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23 October 2011updated 17 Jan 2012 12:31pm

The government must engage with Muslim students

Islamic student societies are challenging extremism.

By Nabil Ahmed

Prime Minister Cameron claimed in his Munich speech that not only had multiculturalism failed, but that certain parts of British society (Muslims mainly) had been divisive in their influence rather than integrating properly into the fabric of “British values”, the lack of which leads to extremism and radicalisation, or so the cloudy logic goes.

The question of integration is particularly problematic. British Muslim communities are characterised by low educational attainment and poverty, yet many bright lights have broken barriers in contributing positively to British society. Take the example of Usman Ali, the first-ever Muslim Vice President of the National Union of Students (NUS) from the humble neighbourhood of Longsight in Manchester, an inspiring tale and, most encouragingly not an isolated example.

Bright lights aside, there is a need to promote this sort of aspiration and contribution on a wider scale and in light of this the national Muslim student body, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), has sought to establish a British civic responsibility amongst British Muslim students. From artistic to political leadership events, inclusive of both Labour and Conservative representatives, we have arranged career events with city firms, technology giants, and media outlets – a good attempt in associating Muslim students to opportunities that make a beneficial difference to Britain.

This summer, FOSIS worked closely with the Civil Service in connecting its wider membership to the corridors of government,engaging with students in Cardiff. This is integration by exactly its narrowest definition; providing for aspiring young Muslims from difficult backgrounds with access to work for the betterment of the people of their country through political engagement.

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However, just days ahead of another joint FOSIS-Civil Service careers engagement in London on Tuesday, the event was cancelled from the darker corners of government. As reported by former Tory MP Paul Goodman on ConservativeHome, this happened on account of the “fury” of the Home Secretary, Theresa May. He detailed two reasons for her reaction; FOSIS’ “insufficient willingness to tackle extremism”, and its support of a human rights campaign.

On the accusation of cultivating extremism by neglect, umentioned is any recognition of the consistent steps taken by FOSIS to engage with key stakeholders, including government, on the issue of radicalisation on campus, an example being the widely acclaimed conference organised by FOSIS on countering extremism, the first of its kind and graced by government, security experts and university leaders alike.Also on record is FOSIS’ half-century of fostering engagement between Muslim students and students’ unions, universities and students of other faiths; of supporting a spirit of discussion and dialogue and intellectual integrity within Muslim groups. The allegation isslanderous, implying as it does that FOSIS fosters and promotes extremist elements. The absence of evidence is deafening.

The Babar Ahmad issue is even more contentious. Here is a man, a citizen of this very land, held without charge for seven years in high security prisons on evidence deemed unworthy in British courts, fighting extradition to kangaroo courts in the US who will probably incarcerate him to Supermaxfacilities for the rest of his natural life. FOSIS, together with a host of British organisations, is simply supporting his right to due legal process, that he be tried in a court in this country. Indeed,”British values” signify social justice, to protect the rights of individuals and of society, and our very democracy in the hands of citizens gives the right to force the government, our elected representatives, to debate the extradition of this man in parliament.

The government continues to up its rhetoric on integration and extremism, making frivolous claims whilst laying the blame at the doorstep of FOSIS and other Muslims organizations, yet its deeds in policy formation and in cancelling events such as the above are counterproductive to any notion of integration. The Home Secretary’s decision to ignore an invitation to meet Muslim students in June is also restatement to this. It is time the government stopped demagoguery and started engaging; organisations like our own and students at large will continue championing British contribution, with or without them.The disconnect between the political elite and its citizens continues apace.

Nabil Ahmed is the president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies.

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