Written by Student Rights on 30 July 2013 at 6pm

Bradford event highlights risk of radicalisation posed by Syrian conflict

This time last year a recent British graduate called Ibrahim Al-Mazwagi travelled to Syria to fight alongside rebel forces against the Assad regime and was later killed in action, his death reported in March 2013.

With this year’s summer holidays beginning and exam period finishing, the concern remains that British students may attempt to follow Al-Mazwagi and join the estimated 100 British citizens fighting in Syria.

Last week, an excellent Channel 4 exclusive showed young British women who had travelled to Syria to marry fighters; a woman with a strong London accent telling viewers “These are our brothers and sisters and they need our help”.

The suffering of Muslims overseas has been a powerful recruitment tool in past years for those who have gone on to join militant groups or carry out violent acts, and has been cited by many extremists as a radicalising factor.

These have included Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, convicted in 2002 for the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl, and Anthony Garcia, involved in the ‘Fertiliser bomb’ plot and convicted in 2007.

This is why an event which took place in Bradford on Friday and was promoted to students at Leeds, Bradford, and Keele Universities is so concerning, as this narrative of suffering was enhanced by the presence of extremist individuals.   

Organised by Youth Talk Dawah, a project of Interpal’s Bradford representative Ibrahim Dar, the event featured Sharif Abu Laith as a speaker and was promoted with a graphic video of wounded civilians.

Called ‘Syria: Our Ummah, Our Responsibility’, the event description declared that “over 100,000 people have been murdered” and aimed to raise money for a convoy travelling to Syria on 28 July.

Whilst raising money for Syria’s refugees is an admirable cause that many of the UK’s Muslim students have championed, the involvement of Dar and Abu Laith in this event makes it worrisome.

On 18 May 2013 Dar shared a video of the Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki’s speech ‘State of the Ummah’, which specifically encourages violence, telling viewers:

Brothers and sisters, if we are not going to fight today, then when will we fight? Muslim land is occupied, oppression is widespread, the laws of the Quran are neglected. What other time is better for jihad than today?”   

In April 2011 he was also found to have shared a video on Facebook of militants attacking US soldiers in Afghanistan, commenting under the name Abu Hana that:

Mujahideen only have victory, and they get the highest rewards, there is no such thing as being defeated, the ultimate success is Islam”.

Compounding this, Sharif Abu Laith (who also uses the name Shareef Hafiz), is a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organisation of which the Prevent Strategy said:

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”.

That this event frames the conflict in Syria as the responsibility of Muslims in the UK, and is organised by a man who has shared material encouraging Muslims to fight overseas is deeply concerning.

With the summer sure to see more British citizens heading to Syria, that it was so easy for Youth Talk Dawah to promote such an event to students will surely alarm the UK’s universities.