Yesterday, the Prime Minister used a visit to Ninestiles School in Birmingham to give a speech addressing the challenges posed to the UK by extremism.
In outlining the ideology espoused by Islamist extremists and detailing how it could be opposed, the Prime Minister touched on many of the issues Student Rights has sought to highlight over the years.
Chief among these was his argument that:
“…our universities…are bastions of free speech and incubators of new and challenging ideas. But sometimes they fail to see the creeping extremism on their campuses.
When David Irving goes to a university to deny the Holocaust – university leaders rightly come out and condemn him. They don’t deny his right to speak but they do challenge what he says. But when an Islamist extremist goes there to promote their poisonous ideology, too often university leaders look the other way through a mixture of misguided liberalism and cultural sensitivity”.
This is something Student Rights has stressed on numerous occasions, with our new report ‘Preventing Prevent? Challenges to Counter-Radicalisation Policy on Campus’ the most recent publication to address this.
Our report also demonstrates how misinformation spread by extremists about counter-radicalisation efforts has influenced student criticism of these policies.
This was reflected in the Prime Minister’s speech, which stated that society should:
“…together challenge the ludicrous conspiracy theories of the extremists…our new Prevent duty for schools is not about criminalising or spying on Muslim children. This is paranoia in the extreme”.
Student groups which have embraced these false claims, and even pledged to work alongside extremists in doing so, were also targeted by Mr Cameron, who said:
“I want to say something to the National Union of Students [NUS]. When you choose to ally yourselves with an organisation like CAGE…it really does, in my opinion, shame your organisation and your noble history of campaigning for justice”.
This has seen an angry response from the NUS, which claims it will never work with CAGE, despite the fact 15 senior officers or NEC members signed an open letter last week alleged to have been drafted by CAGE.
The focus on these issues from the highest level of government yesterday shows the importance of ensuring they remain in the public debate – something Student Rights will continue to work towards.
While this recognition is an important and welcome step though, there is still work to be done.