BBC twice bitten, but still not shy
AND JONATHAN HOFFMAN
THE man who gave the BBC a dud story about an alleged antisemitic incident at London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has been given space on television to dismiss a report clearing University College London (UCL) of links with terrorism. Raheem Kassam, spokesman for a group calling itself Student Rights, said on BBC news last night that the report was just "whitewash".
On Christmas Day, December 25, 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a former UCL student, was seized on a US airliner in a botched attempt to set off an explosive device concealed in his underwear. It was reported that Abdulmutallab had visited al Qaida camps in Yemen, and that the young man's Nigerian businessman father had forewarned the British and US authorities that he feared his son was getting involved in terrorism.
Somehow this didn't prevent the would-be bomber getting on a US-bound plane.
Some newspaper reports focussed on Abdumutallab's time as a student in London before he went to Yemen, implying the college authorities and academics were failing to prevent institutions like UCL becoming a nest of extremism.
In January 2010 the Council, the governing body of UCL, set up an independent inquiry. The inquiry panel comprised four members from outside UCL (including the Chair of the panel, Dame Fiona Caldicott, a psychiatrist and former head of Somerville Colle, Oxford, and now pro-vice chancellor of the University of Oxford), and representative of the lay members of UCL Council and two UCL staff – one of the Professor Anthony Finkelstein, dean designate of the UCL school of Engineering (Abdulmutallab had been an engineering student). Muhammad Abdul Bari, former head of the Muslim Council of Britain was another panel member.
The panel was asked to explore the nature of Abdulmutallab’s experience as an undergraduate student of UCL between 2005 and 2008, including his period as President of the student Islamic Society. The panel was also asked to investigate whether there were at UCL at that time conditions that might have led to Mr Abdulmutallab’s engaging in acts of terrorism, and whether there are at UCL today conditions that might facilitate the possibility of other students doing so in future.
The Caldicott inquiry says it found no evidence that the university had played a part in the radicalisation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab . It report rejected the "extensive comment and considerable criticism" of UCL and British universities in general in the British, international and US press in particular.
It states: "In the light of the investigations it has carried out, the panel concludes that there is no evidence to suggest either that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was radicalised while a student at UCL or that conditions at UCL during that time or subsequently are conducive to the radicalisation of students."
The report also denied claims that UCL Union's Islamic Society (ISoc), where Mr Abdulmutallab served as president from 2006 to 2007, held any responsibility for his radicalisation. "We found no evidence of an extremist subculture operating within the UCLU ISoc either during the year of Mr Abdulmutallab's presidency or in the preceding year (when he was a first-year student) or subsequently."
The report recognised the university's efforts to strengthen student support processes even prior to December last year, but recommended ways these could be further improved. The recommendations include reviewing processes for monitoring invited speakers and its code of practice on freedom of speech.
The whole report can be downloaded from:
So why did the BBC consider it necessary to 'balance' this by giving Raheem Kassam the opportunity to call it a "whitewash"? And who is Raheem Kassam?
On December 17 last year the BBC carried a report that a Jewish man called Jonathan Hoffman had been barracked during a university debate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) by people chanting that he was "Jewish", and as such, not welcome. This referred in fact to a public event held by the SOAS Palestine Society and the British Committee for Universities in Palestine (BRICUP), with speakers from South Africa, one of whom Ronnie Kasrils is himself Jewish, as is academic Steven Rose, who also spoke.
It would have been surprising if Hoffman had not encountered some hostility at the meeting, since he has become well-known as an aggressive leader of the Zionist Federation, and his 'question' at the SOAS meeting was an attack on one of the speakers. But he was allowed to make his point without interruption. Several other members of the audience were also Jewish, including Naomi Wimbourne-Idrissi, who can be heard on video of the meeting introducing herself as Jewish before she spoke, and being applauded. None of them experienced any anti-Jewish chanting, and indeed it seems Jonathan Hoffman himself did not notice it or think it worth mentioning in his blog about the meeting on December 13.
The person who supplied the "antisemitism" story, even though he had not been present at the SOAS event apparently, appears to have been Raheem Kassam. The BBC referred to his membership of Student Rights, describing this as an "anti-racist" campaigning organisation, though its role must be news to many anti-racist campaigners and its own website prefers to identify itself as against "extremism". It seems to identify this solely with Islamicists, and has not supported student unions banning organisations like the British National Party.
It also claims to be "non-partisan", though Kassam is also a member of something called Conservative Futures, something the BBC forgot to mention, just as it didn't mention Jonathan Hoffman being a chair of the Zionist Federation.
According to a website called Standpoint in which some of his ideas appear, "Raheem Kassam manages the counter-radicalisation pressure group 'Student Rights' from within the Henry Jackson Society. That's a society dedicated to aggressively bringing American-style 'democracy' to other countries. He also airs his views on the Conservative Home site, which says: "Raheem Kassam hails from Uxbridge, studied Politics at university and is now a freelance political campaign strategist".
That sounds like an interesting job. Not just your average student, then?
After complaints from people who had attended that SOAS event, the BBC took down the contentious (to put it mildly) story from its website. Apparently messrs Kassam and Hoffman continued to run with it. But then Mr.K. is not a naieve student reporter, he is a campaign strategist.
The question is, having been caught once purveying the dodgy wares he supplied, how come the BBC still felt it had to call on him for a comment on the UCL inquiry?