Today, activists from the National Union of Students (NUS) Welfare Campaign and NUS Black Students’ Campaign are taking part in a “national day of action” against Prevent, the government counter-radicalisation policy.
Part of an ongoing effort to undermine attempts to challenge extremism on campus, this follows a number of events on the issue which have seen NUS officers work alongside extremists and spread misinformation about Prevent.
Last week, the NUS Black Students’ Campaign released a handbook as part of the campaign, which claimed to provide students “with the tools to challenge and deconstruct the failed strategy”.
Instead, the handbook parrots false claims about Prevent being based on the “conveyor belt theory”, makes repeated and unsubstantiated accusations of racism and Islamophobia, and blames the government for terrorism, which it pins on “its recent foreign policy decisions as well its long history of colonialism”.
In addition, the handbook includes a timeline of relevant events, describing the murder of Lee Rigby “as ‘revenge’ for British military intervention in Muslim lands”.
However, what is more worrying is that the handbook once again sees the NUS encourage students to work with extremist groups to weaken attempts to challenge extremism.
These include the pro-terrorist group CAGE, described in the booklet as a “human-rights NGO”, which faced significant criticism earlier this year after suggesting the security services were responsible for the radicalisation of Islamic State executioner Mohammed Emwazi.
The NUS leadership has repeatedly denied it would work with the group, yet this suggests otherwise, and follows the regular appearance of CAGE Outreach Director Moazzam Begg on NUS panels in recent months.
Begg accepted that he had travelled to Syria to train fighters while contesting terrorism charges which collapsed in 2014, and has also admitted to visiting militant training camps on the Afghan-Pakistan border, as well as to fighting in Bosnia, in the 1990s.
In addition to this, the NUS handbook encourages students to contact the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), as well as listing the group’s material as recommended reading.
This is despite the fact that the IHRC has a long history of campaigning on behalf of convicted terrorists, including Abu Hamza al-Masri, convicted in 2006 of six counts of soliciting to murder.
IHRC chairman Massoud Shadjareh declared that the group was “saddened by the Abu Hamza verdict” and that the conviction was “yet another signal that Muslims are not equal in the eyes of the law of this country”.
The group has also campaigned on behalf of Omar Abdel Rahman, convicted of involvement in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center which killed six and injured over 1,000, as well as his part in plots to bomb a number of US landmarks.
The IHRC website also features a campaign for Dr Aafia Siddqui, convicted of attempted murder in 2010, and as recently as June 2015 supported Mufid Abdulqader despite his convictions for conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist organisation and goods to a specially designated terrorist.
Alongside these advocates for imprisoned Islamist terrorists, the NUS handbook also suggests contacting MEND, who’s Head of Community Development & Engagement, Azad
Ali, lost a libel case in 2010 which found that he:“…was indeed…taking the position that the killing of American and British troops in Iraq would be justified.”
He has also been criticised for opposing democracy if it is “at the expense of not implementing sharia”, and describing Hamas as “a true resistance movement that is standing up for the rights of the Palestinians”.
Today meanwhile, a statement from several East London Imams backed by MEND, which makes numerous false claims about Prevent, has been featured on an NUS live-blog as being planned “to co-incide with the day of action”.
While it is important universities remain places in which voices critical of government policy can flourish, the fact that a faction within the NUS continues to work alongside such extremists to undermine attempts to challenge extremism should be of serious concern.
When this is combined with the flawed and inaccurate claims about Prevent they have made in the past, such as claiming a student wrongly questioned by a poorly-trained member of staff had been arrested, it further highlights the agenda behind the campaign.
Here at Student Rights we feel it is vitally important that university staff receive the proper training and guidance they need to identify those who may be vulnerable to radicalisation – and that the Prevent strategy provides this.
Opposing the provision of this training is likely to lead to the very mistakes these campaigners decry, while mainstreaming extremist groups risks exposing more students to a toxic narrative of grievance and persecution – and this must be challenged.