Terrorism U

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It’s not the university’s fault, really. Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London protests that his school is not responsible for the extreme views of alum Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian man who tried to detonate plastic explosives while traveling on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day.

Abdulmutallab studied Engineering and Business Finance at UCL and developed increasingly extreme views during his time at the British university. Many British tabloids have blamed the school for Abdulmutallab’s transformation into a radical. Con Coughlin of the Daily Telegraph wrote recently that:

It is easy to imagine that the authorities at UCL took quiet pride in the fact that they had a radical Nigerian Muslim running their Islamic Society. You can’t get more politically correct than that. They would therefore have had little interest in monitoring whether he was using a British university campus as a recruiting ground for al-Qaida terrorists such as himself.

British British Prime Minister Gordon Brown also once said that the universities were a major source of “extremist influences.”

Grant protests that there is no evidence his university had anything to do with the development of Abdulmutallab’s political views. Grant wrote in Times Higher Education that:

The events of the past few days put all British universities on notice, not only of the need to maintain vigilance against the misuse of the liberties we protect, but also of the astonishing lack of comprehension on the part of some of our news media – and no doubt far more widely – about the unique character of universities as institutions where intellectual freedom is fundamental to our missions in education and research.

I cannot resist one final irony, not yet picked up by the press, which is that the UCL faculty of engineering sciences in which Mr Abdulmutallab studied is today a major global centre for research and training in counter-terrorism. It runs a masters degree in that subject and has pioneered new technologies for airport safety and tracking. Universities are fully in the real world.

While attending UCL from 2005 to 2008 Abdulmutallab was president of the school’s Islamic Society and in 2007 planned a conference with a “War on Terror Week” theme. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2008.

It’s probably worth noting that that Abdulmutallab’s extremism dates from his time at one of the UK’s more exclusive universities, but no one ever tried to blame the Jones Aviation School for September 11th.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer