Campus links with terrorism 'overstated'

Links between terrorism and universities have been overstated, a committee of MPs has concluded, but some institutions are guilty of complacency on the issue.

February 9, 2012

A report published this week by the Home Affairs Select Committee, Roots of Violent Radicalisation, says the internet plays a far greater role than universities, prisons or mosques. It adds that the focus placed on university campuses by the government's Prevent strategy has been "disproportionate".

Although about 30 per cent of people convicted for al-Qaeda-associated terrorist offences in the UK between 1999 and 2009 had attended university or college, the committee says there is "seldom concrete evidence to confirm that this is where they were radicalised".

Pete Mercer, vice-president (welfare) of the National Union of Students, welcomed the report, which he said "makes clear that the link between universities and violent extremism is weak".

"We will continue to exert pressure to ensure that all students are safe from hate and discrimination on campus," he added.

However, the report accuses some universities of being "complacent" about their role in confronting violent extremist views.

It adds: "Universities are ideal places to confront extremist ideology, [but] we are not convinced that extremists on campus are always subject to equal and robust challenge."

Examples of radicalisation highlighted in the report include Omar Sharif, who, having been radicalised during his first year at King's College London after he attended Hizb-ut-Tahrir meetings, was involved in a suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv in 2003.

The committee also cites the case of Anthony Garcia, who was convicted for his role in a 2004 bomb plot: the report says he had attended religious talks in the late 1990s at the University of East London Islamic Society.

It recommends that there should be a contact point within government for student unions and university administrators to assist them in making difficult decisions about speakers on campus.

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