The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London has defended itself against accusations by David Cameron that it had hosted a “hate preacher”. Instead, it claims one of the speakers named by the prime minister had visited the college and spoken only about Islamic finance, therefore making him welcome.
According to the Independent, Queen Mary, Soas, King’s College and Kingston University refuted Mr Cameron’s claims that they welcomed anyone who undermined British values, demanding to see his evidence.
Laura Gibbs, Soas registrar, told the newspaper: “We were disappointed to see that the announcement… by the Prime Minister’s Office includes some inaccuracies. We have not hosted any extremist speakers in the last year, or indeed the recent past…. We take our duty of care to our community and our legal obligations very seriously.”
Soas named the controversial cleric Haitham Al-Haddad who visited in February 2014, to speak to the Islamic Finance Society, a student group, to explain why the charging of interest is prohibited by Islam, as a possible source of Number 10’s accusations.
The four universities were specifically nominated by Mr Cameron Thursday as he unveiled a new duty for universities to stop extremists targeting students and ensure speakers with extremist views do not go unchallenged. Institutions will now have to tackle gender segregation at events. He told colleges they must stop giving fanatics “the oxygen they need to flourish”. Mr Cameron continued:
“I said in July that tackling extremism will be the struggle of our generation; one which we will defeat if we work together.
“All public institutions have a role to play in rooting out and challenging extremism. It is not about oppressing free speech or stifling academic freedom; it is about making sure that radical views and ideas are not given the oxygen they need to flourish.
“Schools, universities and colleges, more than anywhere else, have a duty to protect impressionable young minds and ensure that our young people are given every opportunity to reach their potential.
“That is what our one nation government is focused on delivering.”
In total, some 70 events involving Islamist preachers were held on campuses last year, according to the the government’s new Extremism Analysis Unit.
Jo Johnson, the universities minister, has also written to the National Union of Students (NUS), urging it to stop attacking counter-radicalisation programmes or associating with controversial organisations such as Cage, the Islamic civil rights group. A new legal requirement came into force this week that will make universities and other education establishments fully assess and counter any extremist hate preacher.
The government’s concern over campuses being targeted for radicalisation has grown following a series of high-profile cases. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to detonate explosives in his underwear on a flight to Detroit in 2009, repeatedly contacted extremists during his time at University College London.
Under the new guidelines, from Monday universities and colleges in the UK will be legally required to put in place specific policies to stop extremists radicalizing students on campuses, tackle gender segregation at events and support students at risk of radicalization, as part of the government’s plans to counter extremism.
The updated Prevent Duty Guidance will apply to all UK higher and further education institutions and requires establishments to ensure they have proper risk assessment processes for guest speakers and ensure those espousing extremist views do not go unchallenged.
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