Last year when there were all those student protests going on, there was a sit in at UCL, my old alma mater. I had a meeting nearby and so went along to see what the fuss was about. When I got to Gower street, there was little sign of anything unusual, but I followed carefully printed signposts from the quad up to a conference room near the library marked by giant banners (right), the headquarters (and now billet) of the demonstrators. The sit in had being going on for a couple of days and already there was plenty of evidence of mission creep; complaints about tuition fee increases had been joined by ones variously advocating the liberation of Palestine, Tibet and Mumia.
It was here that I met, among the earnest people who have just discovered the world’s injustice and are determined to fix it within the next few weeks and sooner if possible, a couple of former members of the UCL Islamic society. When I was a student here this society and the various satellites around it had a reputation for being a nasty bunch of fuckers, which I think the members quite enjoyed playing up to. Much as with the conservatives who wanted to hang Mandela in the eighties, a lot of the more unpleasant things that they said were simply to épater la bourgeoisie rather than seriously held opinions, but they publicly flirted with some pretty serious antisemitic and violent stuff and were quite cynical about recruiting bewildered and culturally isolated muslim students, which seems to have been the route that brought the fellows I met into this organsiation. At the time, any criticism of the behaviour of the members was met with the standard defence that the accuser was Islamophobic, which was enough to give the university administration, wracked internally with postmodern, ‘non judgemental’ thinking, enough pause to let the problem fester a little longer.
In 2006, my final year at UCL, the society had as its president engineering student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (left), who would become better known to the public in three years later on December the 25th 2009, when he attempted to detonate a suicide bomb attached to his underpants on a crowded flight in midair. He could have killed 289 people; he thankfully succeeded only in burning his penis, testicles and upper thighs.
Following the Christmas Day Underwear Bombing, as it came to be known, the security services woke up and began investigating university islamic societies and trying to disrupt their recruitment and radicalisation.
It was this increased attention from the security services that had brought the former student muslims to the demonstration. They felt that they should not be targeted for monitoring (of which they had no evidence but I sincerely hope was taking place) on the basis that they were no longer members of the society and were not involved in anything that might present a security threat.
Given all that had gone on, I was pretty surprised that they would take that view. Surely if I had previously been the member of a far right organisation whose president had tried to murder 289 muslims they would be pleased if MI5 kept an eye on me? They seemed uncertain. They brought up islamophobia, which is got me thinking. The results of that thought session?