Written by Student Rights on 17 July 2013 at 5pm

The promotion of extremism on the virtual campus

In discussions between Student Rights and government officials this week the issue of extremists using social media to target students was raised, and concerns over how this enables the promotion of extremist speakers and events were discussed.

Highlighting the frequency with which this promotion occurs, on 13 July an off-campus individual targeted the Islamic Circle at the University of Sheffield, advertising an event due to take place this Friday.

Organised by the Women of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), the event is due to take place at the Mirpuri Dhera restaurant in Sheffield, and will be discussing the lessons to be learned from the battles won by Muslims during Ramadan.

The event poster reads:

Ramadan is known as the month of victory, where Muslims fought to prevent the extinction of Islam as way of life in the Battle of Badr and the Battle of the Trench.

It was this month in which the Muslims conquered Mekkah and set out for the battle of Tabouk against the Romans. It was also the month in which the Battle of Hittin took place leading to the liberation of Jerusalem.

This is truly the month to learn lessons from those before us on how we today should strive to implement and protect this beautiful Deen”.

Aside from the troubling suggestion that the lessons those invited should learn are those of warfare, it is worrying that events held by HT are being advertised to students so easily.

Indeed, the Prevent Strategy specifically named the organisation as a concern when discussing universities, stating that:

We believe there is unambiguous evidence to indicate that some extremist organisations, notably Hizb-ut-Tahrir, target specific universities and colleges...with the objective of radicalising and recruiting students”.

The group is also ‘No-Platformed’ by the National Union of Students, alongside organisations like the British National Party and Al-Muhajiroun.

Compounding the ease with which HT can be advertised to students via social media is the fact that video of speakers whose presence on campus would require authorisation from the university authorities can also be shared freely.

These include speakers such as Haitham Al-Haddad or Dr Khalid Fikry, and in more serious cases violent extremists like the deceased Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki.

Challenging the promotion of extremism via social media without affecting freedom of expression is a difficult role for universities, and an individual’s online presence should not be seen as the responsibility of universities or student unions.

However, in the case of official student society Facebook groups or twitter feeds there should be some form of oversight, and students themselves should take steps to ensure that their social media is not used to promote extremist material.

The issues raised by the increasing role of the ‘virtual campus’ are only likely to continue to grow in the years ahead, and greater understanding how to approach them will be vital in challenging campus extremism.