In a speech by Bill Rammell, the UK higher education minister, the Blair government showed a willingness to consider the teachings of radical Islam in universities. Here are some excerpts from a bending-over-backwards speech where Rammell calls for more oversight:
We know that race hatred, racial separatism and anti-Semitism are espoused by the far Right Christian sects. These are manifestly in my view ludicrous as interpretations of Christianity. That is well understood in our country. But when our society thinks about Muslims, we don't apply the same set of rules. It is much less well understood that extremist Muslim sects are at odds with the mainstream. …
both the deployment of extremist ideas, and the failure to understand that these are the views of a tiny minority, can harm the ability of Muslims to engage in debate. Extremism and inflated reporting of extremism when it occurs I think are a huge problem for Muslims in our society. … Correcting these misunderstandings seems to me a fundamental objective for all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. It has to be a fundamental part of a strategy of isolating the extremist fringe. …
perhaps the most surprising thing that I have come to conclude in recent months is that the quality of teaching of Islam that takes place in our universities needs to be improved. There are weaknesses in the way young Muslims are educated about what their faith really requires. … there is a concern that the teachings which the great majority of Muslims would want to stress about living in peace, protecting the vulnerable, avoiding harm to others, are sometimes sidelined.
There is reason to think that in some cases students are being exposed more than any of us would like to wrong-headed influences, under the name of religion. In particular, exposed to teachings that either explicitly condone terrorism, or foster a climate of opinion which is at least sympathetic to terrorists' motivation. I am worried about this; so are colleagues in Government; so above all are Muslims that I have spoken to. It is an issue that has come up time and again. …
There is evidence that unhelpful narrow interpretations of Islam are available to many young people. Now I do not want to dictate course content, but I would like to be satisfied that what is available for students is not too constrained. We all surely want to see religiously-oriented courses that are not restricted to narrow interpretations of belief that fuel extremism. We need to look at the content of other courses in the arts and humanities. We need to look at the nature of the spiritual advice that young students have access too, and how this can be improved.
I am therefore intending to seek further advice which will help us all to understand what is going on; to look at what improvements can be made; and to make recommendations about how central Government, local communities, the funding councils and educational institutions can work together to improve things
Comment: We'll see if this speech leads to any improvements, but at least it shows the recognition that a problem exists. (May 15, 2006)
Related Topics: Academia, Middle East studies, Muslims in the United Kingdom, Radical Islam
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