Students' unions 'must be able to veto hate speakers'

Islamic society leader warns of linking university attendance and terrorism. John Morgan reports

December 22, 2011

Students' unions should introduce tougher rules to keep "hate speakers" off campuses and stop the spread of Islamist extremism, MPs have heard.

Hannah Stuart, co-author of Islam on Campus: A Survey of UK Student Opinions and Islamist Terrorism: The British Connections, made the suggestion in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee's inquiry into the roots of violent radicalisation.

The committee held a day-long session at De Montfort University last week, including a workshop titled "How can we best counter radicalisation in universities?"

Nabil Ahmed, president of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, rejected many of Ms Stuart's arguments, countering from the audience that it was "upsetting and hurtful for Muslim students to be caricatured as potential extremists, potential radicals, when none of this is applicable to 99.9 per cent of not just Muslim students, but all students".

Islamist Terrorism analysed 138 cases of individuals convicted of "Islamism-related offences" and found that 30 per cent "had at some point attended university or a higher education institute".

Although the study was "not suggesting that 30 per cent were radicalised because they attended university", said Ms Stuart, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, it did find that "schools and universities were definitely involved in that linking-up of individuals".

She added: "In terms of that politicisation and militarisation of faith - particularly I'm thinking of external speakers and hate speakers in universities - that is an important area and we should be focusing on it."

By example, Ms Stuart said that support for "Hamas or other extremist groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir" was unacceptable.

She added that while "we should not be policing campuses", one solution was that any organisations "affiliated to students' unions would need to present any external speakers publicly on a website a week before the event", allowing students' unions to decide whether it should go ahead.

In response, Mr Ahmed pointed out that more than 30 per cent of young people in the general population go to university, "so this link between (university attendance and Islamist terrorism) is dangerous".

He added that while "it is not necessarily my view", the Turkish prime minister recognises Hamas as a political party.

"Don't call that an extremist view - that is a legitimate view," Mr Ahmed said.

Anthony Richards, a terrorism expert at the University of East London, said from the audience that the government's Prevent strategy - revised to cover "extremism" rather than just "violent extremism" - risked having "indeterminate scope" because it ignored the question "as to what we mean by radicalisation".

The committee also heard a speech from Jesse Jackson, the US civil rights activist, who was awarded an honorary degree by De Montfort on 12 December.

He gave a different take on the term "radicalisation", calling for greater equality, praising the Occupy movement and noting that in biblical times "a radicalised Jesus" had "occupied the temple".

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