From one Islamic Society President to Another

From one Islamic Society President to another: My view of what happened
By Talha Ghannam, President of The LSE SU Islamic Society

As a Muslim and human being, terrorism is something I condemn unequivocally. The alleged actions of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab have shocked and saddened us all. Terrorism can never be tolerated in Islam in any of the forms it takes and we must unite together as fellow human beings to oppose it.

The emergence that he was University College London (UCL) Islamic Society president between 2006 and 2007 make this story particularly shocking as my experience to date of Islamic societies across the UK has been only positive. As the current president of the London School of Economics (LSE) SU Islamic Society, I struggle to understand how a person so active in a society which so actively engages with students on campus can turn to such ways. What could cause such a change in an individual? Is there any correlation between his presidency of the Islamic society and the alleged actions that Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab took?

This discussion is not just one I have been having with myself and friends, but a question which has been the main driver behind an enquiry led by the government to learn of the path of radicalisation of Umar Farouk. Recently, in a statement released by the government, it seems clear that "he was radicalised outside the UK"[1]. This view has been supported widely including Malcolm Grant, president and provost of University College London [2], the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS)[3], and it certainly reflects my image of the LSE SU Islamic Society.

In fact, the LSE SU Islamic society has a long history of engagement within the Students Union with a strong record of achievement such as "Best Society Event of the Year" in 2006-07 as well as nominee for Best Society and Best Charitable Event. And it's not just the society itself which has been recognised; the prestigious "Honorary Student Award" has been granted to eight active members of the Islamic Society over the last 5 years, including one former Islamic Society President. Furthermore, this is not just exclusive to LSE as Islamic Societies across the country are recognised for their good work in building good campus relations, charity and so on.

So what drives individuals like the accused down such a route? With a combination of several different factors, some of which may never be understood, there is no simple answer to this. As a Muslim, I know my religion condemns terrorism unconditionally so it cannot be Islam which caused this, and as someone who is actively involved in Islamic society work at LSE and across the country, I know it cannot have been the UCL Islamic Society either.

However, as fellow citizens of Britain, we must recognise our role in fighting such terror; a crucial role at that. Too long have we seen violence from both sides , whether it be bombs dropped in Afghanistan and Iraq to the plane attacks of 9/11, and till this day it has taken us nowhere. Violence will only ever breed more violence, and this is why we must all unite together against it unconditionally. As Noam Chomsky said in a speech at Harvard University soon after Americas Invasion in Afghanistan in 2002, "You say I blame America and that is False. I blame you, and I blame me... who are allowing this to happen"[4].

We can no longer tolerate violence perpetrated in our name. Just as Muslims in this country have openly condemned the violence perpetrated in the name of their faith, so too must we all condemn the actions of war and violence perpetrated in the name of this country.

However, our duty does not stop at this. I want to ask each and every person this question; how many of you have actively sought to learn about Islam; the religion which seems so topical these days. Should it not be our duty to learn about the religion of the countries we fight against if we are ever to build a meaningful peace with them? Imagine if the $1trillion[5] spent so far in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had gone to feed the estimated 5million people of Afghanistan who are suffering from starvation, then immediately we would have won a great deal of friends onto our side.

As an active member in the Students Union, various National Youth Projects in the UK and a member of the Young Muslims Advisory Group (YMAG) to Ministers John Denham of the DCLG and Ed Balls of the DCSF, I have regularly advised this government of steps we can take to build a more cohesive society in Britain and abroad. When you hear of a €700 fine in France to women wearing the Burkha, a ban on Minarets in Switzerland and the Islamophobic campaign led by the BNP, it naturally breeds a sense of victimisation amongst those targeted.

At LSE, we have demonstrated a strong front to tackle extremism on campus by passing a motion condemning Islamophobia in all its forms. Next term the Islamic Society will be holding its annual Discover Islam Week, to which you are all invited, trying to build an understanding and relationship between all on campus. As a Union, we have demonstrated countless times that, despite any political or ideological differences we may have, we stand united against discrimination and work together to build good campus relations through things like RAG, the interfaith forum and weekly UGMs. Such interaction will strengthen understanding between us and quell any extremism in our communities.

When it comes to individuals like the accused Umar Farouk, I have no doubt that his radicalisation did not occur either in UCL or the Islamic Society because this unity amongst students is too strong for someone to lose hope on the world. Although it is legitimate to feel aggrieved at foreign policy decisions made by the US and UK, succumbing to terrorism is wrong and can never be justified. For the many students around us who understand the true Islamic and humanitarian values against any kind of violence, this path is unthinkable and utterly condemned. Instead we must build relationships by learning of one another's beliefs and discussing openly about the thoughts and opinions we hold. Then we can work together through the lawful means to oppose these illegal wars perpetrated in our name and unite to bring back peace to the world.

[4] "Noam Chomsky - Distorted Morality: America's War on Terror?"

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