When Students Turn to Terror: Terrorist and Extremist Activity on British Campuses

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The campus situation abroad

Of course, it is not just the UK that has seen significant events involving young people, students, universities and terrorism. As mentioned earlier, members of the Hamburg Cell were studying at the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg, while young French men have been making efforts to go and fight in Iraq. France has long suffered from Algerian terrorism, which saw disaffected young men joining the movement against the French authorities.
Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, a Syrian, settled in Madrid, took a Spanish wife, who then converted to Islam, was listed in the telephone directory and acted as any other Spanish citizen. However, unlike his neighbours, Yarkas was recruiting young Muslims, including, it is presumed, students, for training camps in Afghanistan and was raising funds through crime to buy weapons and explosives. He also had links with Al Qaeda agents in other countries, some of which were involved in the September 11 hijackings.134
The University of South Florida in the USA has been regularly linked with extremist groups. In 2001, the university fired Sami Al-Arian, a professor of computer engineering, for expressing controversial views in public speeches without noting that his views were personal and not representative of the University, a violation of contract. Additionally, his associations and extremist statements aroused concerns within the university worried for the safety of its student body. “Victory to Islam. Death to Israel,” Al-Arian said in a speech while still employed as a professor.
Al-Arian was charged with using a think tank, a mosque and a charity for Palestinian children that he had set up, for funding terrorist organisations in Israel and the territories under its control. In 1995, the university shut down the think tank, the World and Islam Studies Enterprises, which was co-founded with another USF professor, Abdallah Shallah who was later named a designated terrorist by the US.135
An Islamic scholar who exhorted his followers to join the Taliban and fight US troops was convicted in the US for inciting others to levy war against the United States and inducing others to use firearms in violation of federal law. Ali al-Timimi, who obtained a PhD from George Mason University in 2004, apparently wielded enormous influence among a group of young Muslim men in north Virginia who played paintball games in 2000 and 2001 as a means for training for holy war. Five days after September 11, al-Timimi addressed a small group of followers and said that the aircraft attacks were a harbinger of a final apocalyptic battle between Muslims and non-believers. He said that his followers were required, as Muslims, to defend the Taliban from the looming US invasion. While none of his followers joined the Taliban, four travelled to Pakistan in September 2001 and trained with a militant group called Lashkar-e-Taiba. Three of them testified that their intention had been to use the training to fight in Afghanistan and that it was al-Timimi’s speech that inspired them to do so.136
Chapter Four: The British National Party on UK campuses

With a few exceptions, the Far Right has traditionally received very little support in British universities, which have tended to be more open towards left-leaning extremism than its right-wing analogue. Nevertheless, the Right has always made efforts to attract students and in recent years this effort has intensified. The targeting of students is being stepped up as so to add validity to their cause and improve their image.

One former British National Party (BNP) member said:“The BNP are trying to attract those at university. After all, who are you more likely to listen to, someone with a PhD or a skinhead? It doesn’t matter what the doctorate is in, it still looks good.”137
How successful they have been is open to debate. It is hard to verify the figures that these groups give for membership. Nevertheless, the youth section of the BNP has, in the past, claimed a presence in 17 British universities. The BNP is, of course, a legitimate political party but there is some evidence that some of the more extreme groups are taking an interest in British universities.
Nevertheless, considering that the student base is ever-growing and ever-diversifying, it comes as little surprise that the Far Right is beginning to make some inroads into higher education. A spokesman for the Union of Jewish Students said: “In the past five years, we have seen the Young BNP, the National Student Front and Combat 18 all operating on campuses. They express Nazi and Aryan ideology and some believe that Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and international students don’t belong here”.138
This trend is upsetting some students, who fear the presence of the Far Right on campuses, and there is some concern that the extensive efforts being made by the law enforcement and security agencies to combat the threat of Islamist extremism, have diverted their attention from Far Right groups. This downturn in Government attention, when combined with the rise in fear of Islamic terrorism and fears over immigration, has meant that support and membership for Far Right parties has steadily been increasing over the past five years.
During the recent elections, the BNP, which contested 119 seats, took 192,850 votes in total, compared with 47,129 at the 2001 election. Its overall vote share rose by 0.55% and its best result was in Barking, London, where it took 16.89% of the vote.139
The BNP was quick to point the finger after the events on 7 July. In a statement, its leader Nick Griffin, said: “Stay calm. Give blood. Blame Blair not ordinary Muslims.” It soon came under fire for using an image of the bombed bus from 7 July, on a leaflet sent to voters ahead of an east London council by-election. The leaflet, sent to homes in Becontree said: “Maybe now it’s time to start listening to the BNP.” It went on to say: “We warned that extremist fundamentalists were coming to Britain in huge numbers and would wage war. Prior to Thursday the media were accusing us of being racist scaremongers. I wonder what the public is thinking now.”140 The leaflet was roundly criticised by politicians and the BNP failed to win the seat.
Later, the BNP put out its recommendations to the Prime Minister on how to protect the country from more attacks. This included obvious statements such as banning immigration from Muslim countries, deporting illegal residents, stopping Muslim women wearing the Burqa (“What is the point of having CCTV cameras if terrorists can disguise themselves as the wives of Muslim fundamentalists and prowl our streets undetected behind veils and hoods?”) and removing fundamentalist Muslims from sensitive positions.
One expert on the Far Right claimed that the Government and police were seriously underestimating the problem of the BNP as an extremist organisation in this country. He also said that the Far Right’s pressing of the anti-white racism issue needed to be discussed and that the Government had not done so for fear of being accused of racism. He also noted that there have been occasions where the Far Right and Islamic Fundamentalists have actually met to discuss common interests, such as the hatred of Jews and how both are being targeted by the media and the police.141
The Far Right receives significantly less public exposure than extremist Islamist groups, who tend to deliver far more headlines. Nevertheless, a handful of figures have managed to propel themselves into the public domain by their words or actions. The majority are members of the BNP, which is of course a legal political party but several of them have been or are in trouble with the authorities for their deeds. None are terrorists, in the commonly defined term of the word, but some have been accused or indeed convicted of race hate crimes, such as the distribution of material aimed at inciting racial hatred.

