A vice-chancellor has warned that UK university bosses are accepting ‘counter-productive’ anti-terror legislation out of fear that they will be labelled extremist sympathisers by the media if they do not.
The head of Kingston University in London, Julius Weinberg, recently addressed a trade union conference in Liverpool, telling them that vice-chancellors feel under pressure to accept the conditions of the government’s so-called ‘Prevent’ strategy.
The Vice-Chancellor described his colleagues as follows: “Vice-chancellors are largely a liberal bunch, but they are under a lot of pressure."
Weinberg told the conference: “With 50 per cent of students coming from a black and ethnic minority background, there is a chance that a Kingston graduate does something daft. If that happens, I know exactly what the Daily Mail will say."
Addressing the contentious issue of so-called safe spaces in universities, Weinberg told the Universities and College Union conference that: ‘People should always be safe in universities, but ideas should never be safe.’
Prevent, which is the government’s flagship attempt at an anti-radicalisation programme, is part of wider scheme called ‘Contest’ which has been accused of perpetuating feelings of mistrust and widespread fear of British Muslims earlier this year.
Furthermore, earlier this month Oxford professor Timothy Garton Ash spoke out against the policy, arguing that Jesus Christ would be banned from speaking on university campuses were he alive today, due to ‘Prevent’.
The European studies expert argued that ‘Prevent’ now means that universities are forced to disallow even non-violent extremists entering their campuses. He addressed an audience at the Hay Literary Festival at the beginning of June:
"Some of you may know that in the new counter-terrorism legislation, the securocrats in the Home Office are trying to impose on universities a so-called ‘Prevent’ duty. [This would] call on us to prevent event non-violent extremists speaking on campus."
As the Daily Telegraph reported, Garton Ash theorised that these speakers would be likely to include Jesus Christ:
"Now non-violent extremists? That’s Karl Marx, Rousseau, Charles Darwin, Hegel, and most clearly Jesus Christ, who was definitely a non-violent extremists. The Home Office wouldn’t want him preaching on campus. This is a real threat I think to free speech and one we have to fight back against."
It is not just at universities where the policy is causing controversy - it has also faced heavy backlash in schools. Earlier this year, teachers also spoke out against the policy being implemented in schools, describing it as being used to ‘target young Muslims’ in a motion presented by the National Union of Teachers at their annual conference back in the spring.
This was as a result of frequent high profile cases where pupils were wrongly referred to police for comments made in classroom discussions.
A case in January made the headlines when a 10-year-old Muslim boy was questioned by police after mistakenly writing that he lived in a ‘terrorist house’ rather than a ‘terraced house.’ In February this year, a 15-year-old was also referred to the police after he clicked on the UKIP website in the classroom to research immigration.
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