Student Rights in Brussels

Yesterday, Student Rights’ director, Rupert Sutton, spoke in Brussels at an event, hosted by the European Policy Centre (EPC), which sought to address the issue of jihadist radicalisation in schools, universities, prisons and mosques.

He was joined on the panel by Muhammad Manwar Ali, Chief Executive of JIMAS, Rodrigo Ballester, the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, and Stefano Torelli, a Research Fellow at the Institute for International Political Studies in Milan.

The panel discussion was moderated by Andrea Frontini, a Policy Analyst at the EPC, and was the first in a series of policy dialogues in a joint project between the EPC, European Foundation for Democracy and the Counter-Extremism Project.

Addressing the topic of ‘Jihadist radicalisation in schools and universities: what drivers, what solutions’, Sutton discussed the terrorism offences committed by students, the graduates radicalised during their studies, and the young people who have travelled to conflict zones overseas.

He also addressed the evidence that a culture conducive to non-violent extremism exists on some UK university campuses, which may create the conditions in which radicalisation can thrive.

Asking what drives radicalisation within education, Sutton said there is no one pathway into radicalisation, and that the processes which drive a student’s radicalisation are much the same as a non-student’s – engagement with a cause followed by the development of intent and capability to cause harm.

However, while the processes of radicalisation are not specific to students, universities and schools do provide a fertile environment for many of the hooks which can lead people to engage with extremist causes, as well as the factors which can lead people to develop the intent to cause harm.

While radicalised individuals have taken many different paths, there are examples where students may have shown signs which could have been identified by staff had they received proper training.

These examples include Hasib Hussain, who killed 13 people on 7/7. When police investigated his background they found his school books littered with supportive comments about al-Qaeda, and heard that he would talk openly of his support for the group.

While it is always easy to suggest more could have been done in hindsight, had Husain’s extreme views been spotted earlier by staff trained to be aware of these issues, it is possible he could have been provided with support.

Sutton also addressed several potential solutions, highlighting the importance of ensuring institutions have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and put policies in place to ensure that this happens.

He stated that helping staff become more aware of the risks posed by radicalisation and ensuring they know how to act when they see behaviour that may be of concern will be crucial.

Institutions must also produce policies to guarantee events which feature extreme speakers provide students with an opportunity to hear balanced debate, while government guidance must address concerns raised by education staff, paying particular attention to the provision of advice about identifying students vulnerable to radicalisation.

Finally, it is vital activists seeking to undermine the delivery of counter-radicalisation policy are robustly challenged. Until these misleading campaigns are refuted, policies put in place to deal with radicalisation will continue to face opposition.

Finishing his talk on an upbeat note, Sutton stated that while the challenge facing the education sector is a difficult one, it should not be seen as insurmountable – and here at Student Rights we look forward to seeing how schools, colleges and universities bring their resourcefulness to bear on the issue during the 2016-17 academic year.

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