Such is the level of racism and Islamophobia in society that when encountered by a politically active Muslim, people automatically seem to put them in the radical or extremist box.
The main problem here is that there is a set of double standards at play for categorising people with political opinions. There seems to be one set of criteria for Muslims and another for the rest of the human race. I have found a simple but effective method for people to determine if a Muslim’s views are extreme or not. If a white non-Muslim was to express the same view would you think they are an extremist? Would it make you look for the number to the terrorism hotline? Or would you accept their views as a legitimate opinion that has a place in the broad political spectrum of society?
In the majority of cases Muslims have perfectly acceptable opinions, which tells us that there is a problem in the way we look at Muslims in society. This is understandable in some cases, since we have been fed constant reports linking the words ‘radical’ and ‘extremist’ to Muslims. It is only natural that Islamophobia has now become inherent in society.
The Federation of Student Islamic Societies is anything but radical or extreme, unless you have a problem with Muslims engaging with political and democratic processes and using those avenues to air their views and get involved with wider society. But, I suspect that the critics of FOSIS disagree with the political opinions aired and campaigned on by the federation. Some even have an issue with Muslims, as an entity, airing political opinions whilst standing on a religious ticket.
No FOSIS member has served for the military in the Islamic Republic of Iran or any other military. But there are student religious groups whose members have served for the IDF or have gone on to serve for them. FOSIS has never justified suicide bombings of any type, but in 2010 at the NUS conference, the Union of Jewish Students invited a Muslim speaker from CENTRI (Counter Extremism Consultancy, Training, Research and Interventions). This speaker openly told me that he accepted and was comfortable with a fatwa from a traditional scholar in Syria that suicide operations against Israeli military targets were permissible. Extreme? Radical? Or an opinion that is prevalent in the Muslim world? Are the UJS now guilty of what FOSIS is being accused of, inviting speakers that have ‘radial’ opinions?
Some may take issue with the fact that FOSIS campaigns on international politics, specifically their anti-war and pro-Palestinian stance. But for FOSIS to ignore these issues would be to ignore their democratic mandate and disregard the issues their members wish for them to campaign on. These are issues which Muslim students hold close to their hearts and many are affected by.
Another argument is that FOSIS members are from the Wahabi/Salafi school of thought – a literalist school of thought emanating from Saudi Arabia. It is true that most FOSIS members I have encountered follow the Wahabi school of thought, however this is not extreme in and of itself. In fact FOSIS’s elected member on the National Union of Students Executive in 2009 was openly a Sufi. Sufis follow a more traditional and spiritual way of Islam and are seen to be more moderate than Wahabis. If anything, FOSIS is more diverse, pluralistic, democratic and representative of Muslims than any other religious grouping within the student movement in the UK.
FOSIS does not have a clandestine radicalisation program that takes students and turns them into extremists. Extremists have political grievances which they choose to air on in illegitimate ways. Extremists will always use examples of victimisation of Muslims engaging in democratic processes as examples of why Muslims engaging in politics is futile and should take up more of an extreme approach. The unfounded targeting of FOSIS plays into the very extremists’ hands that people are so opposed to.
Universities are places where young people become radical. They are radicalised by ideas, politics and life. It is a place where you learn and engage in the battlefield of ideas. The problem is that when non-Muslims get political we put them in the ‘lefty’, ‘eco’ or any other political box, but when Muslims get political we just deem them extremists, now that is extreme!