Prevent reinforces negative views of Muslims in campuses

24th Jul 2020
Prevent reinforces negative views of Muslims in campuses

Hamed Chapman

The Prevent Extremism programme has caused significant harm by reinforcing common stereotypes of Islam and Muslims and by curbing freedoms of speech and expression on higher education campuses, according to another highly critical report of the UK Government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

The report, led by School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London working with Lancaster, Durham and Coventry Universities, warn that the much discredited Prevent policy, developed back in 2003, encouraged ‘a culture of mutual suspicion and surveillance.’

“We believe there is a strong argument for Prevent to be discontinued in its current form. The evident damage this programme has done to university life clearly calls for a rethink at the policy level,” it concludes.

The UK Government has long maintained that radicalisation is a problem in UK universities and that Prevent is an essential means of tackling it as part of the country’s overall counter-terrorism strategy entitled Contest.

The study, entitled ‘Islam and Muslims on UK University Campuses: perceptions and challenges’ reveals that students who agree with the Government line are more likely to express negative views about Islam and Muslims while appearing to have the effect of discouraging free speech.

It calls for a repeal of counter-terrorism laws, an ethical overhaul of British foreign policy, an end to austerity, and the decoupling of counter-terrorism from the public sector entirely, as the first steps on a constructive way forward towards a healthy, safe society.

“This is clearly a contentious issue and suggests there are plenty of non-Muslims who, while positively disposed to Muslims and Islam in general terms, see it in a negative way when it comes to the treatment of women,” the report states.

It seeks a fresh debate on future models of university citizenship. The researchers make recommendations based on their conversations with students and staff, calling on the HE sector to empower Muslim (and other marginal voices), foster respect and develop knowledge of Islam and Muslims. Stronger links between universities and Muslim colleges should be an important part of this, it suggests.

“The case for evidence-based policymaking is urgent. We believe this report will serve as a helpful contribution to this process, not least as it contains positive and practical proposals for building on the considerable strengths represented across the HE sector,” says Principal Investigator Professor Alison Scott-Bauman of SOAS.

Based on the findings of an Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded research project ‘Re/presenting Islam on Campus’ (undertaken between 2015 and 2018) it provides the first nationwide picture and hard evidence of how the 230,000 Muslims (8 to 9 % of the student population) experience life at UK universities and how their non-Muslim peers view them.

Back in January, over 100 leading academics, campaigners, professionals and community organisers signed a joint statement, calling for the abolition of Prevent and sets out an alternative eight-step framework for building a healthy, safe society, put forward by Cage.

The Government has yet to report on an independent review of the controversial programme, which was due to start within six months after the latest Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill received Royal Assent in February 2019.

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