Defeating the Prevent Agenda

Increasingly branches are having to deal with the imposition of the UK Government’s  ‘Prevent’ agenda. Some valuable work is being done with local NUS branches, Students Associations, and most recently the ‘Students not Suspects’ tour. Here are some observations following the recent arrival of the tour in Strathclyde University

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Douglas Chalmers, President UCU Scotland, speaking on behalf of UCU as part of the Students not Suspects tour at Strathclyde University

Horror stories about the new government measures under their Prevent ‘anti-terrorism’ agenda are becoming more widely known, and were no surprise to the audience at the recent Students not Suspects rally in Strathclyde University. These included the  accusations of supporting terrorism against a Staffordshire University student on a Masters Course on Terrorism, Crime and Global Security ( you would think a tiny clue might be in the name of the course), who was questioned while reading a course textbook called Terrorism Studies in his own university library. Previously, Nottingham Uni research student Rizwaan Sabir was wrongly accused of conducting research into terrorism – although clearly part of his doctoral research, endorsed by the university. After being detained for seven days as a ‘suspected terrorist’ he eventually won out of court damages of £20,000 from the police.

These are only two, isolated cases easy findable through a Google search. What is as bad, if not worse, are the examples of ‘self censorship’ or reticence beginning to be seen in some of our Muslim students who are aware that there is a concerted effort by the UK government to find a ‘terrorist threat’ in our universities and other public bodies – an effort which targets the Muslim communities.

We appear to be living through an absolutely historic moment – if the government succeeds in its aims, we could see the effective end of universities and colleges as centres of free speech and academic freedom. The islamic student community are being condemned to an intolerable situation, and we must not learn to tolerate it.

Lecturers are not and never have been counter-terrorism police officers – and if the Prevent Agenda is not stopped then everybody loses – students, lecturers and universities themselves.

What lecturers are being asked to look for (amongst other things) are signs of ‘non-violent’ extremism – and under this remit children as young as 3 years old have been referred for ‘anti-radicalisation’ in the wider ‘anti-terrorism’ programmes of the government.

Some of our members have already been on Prevent training, and we are increasingly finding out some of the ‘cod-psychology’ it’s based on.  Lecturers are asked to look for ‘physical, emotional and vocal’ changes in students that might mark them out as vulnerable to moving from ‘non-violent’ extremism to ‘violent’ extremism. Essentially this can sometimes be reduced to signs of people becoming ‘more’ Muslim, growing a beard, wearing the niqab, being more vocal about religion or about British foreign policy in the Middle East.

We have verified reports of some training course where ‘tattoos’ or more specifically ‘certain‘ tattoos have been cited as a sign worth reporting. Possible reasons for ’emotional’ changes lecturers have been asked to look out for have included, ‘bereavement’ and even…. ‘new step parents’.

I wondered when the ‘wicked stepmother’ scenario might appear…

UCU guidance on this is excellent – by now all branches should be contacting their management for details of how the university is proposing that they deal with Prevent. As well as the model letter, branches should be asking for the topic to be raised at meetings of their Joint Consultation or Negotiation Committees.

In some universities, branches have asked to be ‘present in attendance’ at university ‘Prevent’ committees (but not to be members, given our opposition). This has forced university management to have to consider our views, and opposition to the measures.

Some branches have also asked management to provide ‘Anti-Islamophobia’ training to staff. Other branches have produced leaflets to be generally distributed to students and staff.

If individual members are asked to take part in Prevent training, the guidance is extremely useful:

“…the insistence on freedom of expression and free debate, within the boundaries of established policies and codes of behaviour, is paramount. Therefore sufficient time for discussion, debate and respectful exchange of views is essential in any forum in which ‘Prevent’ is discussed or presented. Everyone is entitled to their own political view or opinion but no-one should privilege one view over that of others, or present one political explanation as ‘expert’ or not subject to challenge.
All presenters in ‘Prevent’ forums, whether internal or external, should be made aware of these principles and be expected to abide by them

Early discussions with representatives of local student associations are essential. Why not try to arrange a joint public meeting with them?

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