On the 12th of September I found myself in a fight at a Trustee Board meeting over a worrying policy being passed at the board with no debate from the wider student body. This report – which I have attached below – was a brief for the Guild Trustee Board to secretly pass policy to help spy on Muslim students. Muslim students have this Wednesday passed a motion unanimously to end the policy.
This victory is the result of Muslim students getting organised to fight against an initiative by the police designed to spy on them. Together with a big campaign and this widely supported open letter to Guild Councillors they have effectively stopped in its tracks a programme by the Guild of Students that the police have described as a “sector leader” in enaging with Prevent.
A policy, with the Orwellian title of “good campus relations” was passed by the Guild Trustee Board based on the rationale that “Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism continues to present a risk to campus cohesion” (actual quote from the report). The report starts with explaining what Prevent is: “The UK Government and police forces have also been promoting a series of initiatives labelled as the “Prevent” agenda, which seeks to involve a wide range of stakeholders in community cohesion to identify those who may be at risk of religious and/or political radicalisation.”
Unknown to nearly every student the Guild has worked extensively with this Islamophobic scheme which spies on Muslim students. The Guild has been collecting and handing over data of our political activity to the police because “many vulnerable students are at risk of radicalisation and we need to ensure there are confidential, robust methods to respond appropriately “ Page seven of the report.
In the words of the report “The University & Guild have been identified as sector-leaders in engaging positively with the police on “Prevent.” The report identifies that the Guild has set up its current freedom of speech request forms to help identify and assess the activities of its student groups. The report which you can read attached is incredibly hazy on the details of its changes to the freedom of speech forms and process. However, one of the key changes, which is not directly mentioned in the report, is that students have to disclose the religious and political affiliations of any speakers they invite to the university 21 days prior to the event, who then hand this information over to a committee with anti-terrorism police sitting on.
All this has happened at the University of Birmingham in response to a threat based on an “incident” in 2009, which the report sums up as follows.
“The issue of student vulnerability to radicalisation was brought to national attention with the arrest of an alleged terrorist on a flight to Detroit in December 2009. Colleagues will recall that the arrested person had been President of the Islamic Society at UCL. These events prompted a letter from Lord Mandelson (then Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills) to Vice-Chancellors informing them of a UUK Working Group on Extremism had been created, and reminding HEIs of “a duty towards all their staff and students particularly in identifying and protecting vulnerable young people.
The President of UCL ISoc was later shown by an independent inquiry to have been radicalised after being at university so this case is irrelevant. This incident is however the reason for the founding of Prevent “the biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times” -Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, Liberty .
Since prevent has been set up officers working for Prevent have asked university chaplains, lecturers and union officials to point out to them depressed, quiet or isolated Muslim students as apparently they are “vulnerable” to becoming terrorists. Prevent officers attend activist meetings undercover on campus and the University of Bradford say they have been asked to disclose students’ names and dates of birth to a liaison officer working as part of Prevent. The Guardian claims that its inquiries show that several colleges in London and Lancashire have been asked for the same disclosures.
This is an initiative to spy on a group of people who have done nothing wrong, based on their shared religion. It is a breach of human rights and a recipe for further isolation of the British Muslim community. Forty English universities have been singled out as “particular risk” of radicalisation and are being targeted for work with Prevent. Which universities are amongst the forty is not clear; however we do know universities like Bradford and Lancaster have rejected working with Prevent. Student unions including Goldsmiths King’s College, Warwick, Manchester the London School of Economics, University of the Arts London, Queen Mary and Imperial College have all have refused to work with prevent and help spy on their students.
The Guild’s work & policy to counter “extremism” has been done entirely behind closed doors in consultation with the police and university. Until I became a trustee and this report was presented outlining the work of the past year with the government’s prevent initiative I had no idea of the repressive policies and practices carried out behind closed doors between the Guild, university and police. It makes me wonder what is going on elsewhere in other universities if they can do this here without anyone batting an eyelid.
“Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism” is not a threat on campus, any suggestion that it is simply based on massive paranoia. The policies in place now are based on this Islamophobic rationale and violate the human rights of all Muslim students on campus. Furthermore Prevent has been perpetuating the isolation of Muslim students, who with this policy in place should rightly be distrustful of their union, which seems committed to working with a police initiative to spy on their activities.
The Trustee Board must accept this policy and ensure the Guild now ceases this work immediately, stops handing over information about student’s political activities to a committee with anti-terrorism police and changes the regressive freedom of speech forms.
I have combined this post with a letter the Trusteeboard. Along with another letter to Emma Thompson, a Guild Trustee who is also the Vice Chair Police Association of Higher Education Liaison Officers, which has responsibility for “assisting the National Prevent Delivery Unit in producing a Preventing Violent Extremism Guidance for Police Officers working within Universities” to ensure the message get across that the model implemented by the Guild of Students and University of Birmingham is not acceptable and has been completely rejected.