Chaos on campus: Islamists and social media

By Jeremy Wilson on August 12th, 2013

Islamic extremism on UK campuses is nothing new. For years, Islamist propaganda has been allowed to fester in universities, before the 7/7 London Bombings forced a spotlight on the radicalisation of British Muslims. Universities claim they have the problem under control and Islamic societies claim they are being unfairly targeted by the media and security services. But social media activity shows how radical groups are still active on campuses and are finding new ways to reach large number of students.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is an international Islamic organisation which advocates for the establishment of the Caliphate: a world-wide Muslim state. They walk a fine line between condoning violent Jihad and including it as explicit policy. But the following statement issued by Hizb ut-Tahrir leaves no doubt about their beliefs:

All means and ways which a Muslim uses to kill unbelievers is permitted… whether you blow up their planes… or whether you blow yourself up among their military encampments or blow yourself and them up with explosives.

While some international branches explicitly glorify terror in their statements, the UK branch has been careful not to issue statements that fall foul of the law.

The UK Government hasn’t gone as far as banning Hizb ut-Tahrir as it has with groups such as Islam4uk and Al-Muhajiroun. But its Prevent Strategy has highlighted a connection between some people who have been engaged in terror related activity on British soil and the organisation’s influence.

For years Hizb-ut-Tahrir has been one of the most active Islamist groups on UK campuses. Its activities have not gone unnoticed. Years of trying to gain influence in university Islamic societies has lead to them becoming subject to the National Union of Students’ “No Platform Policy”, a distinction they share with the British National Party, The English Defence League and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK – about which more later.

The policy bans NUS members from sharing a platform with Hizb-ut-Tahrir and in effect keeps the group from having an official presence on campus. In response, Hizb-ut-Tahrir have started to use front societies on campuses with names like “Global Idea Society”, allowing them to plant their activists in positions of leadership within student union structures.

Social media allows these individuals and groups to target students from their respective institutions, unhindered by the NUS and universities themselves.

The aforementioned Global Ideas Society at the University of Westminster is a typical example of one of these front groups. Its purported aim is “to foster discussion on global ideas including subjects such as politics, economics, sociology, culture, religion and history”. The group maintains a strong online presence, with recordings of their events on YouTube and a particularly active Facebook group.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has at its core a belief that the world should be ruled as an Islamic caliphate by any means.

As previously mentioned, Hizb ut-Tahrir has at its core a belief that the world should be ruled as an Islamic caliphate by any means. The social media activity of the Global Ideas Society and its members reflects this. The Facebook activity of Shahoor Malik, a senior member of the Society, demonstrates the pervading influence of Hizb ut-Tahrir.

He has, for example, shared a video called “Are Islamic punishments barbaric?”, part of a Hizb ut-Tahrir campaign and presented by a senior Hizb ut-Tahrir member. The video calls for hand amputations which would “serve to safeguard society”.

Another video shared by Malik is of an Australian Hizb ut-Tahrir member presenting a formal complaint to the French Consulate about French involvement in Mali. He also expresses support for the Islamist fighters who included Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Mr Malik commented under the video: “Just walked inside and said everything straight up, ‘when the caliphate comes you will have no excuses’…”

Hizb ut-Tahrir’s deem valid any efforts to bring about the Caliphate. While the UK branch produces videos exposing the virtues of sharia law, they also, abd very vocally,  support Islamic insurgencies wherever in the world they are taking place. This is especially the case on social media.

On the Global Ideas Society Facebook page, a picture of Kalashnikov-wielding, burka-clad women was posted along with the following comment:

Allahu Akbar! Our sisters in Mali getting armed and ready to protect themselves and their families from the French Kuffar [highly derogatory Arabic term used to refer to non-Muslims] invaders.. May Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) protect them. We ask Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) to Bless us with the Khilafah [caliphate], to assist us to establish the Khilafah to expel all the invaders, liberate our lands, protect our sisters & children, to free our brothers, and to honor & dignify the Ummah [the global Muslim community].

In the comments under the picture, Shahoor Malik engages in a heated argument with another poster who points out that Mali has a right to defend itself from jihadists. It is then pointed out that the women in the picture weren’t Malian at all and thus the whole post was “a lie”. To which Malik responds: “The main point is they’re Muslim, a national identity does not matter.”

This blind conviction, that every sunni Muslim with a gun must be supported, is central to the doctrine Hizb ut-Tahrir peddles on campuses.

It’s not just in these fringe groups that extremist ideology is flourishing. At the same university, the University of Westminster Islamic Society runs a largely inoffensive social media presence, free from the Jihadi obsession of it’s more extreme counterpart. So it comes as a bit of a surprise when included in the list of speakers at their annual dinner, to which they invited thousands of people on Facebook, was one Dr Khalid Fikry.

Dr Fikry is dangerously sectarian. In one of his YouTube videos, he says, “Shia are one of the worst and greatest enemies against our Ummah nowadays”. He says that shia Muslims believe that “killing the Sunni is to raise your rank in Paradise, raping a Sunni woman is a matter that pleases Allah”.

He has shown support for convicted terrorists, including the penning of a tribute to Omar Abdul Rahman. who is serving life in the USA for conspiracy to commit terrorism. According to Fikry, “the Jew Judge used laws that were dead and never used for hundreds of years to judge him”.

