With the general election fast approaching there have been several articles in recent weeks which have revealed attempts to gain political influence by organisations connected to extremists.
This afternoon, an event at the University of Manchester will host one such group, as Yusuf Thai of Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND) addresses students on Islamophobia.
Meanwhile, a similar MEND event which took place on 11th April was promoted by the Islamic Society at the University of Bradford, which described it as “definitely not to be missed!!!”
MEND is the new name for iEngage, removed in 2011 as the secretariat for an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia because of its extremist connections.
One of its senior figures, Azad Ali, lost a libel case in 2010 over claims he had excused the killing of Coalition soldiers in Iraq, with the judge concluding:“…the claimant was indeed…taking the position that the killing of American and British troops in Iraq would be justified”.
He has also written that “Hamas is a true resistance movement…standing up for the rights of the Palestinians”, and that: “democracy…at the expense of not implementing the Sharia, of course no one agrees with that”.
Meanwhile, at an event in Bolton just weeks ago, MEND CEO Sufyan Ismail argued Muslims should become involved in politics as it could stop those travelling to fight in Syria being criminalised.
The Telegraph reported Ismail saying:“David Cameron recently said…British Muslims going to Syria fighting against Assad…will definitely face interrogation. Now do you think that if we landed those 20 seats or 30 seats, he would have the audacity to say that to the Muslim community? Not a chance!”
He was also reported to have told the audience that “British society “hates us”” and that Muslims are not protected by British law.
This included his claim that: “It’s not a crime to use violent or threatening words or behaviour [against Muslims]” and: “It’s perfectly OK under UK law to hate Islam and Muslims, it’s not a problem”.
Despite its deeply divisive message, MEND material has been distributed by students at De Montfort and Huddersfield Universities, and the group has run classes at Manchester Metropolitan University.
If the spread of extremism within higher education is to be checked, exposing organisations like MEND and standing up to their narrative will be crucial.
Universities are where young people often become more politically engaged, and if those promoting a sectarian agenda in these spaces go unchallenged, then our political process will suffer as a result.