Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has criticised universities for not doing enough to tackle extremism on campus. The comments come ahead of the release of the updated Prevent (terrorism) strategy:
“I think for too long there’s been complacency around universities,” she said. “I don’t think they have been sufficiently willing to recognise what can be happening on their campuses and the radicalisation that can take place. I think there is more that universities can do.” Mrs May said universities had to “send very clear messages” and “ask themselves some questions about what happens on their campuses”.
She also criticised the Federation of Student Islamic Societies for not challenging extremism sufficiently. “They need to be prepared to stand up and say that organisations that are extreme or support extremism or have extremist speakers should not be part of their grouping,” Mrs May said.
Universities should (and often do) make clear what is acceptable, and societies breaching these rules should have their funding withdrawn and barred from using campus facilities. But beyond this, there are limits to what they can do. There are dozens of societies on campus, and universities cannot be expected to vet all their speakers and events. Nor can they ban societies unless they get proof about what they are up to, which can be difficult. Universities should stop societies using campus facilities from hosting extremists if they are warned in advance (with proof provided), but they lack the resources to do much more.
Some of the Prevent proposals do seem more well thought out however; the government is going to withdraw funding from a number of groups, on the basis that although they do not support terrorism, they are not moderate. This is right, as it moves away from the narrow ideal that the world can be divided between those who support terrorism and those who don’t.
The greater focus on white far-right terrorism is welcome too, as there have been a number of far-right terrorists convicted. It also helps dispel the myth that Muslims are the only ones capable of supporting and carrying out terrorist attacks, which encourages people to ‘other’ Muslims by viewing them as uniquely dangerous.
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Filed in: Civil liberties,Islamists,Terrorism