Tony Wentworth at Salford University

Wentworth studies politics at Salford University, where his open admission of being a prominent figure in the BNP has caused considerable consternation among his fellow students. In student elections, he gathered 20 votes, which, while a small number, is still significant in that student elections have low turn-outs and most people would be shocked to see 20 BNP supporters on a campus.

Chris Tavner, student and chairman of Salford University’s Anti-Nazi League, defended the group’s stance against Mr Wentworth, enthusiastically claiming: “He is one of the leading Nazis in the country and his job is to build membership among school and university students in Salford. We won’t allow this at our university. We won’t go against someone just because of their views, but he is promoting violence and racial hatred.”142

He went on to say: “Everyone here feels threatened by his presence.”143

A petition containing some 600 names was collected, calling for Wentworth’s expulsion from the university, and the specially formed “Salford Students United against Racism” called for politics students to avoid lectures with him and for academics to refuse to teach him. The head of security at Salford claimed that there had been anti-Wentworth graffiti on campus and some heckling.
Meanwhile, Wentworth said: “I do disapprove of multi-racial societies full stop. However, I am at Salford University just to get an education. In this country we have a right to freedom of speech and political opinions.”144
Wentworth became president of the BNP’s youth section in 2002. In June 2005, Wentworth, along with his bodyguard, were found guilty of common assault and had to pay a fine of £200 after a fight at the university.
Mark Collett at Leeds University

Currently awaiting trial, along with BNP leader Nick Griffin (and originally with the now deceased BNP founder John Tyndall), on eight charges of race hate offences. Collett is the former leader of the Young BNP and a former student of Leeds University.

Collett rose to fame following the Channel 4 documentary Young, Nazi and Proud, as a result of which he resigned as leader of the Young BNP. Collett told the programme maker, David Modell that: “I honestly can’t understand how a man who’s seen the inner city hell of Britain today can’t look back on that era (Hitler’s Germany) with a certain nostalgia and think, yeah, those people marching through the streets and all those happy people out in the streets, you know, saluting and everything, was a bad thing.”
He also said: “The Jews have been thrown out of every country, including England. There’s not a single European country the Jews have not been thrown out of. And let’s face it, when it happens so many times it’s not just persecution. There’s no smoke without fire.”145
This statement, of course, will be regarded as extremist by non-Jews but its implied threat of violence against Jews, simply because they are Jews, will be seen by the latter as evidence of terrorist ambitions, even if only threatened.
Nick Griffin at Cambridge University

Leader of the BNP, Griffin is a former student at Downing College, Cambridge. He is also a former leader of the National Front and was an activist during his student days.

Every so often, he is invited to a university to debate his party’s policies, multi-culturalism or similar topics. More often than not, protests from groups at universities or the NUS result in the debates being cancelled.
He currently faces charges of using words or behaviour intended or likely to stir up racial hatred. In 1998, he was found guilty of distributing material likely to incite racial hatred, for which he received a two-year suspended sentence. The offending material was a booklet, Who are the Mind Benders? This publication proposed that a Jewish conspiracy controlled the media and was busy brainwashing the British people.

