuses in 2007: ‘to break down segregation amongst different student communities’ and ‘to ensure student safety and campuses that are free from bullying, harassment and intimidation’.

To its credit, City University has recognised many of the serious problems arising from the ISoc’s behaviour. After being alerted to the numerous problems on the ISoc’s website, the university forced the ISoc to shut it down at the end of May 2010. It remains inactive. In addition, due to a number of transgressions of SU [Student Union] rules, the ISoc had their privileges as an officially recognised society removed by the SU in June 2010. These privileges include having access to their members’ registration fees, being allowed to host a stall during Freshers’ Week, and being allowed to host a website. As a result, under these restrictions, a society is unable to easily recruit members and is therefore in effect largely inactive. In response to this pressure, the ISoc signed an agreement promising not to again transgress SU regulations in return for having their privileges reinstated before the start of the new academic year.

The information was gathered from interviews undertaken by a graduate researcher, not via WND‘s fantasy “undercover agents” from MI5. The report is essentially a case study of how Islamists have caused trouble at a university, and how the university has sought to manage and defuse the situation. Quilliam highlights a real problem in a sober way, and offers some recommendations to City University and to other institutions; but it does not claim that “Britain’s universities” now exist in a “Taliban-type culture”. Of course, such fear-mongering hyperbolic distortions of the report serve only to obscure Quilliam’s research.

And what of the quote attributed by WND to Jonathan Evans, head of MI5? It’s not available on-line anywhere else, and I’m sceptical that he would have used the “seeds of Shariah law” phrase. The idea that the problem of Islamic extremism can be crystallised as “Shariah” is a crudely polemical formulation that belongs for the most part to the American right: its purpose, of course, is to re-cast Islam as an insidious political ideology like Communism. Muslims therefore should not enjoy religious freedom, and “Shariah” can be detected as a secret motivating factor of political opponents (see here). I would hope that Evans is rather more sophisticated than that. This is not the first time that WND has mysteriously got hold of a unique quote from the head of MI5; as I blogged here, earlier this year WND reported on Evans supposedly opining on the dangers of “breast-implant bombers”.