Universities are meant to advance human understanding, expand our knowledge and serve as a platform for debate.
But tragically, through their failure to confront and root out Islamist radicalism, some British institutions are achieving the very opposite.
Instead of deepening the liberal roots of our civilisation, they are helping to allow intolerance to flourish through their unwillingness to confront extremism in their midst.
That insidious process has been graphically demonstrated by the case of Mohammed Emwazi, the Islamic State butcher nicknamed ‘Jihadi John’.
As was revealed last week, Emwazi took off to join the murderous jihadi group Al-Shabaab within a few weeks of graduating in computer programming from Westminster University in London in 2009.
Having failed to sign up with Al-Shabaab in Somalia — he was arrested en route — he came back here. MI5 approached him to try to make him see reason. Despite their best efforts, they could not dissuade him from violent fundamentalism. In 2013, Emwazi travelled to Syria. He is now the most repugnant terrorist in the world.
It is wrong to blame MI5 for the failure to keep him here. There were no laws to hold him in Britain nor was there hard evidence against him. So, we need new legislation to uncover and deal with potential recruits, and stronger intelligence services.
But the recent criticism of MI5 echoes, unwisely, the mindless and offensive drivel put out by ‘human rights’ campaign group Cage: that Emazi became a jihadist because of harassment by the security services. We should support our security community — only our enemies want to undermine it.
And, just as importantly, we must address the urgent question of Muslim radicalisation on British university campuses, especially through the influence of Islamic societies, which are often in thrall to a hardline agenda.
The roll call of student terrorists is long, indeed. James Brokenshire, the Security minister, has said that from 1999 to 2009, at least 45 per cent of those convicted of Al Qaeda-related terrorism in the UK had attended university or higher education colleges.
Yet neither the university system, dominated by the liberal Left, nor even important elements of the Coalition Government are willing to face up to this reality.
Only yesterday, it was revealed that the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable is trying to thwart Conservative plans to ban Islamic hate preachers from English universities.
‘Speakers who voice extreme views that are not aligned with British values of democracy and freedom should have the freedom to speak,’ said an aide to Cable, adding that even those who ‘want a caliphate’ should be heard in the public arena, because they could cause more damage by being ‘driven underground’.
This ultra-libertarian argument has long been the refuge of those unwilling to tackle radicalisation on campuses.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, has publicly stated that ‘clamping down on speakers is just not the way forward’ and even claimed ‘the whole point of university is to listen to these things’. It is an argument that is echoed by many other key figures in the sector.
In January — before the identity of ‘Jihadi John’ was revealed — 24 such figures wrote to the Government, demanding universities be exempt from the provisions of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, which required them to keep an eye on their students and report extremist activity to the authorities.
One of the signatories was none other than Bill Rammell, head of Bedfordshire University, but from 2005 to 2008 a Labour Universities minister who insisted they work with government anti-terror plans.
How utterly depressing that he was supported not just by 500 professors, but by Baroness Manningham-Buller, once a doughty chief of MI5, but now head of Imperial College, and Lord (Ken) MacDonald, once a compelling Director of Public Prosecutions, but now reincarnated as a Oxford college head. The gamekeepers have become poachers.
But their stance could hardly be more wrong-headed. Freedom of speech cannot be a licence to attack non-Muslims, liberated women, Jews or gays.
Nor can it be a platform to demand the stoning of adulterers or the celebration of theocratic barbarism.
The claim from Nicola Dandridge that there is ‘no evidence’ to link ‘student radicals with violent extremism’ is just absurd. The opposite is true. Emwazi’s name is to be added to the chilling list of students from Britain who have turned to terror.
Within a couple of years of graduating from Leeds Metropolitan University, the leader of the group responsible for the 2005 London bombings, Mohammad Sidique Khan, began his terror training.
In 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called ‘underpants bombers’, a student at University College London from 2005 to 2008, tried to kill 289 people on a U.S. plane. The third member of UCL to be involved in terrorism, he had run its Islamic Society.
The following year, Roshonara Choudhry, a 21-year-old student at King’s College, London, almost succeeded in killing MP Stephen Timms with a kitchen knife. Receiving a life sentence, she was the third terrorist from that stable.
The 2010 ‘Stockholm bomber’ Taimur al-Abdaly, meanwhile, was a graduate of Luton University.
Michael Adebolajo, who murdered Lee Rigby on the streets of London in 2013, was a student at the University of Greenwich, where he converted to Islam.
The time has come to monitor every Islamic society in English universities, with a view to banning them if they have supported extremism. Vince Cable could not be more wrong when he says that only those who directly incite violence should be silenced. Sooner or later, extremism leads to violence. It must be stamped out.