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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 September 2005, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Muslim students' police distrust
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter

Muslim students
Students say warnings of extremism are "grossly exaggerated"
The higher education minister says he is "extremely worried" by a Muslim student survey showing one in 10 would not warn the police of a terror attack.

Bill Rammell called for a "mature debate" about the attitudes and grievances expressed by young Muslims.

But he welcomed the finding that an "overwhelming majority of students have a distinct affinity to Britain".

Muslim students spoke of the prejudice and hostility they had experienced since the London terror attacks.

And they said the student survey revealed that fears over extremism on campus were "grossly exaggerated" - with 96% of Muslim students unequivocally condemning political violence.

'Extremist'

Last week, the education secretary urged university chiefs to watch out for extremists on campuses and report suspicious people to the authorities.

Bill Rammell
Bill Rammell is worried by students' reluctance to talk to the police

And Mr Rammell called for universities and student organisations to "work together to challenge and isolate a very small minority of students who are attracted to extremist ideology".

But students attending the launch of the survey at the Houses of Parliament cautioned against the way the term "extremist" was being widely-used without any clear definition of what was intended.

Hanadi Ghannam said that there had been claims of extremist activity in her university, but even though she was involved in Muslim student life, she had never come across these alleged extremists trying to recruit students.

The negative portrayal of Muslim students following the London bomb attacks had lowered morale and self-confidence, she said, and it was very "frustrating" for students to feel blamed for something for which they had no connection. "It really puts students on the defensive," she said.

'Issue of confidence'

The survey, produced by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), is an attempt to gauge the mood of the 90,000 Muslim students in universities in the United Kingdom.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie
Sir Iqbal Sacranie says students should be protected from "unruly elements"

It shows a community feeling threatened and unfairly treated following the London bomb attacks - with clear concerns about their ability to trust authorities such as the police.

Sir Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, said there was an "issue of confidence" with the police - and a feeling among some young Muslims that they were not taken as "part and parcel of society".

But he said that Muslim organisations had to be at the forefront of opposing criminality and that they had a "duty to take seriously" any concerns that young people were being influenced by "unruly elements".

Faisal Hanjra, head of student affairs for FOSIS, said that the "media hype about extremism on campus has already done its damage. We are urging the government and university authorities to tackle this issue more sensitively".

Islamophobia

In terms of students' willingness to inform the police of a planned terror attack - the survey showed that almost three-quarters would tell the police straight away.

But among those who would not tell the police - the survey does not suggest sympathy with the terrorists. Instead there are worries among Muslims that if they stepped forward with information they could be treated as a suspect rather than a good citizen.

Only 2% of the students said they would not inform on another Muslim, 2% said they were scared of the police so would not contact them and 6% did not specify the reason for their reluctance. Another 8% said they would talk to the police after trying to dissuade the suspected terrorists.

The survey revealed the extent to which Muslim students have felt vulnerable following the July terror attacks. Before the attacks, 83% felt "proud and comfortable" to be a Muslim in Britain - but this has fallen to 52%.

Almost half of Muslim students have experienced Islamophobia, mostly defined as "direct and verbal". A quarter of these incidents had taken place on university campuses. As a result, 30% of Muslim students felt isolated.

As well as concerns about their treatment within the UK, the survey showed grievances over "foreign policies" - particularly the involvement in Iraq.

Mr Rammell said there was a need for the government to explain more clearly that its policy in Iraq and in the Middle East was not a reflection of any anti-Muslim bias.

"We haven't done sufficiently well in making it clear that our actions have not been driven by opposition to Islam," he said.


SEE ALSO:
Call for campus extremism watch
15 Sep 05 |  Education
Muslim students' integration call
29 Jun 05 |  Education


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