The Higher Education Minister has issued guidelines on how to alert students to extremist behaviour on campus, with a view to preventing radicals from manipulating vulnerable students into terrorist activities.
Last Friday, Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammell, issued guidelines to tackle “extremism in the name of Islam”, a phenomenon which has apparently acquired strength on some university campuses.
The measures call for tutors to work closely with imams and the police in order to combat the “real, credible and sustained threat” of radicalism, ultimately with the aim of protecting vulnerable students and promoting safety on campus.
Mr Rammell has highlighted the extent of the problem, saying that this is a dangerous sort of extremism whereby innocent students are being recruited to terrorism through university societies.
In order to prevent these young, Muslim students from becoming radicalised, lecturers are encouraged to be more vigilant in spotting signs of violent extremism. This includes looking out for the circulation of Islamic literature on campus, the use of the university computer network to download Jihadist images and even the take over of multi faith prayer rooms.
In order to prevent the “serious, but not widespread, Islamist extremist activity in [higher education institutions]” from amplifying further, radical speakers and groups with a history of inciting racial hatred are being banned from campuses.
Although groups such as Al-Muhajiroun, recently prohibited under the anti-terrorism legislation, have been removed from campus communities, it is a worry that such groups could resurface by changing their name or taking over apolitical Islamic societies.
The document states that students should have published information on how to identify violent extremists. It is also seen as necessary to set up a support network between the student unions, imams and mosques so that vulnerable students are not targeted.
To further encourage integration between different faiths and ethnicities, volunteer programs are being used to encourage students to mix with others from different backgrounds. More importantly, a plan of action would also have to be formulated in the event of an arrest of a student for terrorist offences.
Gemma Tumelty of the National Union of Students (NUS) has praised the more moderate tone of these guidelines. This is in contrast to the polemic appeal made to acedemics last month by the former Education Minister Ruth Kelly, who requested students to be monitored. There is concern, however, that some of the points are too vague and universities could end up taking too harsh a stance.
The focus of extremism “in the name of Islam” could also, in effect, be counter productive, where instead of opening the lines of communication for better integration and detection of terrorism, it could instead close them, provoking a backlash against Muslim students.
The new guidelines are fully supported by the British Muslim Forum (BMF), a pressure group backed by a membership of almost 300 mosques. The BMF have made a statement saying, “We believe that extremism of all forms needs to be tackled, in particular the radicalism of Muslim youths on campus.”
It also backed any initiative to rout out “any form of criminal activity undertaken in the name of Islam”, while still urging the government to consider producing the same sort of guidelines for attacking the anti-Muslim extremism from the far right.
Nouse first reported on the proposed extremism guidelines of November 7. When Professor Haleh Afshar of the Politics Department urged the government to engage rather than target Muslim students.