*Talk delivered at UCL’s Blackademia event

​The Counter Terrorism and Security Act legislated in 2015 has made it mandatory for all public sector workers to spot and report signs of radicalisation if they come across it in their workplace. This includes universities, which have become subject to the prevent duty and of which many universities have their own designated prevent official where all referrals should be made if a teacher comes across any sign of radicalisation. In order to combat extremism on campus, many prevent officials have stated that universities and schools are crucial since it is in these institutions where ideas are developed and therefore should be challenged. These institutions can provide open spaces for people to discuss ideas and develop their own. However the vague definition of extremism and an inefficient training program has served to ensure that teachers used their own intuition to spot signs of radicalisation, two major factors are signs of increased religiosity, especially islam, and talking about political, foreign policy issues such as that of Palestine.
However since the Prevent duty became mandatory, many students themselves have become wary of taking part in open discussions around political issues knowing that safe spaces provided within their learning institution aren’t exactly safe spaces due to the prevent duty, leading some parents heavily emphasising their children not to talk about any political issues fearing that their child will be taken and questioned by prevent officers and therefore may be monitored. So instead of tackling radicalisation, what the prevent duty, in the education sector, has done is stifle legitimate political dissent. It is of my opinion that the method of delivery currently employed by the duty actually helps prevent to achieve its main objective, to stifle legitimate political concerns. 
In universities, the extremism debate hasn’t just lead to the creation of university designated prevent officials, but it has also had other side effects as well. Many organisations who were once connected to prevent and who are profiting from this extremism debate have set up their own university societies such as the Quilliam societies and the Henry Jackson affiliate student rights whose aim is to mainly scrutinise events held by the Islamic Society and the many pro-palestine societies as well. The convergence of the two highlights that in their eyes, religious conservatism and political activism will lead to, in their definition, extremism while also believing that conservative muslim speakers and conservative events at university provide the so-called “mood music” for students to go on to become terrorists. Along with this, there is also another troubling aspect of dealing with extremism on campuses. Omar Ali, former head of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, has stated that he has had to deal with a number of muslim students who have reported that they have been approached by members of the intelligence services to acts as agents and report on the activities of their fellow muslim colleagues in university. You can find out more information about this aspect on a documentary available on youtube called “Muslim students discriminated against in the UK”.  The effect of prevent on universities, the actions of these other university societies connected to the likes of Quilliam or Henry Jackson society and the pressure from members of the intelligence services will serve to create a melting pot where free speech and legitimate dissent is stifled and radicalisation isn’t tackled but fostered due to the many consequences that some of these measures can have.

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