Government measures against extremist speakers spark backlash

New government regulations legally requiring UK universities  to counter extremism went into effect last week, sparking backlash.

Part of a government strategy called ‘Prevent,’ the measures  would require the educational institutes to have in place a filtering process to identify potential Islamic extremist speakers who come to talk at the university.

As highlighted in the strategy document, the requirements include ensuring “that they have appropriate IT policies, staff training and student welfare programmes in place to recognise and respond to the signs of radicalisation.”

The mandate comes into force amidst controversial remarks by the Prime Minister, who signalled out certain universities for being sympathetic towards such fanatics.

The Prime Minister pointed to SOAS, Kings College London and Queen Mary University as examples of universities that allow speakers with anti-British rhetoric to conduct talks on their premises.

The academic community reacted with immediate outrage following the remarks, with most schools expressing surprise as to where these remarks were coming from.

Image: Flickr: 'Fotdmike'

Hamza Andreas Tzortis, in white (Image: Flickr: ‘Fotdmike’)

In an email to The Student, a member of the SOAS Communications Team said: “We are still unclear about the source of the data that the Prime Minister’s Extremism Analysis Unit used as a basis for the claim that some 70 events involving Islamist preachers were held on campuses last year.”

In return, Jo Johnson, Universities Minister, has concurrently rebuked the National Union of Students (NUS) for their opposition to Prevent.

Over the summer, Malia Bouattia, an NUS student officer, penned a strongly worded article in Vice Magazine against Cameron’s anti-extremism policy.

Speaking to The Student  on the present matter, Bouattia said:  “The Prevent agenda was brought to universities in 2011 as part of the government’s move to ensure that there were ‘No ungoverned spaces’ where Prevent wasn’t active – which is in itself a pretty dystopian vision.”

“What Prevent has managed to do is bring the climate of suspicion, censorship and discrimination to spaces of learning.”

“Academic freedom and freedom of speech are definitely under threat, but that’s really just scratching the surface; the Prevent agenda should be seen as a sustained attack by the government on all of our civil liberties and our ability to hold power to account: it is turning further universities into arms of the state to police the thoughts and expression of its citizens.”

In its press release, the NUS further highlighted prominent individuals who have expressed views said to be contrary to British values and then gone on to have an audience at one of the before mentioned universities.

One such individual is Hamza Andreas Tzortzis,  a writer on Islamic thought and a researcher at the Islamic Education and Research Academy.

In an interview with The Student, Tzortzis spoke on his reaction to the controversy.

He said: “University should be a place of robust discussion. The philosopher John S Mill was right: the more ideas we challenge in public the better, as it facilitates truth. This is how I’ve changed too.

He continued: “Incitement to violence or hatred must be stopped and challenged. The government has been misinformed by neoconservatives that deliberately misrepresent speakers. This poses a risk to students because they won’t have access to balanced and normative voices of Islam.”

Featured image: The Open University

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