Middle East studies in the News
"Extremism" Fear over Islam Studies Donations
Extremist ideas are being spread by Islamic study centres linked to British universities and backed by multi-million-pound donations from Saudi Arabia and Muslim organisations, a new report claims.
Eight universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, have accepted more than £233.5 million from Saudi and Muslim sources since 1995, with much of the money going to Islamic study centres, according to the report.
The total sum, revealed by Anthony Glees, the director of Brunel University's Centre for Intelligence and Security Studies, amounts to the largest source of external funding to UK universities.
Arab donors have argued that their gifts to academic institutions help to promote understanding between the West and the Islamic world. However, Prof Glees claims in his unpublished report that the propagation of one-sided views of Islam and the Middle East at universities amounts to anti-Western propaganda.
Prof Glees attracted controversy in 2005 when he claimed that up to 48 universities had been infiltrated by fundamentalists and warned that the threat posed by radical groups should be "urgently addressed".
At a conference in London on Thursday, the Government is expected to call for the opening of more Islamic study centres at British universities. Last year, ministers declared Islamic studies a "strategically important subject" and put aside £1 million for the teaching of the subject, as part of a counter-radicalisation drive.
Universities that have accepted donations from Saudi royals and other Arab sources include Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, University College London, the London School of Economics, Exeter, Dundee and City. Prof Glees says Government policies "push the wrong sort of education by the wrong sort of people, funded by the wrong sorts of donor".
He added: "The Government must reconsider its far-reaching, security-driven plan to use higher education in the fight against the radicalisation of young British Muslims. If it proceeds, it will create the very situation the Government wants to avoid: the development of self-imposed Muslim apartheid in the UK."
He called on the Government to ban universities from accepting money from Saudi or Islamic groups to fund Islamic studies; for all university donations to be made public, and for a public inquiry into foreign funding. Major donations include £20 million from the late King Fahd of Saudi Arabia towards the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, due to open next year, which is associated to the university.
Prof Glees's report claims that over the past five years, 70 per cent of politics lectures at the Middle Eastern Centre at St Antony's College, Oxford, were "implacably hostile" to the West and Israel - an allegation denied by Oxford.
Prof Glees says universities are so strapped for cash that they risk being "held over a barrel", with no option but to accept donations. He said: "Britain's universities will have to generate two national cultures: one non-Muslim and largely secular, the other Muslim.
"We will have two identities, two sets of allegiance and two legal and political systems. This must, by the Government's own logic, hugely increase the risk of terrorism." The report, to be published by the Centre for Social Cohesion, an offshoot of the centre-Right Civitas think tank, also questions the choice of Dr Ataullah Siddiqui as the Government's chief adviser on Islamic studies.
Prof Glees alleges that Dr Siddiqui, who is a director of Leicester's Markfield Institute of Higher Education, has ideological links to extreme Islamic groups. He argues that by employing Dr Siddiqui as its chief adviser, the Government risks aiding the spread of extremism, rather than preventing it.
Dr Siddiqui said: "These claims are false. I deny completely that I have any organisational or ideological links with extremist organisations. I also deny that the Markfield Institute has any such links with extremist organisations."
An Oxford University spokesman said: "The university has not seen Prof Glees's report. If any allegations have been made that funders influence or bias the methods, outcomes, or political stances taken in research and teaching at Oxford, the university categorically denies them."
A spokesman for Universities UK, the umbrella organisation for universities, said: "All academic programmes in the UK, including Islamic studies, are subject to the UK's rigorous and independent quality assurance procedures."
A spokesman for the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said: "Institutions have the primary responsibility for determining and maintaining the standards of the awards they deliver and the quality of the education they provide."
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