An article in the Telegraph which has been used as the basis of complaints against universities for failing to comply with their PREVENT duties on speakers, is a desperate attempt by Government and its supporters to intimidate universities and students into supporting its failed PREVENT policy and to stop events that criticise it.
The article is nothing more than a campaign of political intimidation dressed up as journalism. It presents shallow arguments that have no basis. All the Universities in question carried out their due diligence and were well within their rights to hold debates on an important topic for students and communities.
The subject matter of the debates was not controversial or “extremist” – unless it is being suggested that criticism of PREVENT is in itself extremist. To campaign and lobby and even suggest civil disobedience against bad policy and laws are all part and parcel of a healthy democratic civil society. It is simply ludicrous to suggest that being opposed to and talking critically about Government policy leads to radicalisation.
In fact it is more likely that the opposite is true – denying people the right and space to air their grievances and criticism forces opinions underground, away from the moderating influence of open debate, thus making it more likely that ideas become ‘radical’.
NUS has a long history of robustly challenging Government policy – and this event was no different. CAGE believes that a university should not be forced to impose opposing speakers on a talk where Government policy is being discussed. This would derail discussions and simply be a recipe for chaos.
It is not the role of universities to control criticism and impose requirements for opposing views. Such a requirement, if applied consistently and fairly across all topics of discussion and at all universities, would be unworkable and illogical. Since opposition to PREVENT is broad and diverse at universities, the topic is not controversial and therefore no opposing speaker was required.
Criticism and even opposition to PREVENT is now becoming mainstream in Muslim communities and becoming widespread in broader society. Academia is at the forefront of such critiques and it is right that these events take place at universities.
CAGE asks all those who are committed to academic freedom and opposed to PREVENT to continue to resist this insidious attempt by Government and its supporters to intimidate universities and students into silence and compliance on PREVENT.
We will be making a complaint to IPSO about the article.
How universities have responded to the Telegraph accusations
King’s College London
“We have reviewed the footage (from the events) and while the comments made by some of the speakers were controversial, we strongly reject that they were extremist.”
SOAS Registrar Laura Gibbs said:
“These events were legal and no concerns were raised with us by local police or Prevent officers.”
University of East London:
“The University is fully aware of current legislation and its own particular obligations in respect of the law; in our view, no reported views or comments appear to have contravened this legislation.
University of Manchester:
“We followed the Prevent duty guidance…the University did not judge that the event was likely to include extremist content and so has complied with its legal duties in this respect.”
University of Birmingham:
“The University is confident that it complied with the relevant Prevent guidelines and our legal duties.”
(Image courtesy of 5pillars)
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)