Over the past two days, delegates from the National Union of Students (NUS) have been meeting in Liverpool for the organisation’s Annual Conference.
Motion 517 declared that “NUS officers will not engage with the PREVENT strategy”, and that they would work “alongside civil liberties groups including CAGE” to undermine it.
CAGE attracted significant criticism in March 2015 after describing the Islamic State (IS) executioner Mohammed Emwazi as a “beautiful young man”, and blaming his radicalisation on MI5.
It has written in support of convicted terrorists including Djamel Beghal, convicted in France of “belonging to a criminal association in relation to preparing an act of terrorism”, and Nizar Trabelsi, convicted of planning a suicide attack against US soldiers.
CAGE’s Research Director Asim Qureshi was recorded in 2006 saying:“When we see the examples of our brothers and sisters, fighting in Chechnya, Iraq, Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, then we know where the example lies.We know that it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the West”.
Outreach Director Moazzam Begg, meanwhile, has admitted to visiting training camps on the Afghan-Pakistan border which hosted al-Qaeda militants and to fighting in Bosnia in the 1990s.
After a terrorism case against Begg collapsed in October 2014, he accepted he had been in Syria training fighters – and was recorded criticising recruits, saying:“…they want to call it martyrdom but I said we have to be physically prepared. If you don’t prepare this just becomes suicide, not martyrdom”.
A recent investigation by the Mail on Sunday also claimed Begg had met Abu Omar Al-Shishani, leader of the militant group Katibat Al-Muhajireen (KAM), at a training camp in Syria.
It is believed Mohammed Emwazi trained at this camp, and joined IS in late 2013 when Al-Shishani and a number of his fighters defected to the group.
That the NUS has pledged to work with an organisation like CAGE underlines the scale of the problem faced by universities trying to challenge extremism.
NUS will now use the group to “develop and roll out workshops…on anti-PREVENT/dealing with the bill” – suggesting appearances on-campus by CAGE speakers will become more common.
In October 2013, then-NUS President Toni Pearce angrily attacked claims that the NUS had not done enough to challenge extremism, writing that it took “a robust position” on the issue.
Yesterday’s conspiratorial motion, which claims “the Government is manipulating public perceptions and current global events to scale back civil liberties and freedoms” shows the reality – and should leave the NUS facing some serious questions.