The witch-hunt against Muslims continued this week with sensational allegations splashed over newspaper front pages that university campuses across Britain were being infiltrated by “Islamic extremists”.
The claims were made by Musa Admani, imam at London Metropolitan University and an adviser to New Labour’s higher education minister Bill Rammell. Admani runs the Luqman Institute, which claims to specialise in “deradicalising” Muslim students.
Noreen Fatima, vice president of London Metropolitan’s student union, spoke to Socialist Worker about the imam’s comments and the increasingly repressive atmosphere on campus.
‘There’s a strange game going on at the moment. The imam was completely wrong to make these comments - but he’s said similar things in the past and then denied saying them when challenged by students.
In the past few months the attacks on Muslims have come more sharply into focus. It is because the government’s policies - over the war or over questions such as privatisation - are failing. They want to deflect criticism away from themselves.
It began with comments about Muslims, then they started saying lecturers had to keep an eye on “Asian looking” students. Politicians and some of the media are playing the race card.
The authorities just want to increase surveillance and are creating fear among people. It’s really outrageous. Why should “Asian looking” students be singled out in this way?
We have a no confidence in any form of extremism. But to have a McCarthy-like air will mean that people feel even more intimidated and won't be discussing genunine issues. The only way forward to solve any issue is debate and diccussion and that should be encouraged instead of depoliticising Muslim students. Singling out one race or religion is racism.
This is having a very unhealthy effect on campus. Universities should be places where political debate is encouraged.
But now a lot of people are scared to speak out - students are worried about being arrested if they put up a Stop the War Coalition poster.
We’re holding a meeting this week to discuss what the students’ response will be. We are also planning on holding an event on civil liberties and the “war on terror”.
I remember when the “war on terror” started, one of my professors said he thought Muslims were the new Jews of Europe.
I didn’t want to believe what he said. But it seems people who look like Muslims are now being treated that way.
I noticed it far more when I started wearing the hijab about two years ago. There were a number of factors, spiritual and social, why I started wearing it. It was about having a sense of identity and sending out a message.
Saying you are different is not saying that you want to be separate from society - after I started wearing the hijab I became more confident, more sociable and more involved.
Universities are one place where people mix and interact. But there is a problem, for example when black people try to enter the job market. If people can get jobs they tend to be low paid jobs.
Just as women face a “glass ceiling”, so do minorities. People don’t choose to stick to themselves, it happens if they can’t find a place in wider society.
The People’s Assembly called by the Stop the War Coalition is a really wonderful idea.
It will draw together different activists from different communities with different political ideas and religions, and from the trade unions.
And it shows how people can coexist - how we can stand in unity against racism and war.
Noreen Fatima will be speaking at the Stop the War Coalition’s People’s Assembly on Islamophobia and the “war on terror” this Saturday 18 November, 10am–5.30pm, at the Camden Centre, Bidborough Street, London WC1. For more information go to www.stopwar.org.uk