How the BNP operates on UK campuses

Since Nick Griffin took over leadership of the party, the BNP has publicly attempted to move away from the violent image it attained during the Tyndall years, when it was generally accepted to be racist and almost always thuggish, using the fear and the threat of physical violence against political opponents to reinforce its reputation for seeking revolutionary change in Britain. Today, it invokes apparent policy changes in order to present itself as a more moderate, mainstream and respectable right-wing party.

Coupled with the desire to achieve respectability, comes the rise of the Young BNP (YBNP). In a flyer handed out at an NUS anti-fees rally in 2004, the YBNP claimed to have a presence at some 17 universities across the country. It also stated that its membership had increased by 44%, but did not say exactly how many people that actually amounted to.
The Young BNP is said to be targeting Brunel, Cambridge, Greenwich, Sunderland and York universities for recruitment. In 2002 it was revealed that a student at Greenwich, the half-Turkish Lawrence Rustem, was the head of the BNP’s ethnic liaison committee and had been recruiting disaffected Sikhs and Hindus to work with the BNP against Islamic extremists.146 At Sussex Downs, the BNP has sent its local organiser on to college sites, trying to infiltrate the local trade union studies course.
The Student Assembly Against Racism group takes this threat seriously and in a leaflet produced in 2004, it claimed that the BNP was targeting students in an effort to win over a new generation of members who believed in racism and violence.147
One expert on the BNP noted that modern communication methods have helped the party in its recruitment drive. While in the past, BNP members would be quickly spotted if they were handing out leaflets and flyers, the use of the Internet and mobile phones gives access to chat rooms and instantaneous communications.
Typical methods of recruitment are simple yet effective. BNP members will attend a debate and will ask a contentious question on, say immigration. The remaining members will scan the audience for reactions and those that seem to agree with them will later be approached and asked if they wish to join the cause.148
During the 2004 NUS annual conference, the BNP was handing out leaflets in the hotels where students were staying. Similarly, during a 2004 march against student fees, the group was handing out leaflets. In September 2004, it was revealed that the BNP had infiltrated several student groups in Manchester: disgusted at being repeatedly targeted by journalists and as being unable to infiltrate the BBC, it decided to tackle a different target. Diane Stoker and Joe Finnon, two students in Manchester, who declared their membership of the BNP, had joined Manchester Unite Against Fascism, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Respect and apparently only broke cover after the BNP documentary, Under the Skin of the BNP. Stoker and Finnon fully integrated themselves into their target organisations, achieving positions such as leadership of SWP work at Manchester Metropolitan University and Manchester University, leadership of Respect in the north west and an important role in organising Globalise Resistance recruitment at Marxism 2004. Diane Stoker even played a role in trying to get Tony Wentworth excluded from Salford University. It is feared that the pair could have passed over addresses and contact details to Far Right groups.149
Meanwhile, the Young BNP, which uses the German Odal rune as its symbol, has had its website taken down, though its activities are often discussed in the BNP newspaper, Voice of Freedom. For example, in its January 2005 issue, the paper talked about a YBNP outing to the Peak District, where, amongst other things, there was a discussion on strategy for BNP university students.150
The BNP’s manifesto calls for all youngsters to undertake National Service. Indeed, they make it a pre-requisite of a place at university. They also seek to influence what is taught in universities and colleges in line with BNPs thinking and to ensure that “the Left” are not in a position to control higher education and through this, the rest of the nation.151
Activists such as Wentworth and Collett, are trying to attract support by concentrating on anti-white racism, and in recent years, the BNP’s appeal has been felt in areas where attacks by other races on whites is on the increase, such as Oldham, Burnley and Leeds. Its appeal is also starting to be felt by those who are still at school. Many of those who attended the YBNP’s Red, White and Blue festival for example were under sixteen. This year’s festival also attracted twice as many people as attended last year. Evidence suggests that a number of these were hoping to gain university places.
Again, the main reason for this appears to be the BNP’s stance on alleged “anti-white racism”, and particularly that carried out, they claim, by Asians on whites. This helps explain not only why “the BNP launched a poster campaign offering cash prizes to any pupil who could design the best poster on this issue”, but also, perhaps alarmingly, why one hundred children took part in this competition.152
Their support, however, may be less substantial than the BNP would have us believe. Last year, more than 80 primary and secondary schools were named on the party’s website as having pupils who support its views. Closer scrutiny revealed that at least one of the six schools listed in Kirklees, which borders Calderdale in Yorkshire, did not exist.
According to Wentworth, children of 13 are the youngest canvassed. “It is part of the political process and necessary, given what we are working against," he says. “Young people feel they might be punished or expelled for supporting us. In some cases, they don’t know how the system works against them,”153 It has also been claimed that the BNP has been approaching school children at events, taking their phone numbers and sending them texts and images relevant to their cause.

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