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STUDENT unions yesterday condemned the Conservative government’s demand that universities must comply with the Counter-Extremism Bill to halt “radicalisation.”
The backlash comes after Prime Minister David Cameron “named and shamed” universities accused of providing platforms to “hate speakers” at around 70 events last year, according to the Extremism Analysis Unit in Whitehall.
The University of London’s Queen Mary, King’s College and School of Oriental and African Studies, along with Kingston University, were said by Downing Street to have held most of the events.
Among the speakers suspected to have voiced extreme views are Haitham al-Haddad, Uthman Lateef, Alomgir Ali, Imran Ibn Mansur, Hamza Tzortzis and Salman Butt.
Mr Tzortzis is part of the Islamic Education and Research Academy (Iera), which criticises the Bill as “a number of questionable measures that go against the very founding liberal values of this country.”
Iera is holding a cross-panel debate in central London next month on the Bill and the negative impact it would pose.
LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell is expected to join the panel.
Under the “Prevent” scheme, from September 21, universities will be required to watch for signs of “radicalisation” in students’ appearances and behaviour and assess speakers to ensure that those with “extreme” views are shunned or challenged.
Student unions warned that blacklisting speakers would strangle freedom of speech, encourage extremism and create hostile environments.
Nonetheless, Mr Cameron claimed: “It is not about oppressing free speech or stifling academic freedom, it is about making sure radical views and ideas are not given the oxygen they need to flourish.”
The National Union of Students (NUS) said there were “legitimate concerns” that the Bill would create a culture of suspicion and would negatively affect students’ welfare.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson has written to the NUS calling for an end to its opposition, which he finds “disappointing.”
University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said universities, as “open democratic spaces,” have to encourage debate to stop dissenting voices from being driven underground.
Government guidelines define extremism as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance for different faiths and beliefs.”
Public bodies, including councils, prisons, NHS trusts and schools, have had to comply with Prevent since July.
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