BBC News today covers news on the closing of Friday prayer facilities for Muslim students by City University in London.
The University claims to have locked the room used by Muslim students because students “had refused to submit the proposed content of sermons [khutbah] to the university before prayers to check its "appropriateness",” according to the BBC.
Wasif Sheikh, who leads the group Muslim Voices on Campus, which is challenging City University’s decision told the BBC:
"We feel we are being unjustly targeted. All of our sermons are open, we welcome all students and all staff.
"But when you start submitting your sermons to be monitored and scrutinised then there's a chance for it to be dictated what's allowed and what's not allowed. We, as students, don't accept that." “
The University’s conduct is bizarre to say the least given the report published by Universities UK on the issue of Freedom of Speech on Campus. In his foreword to the report, Professor Malcolm Grant, provost of UCL, noted, “Universities need…to ensure that potentially aberrant behaviour is challenged and communicated to the police where appropriate. But it is emphatically not their function to impede the exercise of fundamental freedoms, in particular freedom of speech, through additional censorship, surveillance or invasion of privacy.”
There have been many clamouring to attest to the role of university campuses in radicalization, see here, but an inquiry by the Home Affairs select committee into The Roots of Violent Radicalisation concluded:
“…the role of prisons and universities was less obvious. Much of the uncertainty relates to the fact that a number of convicted terrorists have attended prisons and universities, but there is seldom concrete evidence to confirm that this is where they were radicalised.”
“…we are concerned that too much focus in the Prevent Strategy is placed on public institutions such as universities, and that it may be more accurate, and less inflammatory, to describe them as places where radicalisation "may best be identified". We consider that the emphasis on the role of universities by government departments is now disproportionate.”
Universities have found themselves caught in a game of political football with politicians enacting policies that variously call upon university staff to ‘spy’ on Muslim students and be trained to “recognise the signs of radicalisation”.
It is noteworthy that while the BBC reporter states the university’s defence of acting because it had not cleared sermon content prior to delivery, he makes no effort to include perspectives from the representative body for Muslim students on campus, FOSIS, or a body representing UK Universities, preferring instead to defer to the Quilliam Foundation. In an area of debate already polarized between ideologues and evidence-based analysis on the role of universities in radicalisation, the BBC’s oversight is not one to be dismissed lightly.