On Wednesday 30th September, Student Rights attended an event at University College London (UCL) entitled ‘Challenging Prevent: Defending our universities, communities and civil liberties’.
The event formed part of the NUS’ launch of a Prevent helpline, whose purpose according to leaflets distributed at the event is to “support students and student union officers” and fight “racist counter-terrorism policies”.
The speakers included Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, NUS President Malia Bouattia, French activist Yasser Louatti, and Karma Nabulsi, a professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford.
Introducing the event, NUS Vice President for Welfare, Shelly Asquith, said that those represented by the event hoped to “completely defeat” Prevent “in its entirety”.
The unanimity of this opinion on the panel made for little discussion, and it was soon clear that the event was simply another opportunity for the anti-Prevent campaign to spread yet more misinformation.
Diane Abbott, the first to speak, argued that “Prevent is failing even in its own terms” and consequently requires review.
Abbott’s evidence for this claim was that:
“Nearly 4,000 people have been referred to the police as suspected extremists. Most of those people were referred under the Prevent Strategy.
But in fact most of those referrals go nowhere. In other words, the people were not anything like terrorists. So you do have to wonder what is going on.”
Of course, this ignores the fact that people are not referred because they are “terrorists” , but because sector staff are worried they might be at risk of radicalisation.
It also fails to mention that those “assessed as not being vulnerable to being drawn into violent extremism will have exited the process and signposted to other services more appropriate to their needs” rather than going “nowhere”.
Abbott, however, stated this should “raise alarm bells” and doesn’t succeed in countering extremism, but instead feeds “suspicion and mistrust”.
Abbott’s position was taken further by Louatti, who claimed Prevent is Islamophobic in the context of a “tsunami of hatred sweeping the European continent”.
He also called for the public exposure of those behind Prevent including Prevent trainers, praising CAGE for their work in this area, and suggested the alternative to the strategy was changing British foreign policy.
Bouattia’s argument, meanwhile, revolved around un-evidenced claims Prevent impinges on free speech in a “climate of acute Islamophobia”, and that there is no academic proof to support its effectiveness.
She repeated the long-discredited ‘terrorist house’ incident as evidence of the harm done by Prevent, and suggested that Prevent should be scrapped.
During the Q&A session, Bouattia also called on individuals to disrupt Prevent training, stating that the NUS would support this as long as the activist recognised Prevent is racist.
The final speaker, Professor Nabulsi, followed Bouattia’s line, claiming there is nothing else to Prevent than “structural racism and racist stereotyping” and suggesting Muslims do not have equal rights in the UK.
She called on individuals to boycott Prevent and call for its repeal, but when asked about a replacement confessed she hadn’t thought about it.
This failure to provide an alternative echoes Asquith’s comments at Queen Mary University and the University of Exeter earlier this year.
Combined with more false claims of racism and other misleading misinformation, this failure to provide any constructive answers shows why it is so important students who disagree with the attempts to undermine Prevent attend these events to speak up.
Challenging the NUS-led campaign against the delivery of counter-radicalisation policy in the higher education sector is hugely important if we are to effectively deal with the threat posed by extremism.