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May to tackle campus extremism

ByJoshua Stein

Jan 20, 2015
Image courtesy of Sarel Jansen

UK government plans to counter the growth of extremism on university campuses have been met with fierce criticism.

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, discussed at the House of Lords last Tuesday, grants the Home Secretary new powers to expel “extremists” from university locations.

Speaking in London following the draft of the Bill, Home Secretary Theresa May said students should be reported to the police if there are “concerns of [them] being drawn into extremism or terrorism”.

She also suggested that universities should not give a platform to “extremist” students.

Members of the Joint Committee for Human Rights (JCHR) said the plans could breach academic freedom of speech, with Hywel Francis, JCHR chairman, saying the plans had “not been well thought-through”.

Eve Livingston, Vice President Societies and Activities (VPSA) at the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA), expressed concerns to The Student that “a focus on anti-extremism […] often manifests as nothing more than racial profiling”.

She warned that it could affect “students who are already some of our most marginalised and vulnerable”.

At a session of the House of Lords, Lord Lloyd of Benwick said that the suggested powers “would do absolutely nothing in practice to make us any safer”.

In an interview with The Student, Baroness Hamwee, member of the JCHR and peer in the House of Lords said she found defining the blanket terms “extremism” and “extremism leading to terrorism” problematic.

She also said that she would not put “Prevent[ion] on a statutory footing, but to leave the matter on a voluntary basis” at universities.

Concerns were raised by the JCHR that the Bill would infringe on freedom of speech. Dr. Francis said in an interview with The Independent that it could result in “academic freedom and freedom of speech, […] both key to the functioning of a democratic society, being restricted”.

Members of the JCHR also said that the powers called for in the Bill could be used in other fields of police operations, a concern with historical precedent.

For instance, in 2005, a student at the University of Cambridge secretly filmed a police officer asking him to spy on political societies at the university. These included the “Unite Against Fascism” group, as well as groups such as the English Defense League.

The government plans also suggest the creation of a new, 300-man anti-terrorism force.

The plans were announced in response to the terror attacks in Paris against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket.

After the attacks, Prime Minister David Cameron and President Barack Obama promised to “confront” terrorism “wherever it appears”.

Speaking to Stroud News and Journal, Andrew Parker, director of intelligence agency MI5, said more “mass casualty attacks” were being planned against the West.

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