The battle to tackle radicalism on Britain’s university campuses is being severely hampered by student union leaders and academics, working in conjunction with British Muslim community leaders, a new report has found.
Under the guise of protecting freedom of expression, students and academics have continued to oppose the government’s Prevent strategy, designed to tackle radicalisation on campus, arguing that it is racist and discriminatory. They deny that there is any link between religious ideology and terrorism, insisting that social factors such as poverty are the root causes of people blowing themselves, and others, up.
Students Rights, a non-partisan project of The Henry Jackson Society which monitors extremism on UK university campuses has investigated the problem, and discovered that there is an ongoing trend of resistance to Prevent on UK campuses.
Students Rights reports that the most frequent incidents of students being exposed to extremism on campuses come in the form of speakers with a history of extreme or intolerant views, or with a history of involvement with extremist organisations, being invited onto campuses to speak. Despite the best efforts of Prevent to curb such events, Students Rights logged 132 speakers events in 2012, 145 in 2013, and 123 in 2014. In total 84 venues and 82 individual speakers were logged, although some are used repeatedly and often. The report notes:
“The speakers featured have suggested that there is a Western war against Islam; supported individuals convicted of terrorism offences; expressed intolerance of non-believers and/or minorities; and espoused religious law as a method of socio-political governance – opposing democracy in the process.
“Despite this evidence, student activists have claimed Prevent is a racist policy; that lecturers spy on students; that vulnerable people will be stigmatised; and that the expression of controversial ideas will be suppressed.”
Perhaps inevitably given their line on the prevention of extremist speakers, Prevent suffers from a poor reputation amongst students and staff. However, this has been amplified thanks to a number of avoidable incidents which helped to give the program a bad name, making it difficult for Prevent officers to organise meetings and training sessions.
One such incident cited in the report was the arrest and detainment of University of Nottingham student Rizwaan Sabir in May 2008, after concern was raised about al-Qaeda-related material which he had been using as part of his PhD research. According to the report, Sabir later brought a civil case against Nottinghamshire Police, which was settled out of court.
Nonetheless, and more alarmingly, students and academics continue to work alongside Muslim community leaders to resist Prevent on ideological grounds, arguing that the program contravenes freedom of expression. As recently as last week 280 people signed an open letter in protest the Prevent strategy, in which they argued that the strategy unfairly “conceptualises ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’ […] based on the unsubstantiated view that religious ideology is the primary driving factor for terrorism.” The letter was organised by Cage, an organisation dedicated to supporting individuals investigated or convicted of Islamic terrorism. The letter continues:
“Academic research suggests that social, economic and political factors, as well as social exclusion, play a more central role in driving political violence than ideology. Indeed, ideology only becomes appealing when social, economic and political grievances give it legitimacy. Therefore, addressing these issues would lessen the appeal of ideology.”
Somewhat laughably, they also take issue with the tendency amongst Prevent officers to view religious symbols such as “growing a beard, wearing a hijab or mixing with those who believe Islam has a comprehensive political philosophy,” as indicators that someone might be subject to being radicalised; a tendency which they say “serves to reinforce a prejudicial worldview that perceives Islam to be a retrograde and oppressive religion that threatens the West” and “reinforces an ‘us’ and ‘them’ view of the world, divides communities, and sows mistrust of Muslims.”
Signatories to the letter include Professors, Doctors, and student union leaders representing numerous British universities including Oxford and Cambridge; also British Muslim community leaders including representatives from a number of mosques.
Included in the roster are Asim Qureshi from CAGE, who called Mohammed Emwazi, better known as ‘Jihadi John’, a “beautiful young man”; Bahar Mustafa, Goldsmith’s University’s Students’ welfare and diversity officer who barred white people from an event and then claimed that she couldn’t be racist because she’s from an ethnic minority; and Mohammed Kozbar from the Finsbury Park Mosque, which has previously been described as “a breeding ground for terrorism” under the reign of hate preacher Abu Hamza, and consequently has links to numerous convicted terrorists.
Rupert Sutton, the director of Student Rights and author of the report commented:
“The evidence presented in this report shows that extremism on university campuses remains a serious issue while the dominant narrative is one which draws on extremist campaigning to undermine attempts to challenge the problem.
“As such, it is vital that the government works to increase support for those challenging extremist narratives about Prevent, and that any guidance for university staff addresses fears driven by these narratives.
“Universities should be the best place to challenge extremist ideas, yet at present this is simply not happening – something that must change if we are to successfully oppose on-campus radicalisation”.
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