Students’ Union Campaign ‘Has Become Vehicle for Extremist Interests’, Warns Think Tank


A National Union for Students (NUS) campaign to abolish the government’s anti-extremism programme has become a “vehicle” for Islamic extremist interests, according to a leading think tank.

Students Not Suspects, which became an NUS official policy in 2015, has hosted extremist speakers who have links to Islamic fundamentalists such as CAGE, MEND, the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), and Friends of al-Aqsa, according to the report published Wednesday by the counter-extremism think tank The Henry Jackson Society.

“‘Students Not Suspects’ has effectively become a vehicle for extremist interests,” author Richard Black warns. “It advances extremist tropes, extremist speakers and extremist narratives – all the while attacking anybody, NUS officials or otherwise, who distance themselves from its position.”

“They have accused critics and fellow students of being motivated by racism and Islamophobia,” the report adds, and noted that some activists involved in Students Not Suspects have previously made anti-Semitic remarks and still enjoy influence in the union.

In March 2015, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (CTSA) imposed a duty on public bodies to pay “due regard to the need to prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism”; this is relevant to universities given, as the report notes, the number of students convicted of terrorism offences, and several radicalised foreign fighters who have studied at British universities.

The following month, the NUS National Conference passed a motion stating that it would “not engage with the Prevent strategy”, claiming it sought to “monitor and control Muslim students” and forced academic staff to spy on them.

Part of the motion mandated that the NUS works closely with the pro-terrorist group CAGE, which had called the Islamic State executioner and propagandist Jihadi John a “beautiful young man”.

The then-president of the NUS Toni Pearce said the students’ union would not be working with CAGE, but on October 14th, 2015, the NUS broke its pledge and Students Not Suspects held its first tour with CAGE founder and former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg at King’s College London (KCL).

During another ‘Students Not Suspects’ tour in March 2016, Begg spoke at the University of Exeter, where he refused to condemn the practice of stoning women to death for adultery.

In January 2016, six universities (Manchester, Birmingham, KCL, the School of Oriental and African Studies, Bradford, and the University of East London) were investigated by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) after they hosted events with CAGE.

“By officially endorsing the ‘Students Not Suspects’ campaign, the NUS continues to align itself with extremists against societal attempts to challenge the threat they pose,” Mr. Black wrote.

“Far from moderating its message, ‘Students Not Suspects’ has… developed ever closer links to extremist organisations.

“This divisive campaign continues to alienate moderate students and further undermines the credibility and legitimacy of the NUS amongst government, policy-makers, and wider civil society.

“More worryingly, if left unchecked, it threatens to undermine the work of Prevent coordinators and leaves vulnerable students exposed to extremist speakers and organisations targeting campuses.”

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