Clampdown in universities

The academic year opened with a flurry of fear-mongering and threats depicting British university campuses as hotbeds of terrorist recruitment. Professor Anthony Glees, director of Brunel University’s centre for intelligence and security studies, produced a report When students turn to terror: terrorist extremist activity on British campuses, published by the right wing think tank and ‘charity’ the Social Affairs Unit.

His report named 30 British universities where ‘extremists’ were recruiting actively. The groups named included the British National Party (BNP) at Cambridge, animal rights groups at Oxford and Islamic groups in London and Manchester universities. Typically it was the Muslim ‘extremists’ who attracted attention.

Glees recommends the employment of plain clothes police on campuses, the abolition of clearing, a ban on all faith societies, forcing student societies to accept academics on their committees and restricting discussion on certain topics. He advocates ‘proper screening to exclude dangerous students’, ‘direct links between university registrars and immigration officers at ports of entry’ and an openly racist call to ‘ensure that the ethnic composition of any single university reflects, broadly, the ethnic mix of the UK as a whole’.

Labour’s Education Minister Ruth Kelly licked her authoritarian little lips calling on universities to clamp down on campus extremists following the London bombings in July. At the annual conference of universities she said higher education institutions need to identify and confront ‘unacceptable’ behaviour: ‘That means informing the police where criminal offences are being perpetrated or where there may be concerns about possible criminal acts’.

Despite condemnation of the Glees Report from vice chancellors and the National Union of Students (NUS), the government has given the green light for surveillance and witch-hunts in universities. At the London School of Economics (LSE), one of the universities pinpointed by Glees, the Islamic Society complained that an undercover reporter photographed students signing up at the freshers’ fayre. The LSE’s student newspaper reported ‘MI5 agents have also reputedly been operating around the LSE campus, using the Strand Palace Hotel as a recruiting point for informants’ (The Beaver, 11 October 2005). At Imperial College London, students have been banned from wearing hoodies or nikabs (scarves worn by some Muslim women that cover the face) ‘for security reasons’.

Along with the organisation Al Muhajiroun (described by Glees as ‘a laughing stock’), and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (‘not a terrorist organisation, nor does it advocate violence against the state’), the Glees report specifically named the non-violent Islamic organisation Hibz ut-Tahrir. The Sunday Times then jumped on the bandwagon, claiming that Hizb ut-Tahrir was recruiting members through its Stop Islamophobia campaign at several universities. Tony Blair has said that the organisation should be banned under new anti-terror legislation.

The NUS has a no-platform policy for Hizb ut-Tahrir for ‘supporting terrorism and publishing material that incites racial hatred’, but the policy was overturned by Middlesex University student union. At the start of the year, the student union president Keith Shilson was physically removed from campus for refusing to cancel a debate with members of Hizb ut-Tahrir which the university had banned. Following condemnation of the university’s action from around the world, on 30 September Shilson was permitted to return on condition that he apologise, admitting that the university’s decision was correct.

On the same day, six students at Lancaster University were convicted of aggravated trespass after a peaceful five-minute demonstration at a business conference at the university last year. The group held two banners and distributed leaflets opposing companies with a reputation for unethical practices. The group intends to appeal against the verdict which is a threat to the right of students to stage peaceful protests on their own campuses.
The best course of action for anti-imperialist students is to be vocal and visible with our opposition to racism, imperialism and war. That way we cannot be accused of undercover extremism, but rather of exercising our democratic rights and continuing to stand proudly with the poor and oppressed against British imperialism. Join SAIN!

Helen Yaffe

FRFI 188 December 2005 / January 2006

 

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