The open nature of social networks allows university Muslim societies to be hijacked. The Facebook page of the Islamic Circle of the University of Sheffield is as moderate as they come,  open and well-used by its members. Yet, in July, someone was able to push an extremist agenda on the page at the click of a button.

By posting an invite to an off-campus Hizb ut-Tahrir event, one individual was able to target almost 1,000 unsuspecting students and did so completely unopposed. These are modest examples of how Hizb ut-Tahrir targets today’s university campuses with abhorrent views. It’s not surprising that the UK Government highlighted their dangerous agenda in the 2011 Prevent Strategy.

We believe there is unambiguous evidence to indicate that some extremist organisations, notably Hizb-ut-Tahrir, target specific universities and colleges (notably those with a large number of Muslim students) with the objective of radicalising and recruiting students.

There is also evidence of hate preachers worming their way onto campus by avoiding  official channels. They simply book university facilities through an external organisation. An example of this is the “Muslim Volunteers & Du’at Fellowship Middlesbrough”, an external group who run courses in conjunction with Teesside University Islamic Society.

In March, they put on a talk by Shaykh Khalid Yasin on Teesside University campus. The event was advertised openly on their Facebook page and went ahead as planned. If it had been suggested through official university channels, it would have almost certainly been aborted. In spite of being introduced in a 2009 BBC documentary as “an American Muslim teacher extremely popular among young European Muslims embarking “on a mission to de-radicalise them”, Mr Khalid Yasin is a nasty piece of work.

As well as advocating for Western Muslims to cut themselves off from non-Muslims,  Yasin can be found on YouTube endorsing execution as punishment for homosexuality. In fact, he delights in the prospect of “heads rolling down the street” as it would act as a deterrent to those tempted to indulge in the “aberrations” of homosexuality and lesbianism.

Sometimes Islamic Societies still put on events with extremist speakers and openly promote them through their social media presence. In February, University College London School of Pharmacy Islamic Society put on an event with Jalal Ibn Saeed as the speaker. Together with University College London Islamic Society they invited over 4,000 people to attend through Facebook.

Jalal Ibn Saeed’s rhetoric glorifies violent jihad and martyrdom. He has praised the Taliban and YouTube footage exists of him condoning the targeting of coalition troops. His talks often take on a disturbingly sadomasochistic tone, telling his listeners: “A believer wants a slow death, sweat, build up, let me feel everything.”

Mr Saeed is a textbook radical preacher of the sort higher education institutes should be well aware of. Yet in 2013 he can be given a platform unopposed at a major London university because front groups use social media to organise meetings and speeches.

Along with Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee is also subject to the NUS “no platform” policy. One of its founders, Asghar Bukhari is a regular commentator on the UK television circuit. Despite the ban, Mr Bukhari is still finding platforms on British campuses.

In February this year, he spoke at an event organised by Middlesex University Palestine Society. An interesting event for someone who once sent a £60 donation to David Irving’s fighting fund and emailed  Irving, reassuring the Holocaust denier: “You may feel like you are on your own but rest assured many people are with you in your fight for the Truth.”

And yet his social media activity openly reveals his radical views. In 2008, he wrote on Facebook: “Muslims who fight against the occupation of their lands are ‘Mujahadeen’ and are blessed by Allah…any Muslim who fights against Israel and dies is a martyr and will be granted paradise” and that “There is no greater oppressor on this earth then [sic] the Zionists, who murder little children for sport”.

It gets worse. In 2010 he published a Facebook post, in which he described what he considered to be legitimate forms of jihad: “To clarify i am not one of those who says jihad is waking up in the morning and going to work or doing wudhu [washing to body in preparation for prayer] or fighting the nafs (which is a form)…

Many would argue that scholars (Awlaki) for example fought jihad with their tongues and were targeted for killing because of it”.

Anwar al-Awlaki was the main recruiter for al-Qaeda until his death in 2011. Yes, you read that correctly. Bukhari publicly endorsed the man who gave theological cover to those carrying out terrorism. In December, he shared a picture of Awlaki and one of his quotes. Underneath it, he wrote: “They claim MPACUK has no scholarly backing? …Really? …”

So there you have it from the man himself. The Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK gets its theological backing from Anwar al-Awlaki. Al-Awlaki, the man who had direct contact with and inspired Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, the man who taught and communicated with Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day “underwear bomber”, the man who inspired Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, and the man whose online videos convinced Roshonara Choudhry to stab British MP Stephen Timms.

This dangerous ideological backing translates into dangerous rhetoric. In one of al-Awlaki’s lectures he used the example of Muslims in Bosnia to warn against mixing with and trusting non-Muslims.

‘they used to date our women, they used to be very close to us, neighbour to neighbour, very close’. But then Milosevic tricked them…and they turned against the Muslims

Asghar Bukhari has used exactly the same tactic to provoke societal discord. In May last year, he shared a video with students at the School of Oriental and African Studies in which he warned Muslims to start defending Islam or “find that the fate of the Bosnian Muslims, who were massacred in their own homes by people who they lived next door to, is going to be your fate”.

This radical talk doesn’t just drive people apart: it is potent fuel for radicalisation, and it is being organised, recorded and spread almost entirely via social networks.