The government has “named and shamed” universities who’ve hosted so-called extremist speakers as well as the alleged extremists themselves.
In a statement on its website the government said that Queen Mary, King’s College, SOAS (the School of Oriental and African Studies) and Kingston – all universities in London – were the worst offenders.
It also named Shaikh Haitham Al-Haddad, Dr Uthman Lateef, Alomgir Ali, Imran Ibn Mansur (aka “Dawah Man”), Hamza Tzortis and Dr Salman Butt as speakers who are “on record as expressing views contrary to British values.”
The statement comes as universities and colleges in the UK become legally required to put in place policies to stop “extremists” radicalising students on campuses, to tackle gender segregation at events and to support students at risk of radicalisation, as part of the government’s plans to counter extremism.
The updated Prevent duty guidance, scheduled to come into force at all UK higher and further education institutions by 21 September, requires establishments to ensure they have proper risk assessment processes for speakers and ensure those espousing extremist views do not go unchallenged.
The government says this is all part of its “one nation strategy” to confront and ultimately defeat the threat of extremism and terrorism.
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “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.”
Free speech and political dissent
But the government plans have proved extremely controversial and have been strongly opposed by the National Union of Students who have called for a boycott of them.
Meanwhile, advocacy group CAGE – which has also been accused of extremism by the government – has said that Prevent will have a chilling effect on free speech, open debate and political dissent.
Ibrahim Mohamoud, Communications Officer at CAGE, said: “In the past few weeks we have seen the government and sections of the media calling the leader of the opposition ‘a threat to our national security,’ because he offers an alternative to the political status quo, in which only a minority of the population feel inclined to vote. ‘Extremism’ has become a politically loaded term employed to stifle debate.
“If universities and other educational institutions are being dictated to by the government over who can or cannot speak, this is fundamentally against the ‘British values’ trumpeted by David Cameron.
“In an age of the Internet, it is futile and showboating to try and police thought at universities as a means to tackle ‘extremism.’ The government needs to go back to the table and review policies that have left us no safer 10 years later. Instead, racial and religious prejudices have been exploited by securocrats to build a template and an atmosphere whereby dissenters are openly labelled as the ‘enemy within.’
“Scaremongering by talking about community cohesion is meaningless when the rhetoric from Westminster and sections of the media has whipped up xenophobia to such a degree that attacks on Muslims are up 70% in London, far right parties are on the rise in Europe and a 14 year old Muslim teenager can be arrested at a Texas school for making a clock.
“Freedom of expression and student independence is vital to a civil society – it is the fabric that creates the rich diversity of opinions and knowledge that has made the British university sector a global attraction. Any attempts to thwart that independence risks creating a stifled and acerbic environment controlled by the state that is more reminiscent of a dictatorship than a pluralistic and dynamic society.
“The sector can only produce innovation and free thinkers if it promotes dialogue and the unhindered free flow of ideas. If we accept what the Minister seeks, then we betray the traditional and well established values that have created a world class sector.
“We must resist such oppressive measures and CAGE calls on all right thinking people to speak out against state control.”