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Government warns NUS over 'Preventing Prevent' stance

Government warns NUS over 'Preventing Prevent' stance

Categories: Latest News

Friday September 18 2015

The Home Office today issued an announcement about the updating of the Prevent duty guidance to cover higher and further education institutions detailing thenew legal duty, which will come into force on Monday 21 September, requiring universities to clampdown on “hate preachers” on campuses.

Under the new guidelines universities and colleges will be “legally required to put in place specific policies to stop extremists radicalising students on campuses, tackle gender segregation at events and support students at risk of radicalisation” by ensuring that any extremist views “do not go unchallenged”. The Home Secretary Theresa May had initially proposed an outright ban on “hate preachers”, but was forced to back down in the wake of a barrage of criticism from figures such as the former MI5 chief Baroness Manningham-Buller amid concerns about freedom of speech.

The Home Office announcement points out that at least 70 events featuring “hate speakers” were held on campuses last year and singles out a number of “hate preachers” who are claimed to have espoused views that “undermine British values”. The data, provided by the government’s new Extremism Analysis Unit, is descriptive in content labelling individuals without giving any details of what it is they are alleged to have said that “undermines British values”.

The announcement also attempts to draw a direct causal link between individuals who have attended UK universities and terrorist offences for which they have later been arrested and/or convicted though evidence would suggest the links are tenuous or non-existent.

For example, the announcement states: “People who have attended a UK university and convicted of their role in terrorism and have likely been at least partially radicalised during their studies: Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab [and] Roshonara Choudhry”.

The Caldicott Inquiry into the radicalisation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab clearly distanced his time at University College London (UCL) from any role in his subsequent radicalisation. The evidence on which the ‘Extremism Analysis Unit’ rests, suggesting he was ‘likely [to have] been at least partially radicalised during [his] studies” is not presented for public scrutiny. Given that the Caldicott Inquiry concluded that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s radicalisation occurred after he left university and while he spent time in Yemen, it is fair to say that the EAU’s version of events ought to at least be published for public scrutiny.

In the case of Roshonara Choudhry, who the announcement states, “tried to assassinate the Labour MP Stephen Timms in May 2010, just weeks after dropping out of KCL because of its work with Israeli institutions and its research centre studying radicalisation,” there is widespread evidence showing that her ‘lone wolf’ attack occurred after viewing a number of videos at home. The former Security Minister, Baroness Neville-Jonessaid of Choudhry, “What is unusual about this case is that she appears to have acted alone without links to any extremist groups. It has been suggested that she ‘self-radicalised’ after watching hours of extremist videos.  We do not know if this is an indication of future trends or an exception to the rule but we must remain alert to it.”

It is not clear why King’s College and Choudhry’s days there as a student are implicated in her path to radicalisation. Again, no evidence is forthcoming and nothing published that could allow for scrutiny of the EAU’s assertions. Given that nothing is being revealed about the work of the EAU, it would seem secrecy is the order of the day as the Government moves to threaten academic freedoms in a fundamental way.

The Home Office announcement goes further to single out individuals who have been charged with terrorism offences while being enrolled at university though there is nothing presented which could suggest the university is in any way implicated in the actions of the student.

And the announcement identifies ‘foreign fighters’ who have studied in the UK, one of whom is merely identified as having enrolled on a course here (no evidence of whether he actually attended), as if to suggest merely being on a campus was sufficient to establish a causal link to radicalisation.

The theory about universities being “hotbeds of radicalisation” as Professor David Miller and the team at Spinwatchpoint out, serves a particular function in the “Cold war counter-subversion strategy” that stymies political dissent among students in particular.

The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, has criticised the government’s proposalssaying the proposed infringement on civil liberties “risks provoking a backlash in affected communities, hardening perceptions of an illiberal or Islamophobic approach, alienating those whose integration into British society is already fragile and playing into the hands of those who, by peddling a grievance agenda, seek to drive people further towards extremism and terrorism.”

The role of universities in challenging extremism by serving their function as centres for developing critical thinking skills appears to be all but lost in the Government’s approach. Professor Louise Richardson has argued that a crucial distinction needed to be made between “radical ideas” expressed by speakers and “incitement to violence”, saying it was “imperative that we have a place where radical ideas can be expressed and challenged”. She also argued that the government’s crackdown on “hate preachers” to protect “impressionable young people” was not credible because universities and “Islamist extremism” are not intrinsically linked.

This week, David Cameron urged the National Union of Students (NUS) to stop its opposition to the government’s anti-radicalisation strategy Prevent. The NUS launched workshops around the country highlighting the detrimental impact of Government’s new statutory duty on universities will have on academic freedom and freedom of speech on campuses, not to mention the stigmatisation of Muslim students. The University and College Union (UCU) also expressed concerns over what it described as the “chilling effect” of the guidelines on academic freedom and debate.

A spokesman from human rights organisation CAGE, Ibrahim Mohamoud, also responded to the new proposals and said: “The vilification of groups merely because they oppose unjust foreign and domestic policies and then using this to label them extremists and deny them the right to free speech, violates the tenets of British society.”

The current Government’s plans hark back to a period when the Labour government sought to act on universities as constitutive to the problem of radicalisation. It would seem the government has learnt nothing from these past policies which were at the time branded as “stupid”. Indeed, the “cradle to grave” surveillance state looks to be taking shape once again.


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