‘Preventing Prevent? Challenges to Counter-Radicalisation on Campus’


This is a summary of an event with Dr Usama Hasan, the senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, Lloyd Randle, a former Prevent Engagement Officer at Hampshire Constabulary, and Rupert Sutton, Director of Student Rights at The Henry Jackson Society, on 30 July 2015. It reflects the views expressed by the speaker and not those of The Henry Jackson Society or its staff.

For a transcript of this event, click here

On 30 July 2015, Rupert Sutton, the Director of Student Rights at The Henry Jackson Society, Lloyd Randle, a former Prevent Engagement Officer at Hampshire Constabulary, and Dr Usama Hasan, the senior researcher at the Quilliam Foundation, discussed the issues raised in Student Rights’ new report ‘Preventing Prevent? Challenges to Counter-Radicalisation Policy On-Campus’.

The speakers examined the problem itself, including the frequent invitation of extremists onto campuses, the on-the-ground experiences counter-radicalisation delivery staff, including the challenges posed by student opposition, and the tactics and narratives used by extremists to undermine efforts to challenge extremism on our campuses since the early 1990s.

The Problem on Campuses

  • Universities have been identified as vulnerable to extremism by various different parts of the government, including the 2011 review of the Prevent strategy and the 2012 Home Affairs Select Committee report into radicalisation;
  • Students have been involved in violent extremism while enrolled at UK institutions, and the outbreak of the conflict in Syria has seen students travel to fight in the conflict;
  • In addition, a culture conducive to non-violent extremism may have developed in the invitation of extreme or intolerant speakers to address students, the sharing of extreme material via social media and the targeting of institutions by Islamist or far-right activists;
  • Despite this, some student groups have attempted to actively hinder Prevent delivery, and many of their criticisms appear to have been directly influenced by extremist narratives.

The History of this Problem

  • This has been an issue since the 1980s, when four main Islamic groups appeared on campuses – the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb ut-Tahrir, Salafi groups, and the Jihadists;
  • In the 1990s, Salafi student groups were openly recruiting people and actually sending them to fight abroad, and the extremist ideas spread by these groups – including of Jihad – has led to support for ISIS twenty years later;
  • Since 9/11, the narrative that there is a war against Islam and British Muslims has been added to the extreme Islamist views held by a small minority on campuses.

On-Campus Prevent Delivery

  • The aim of on-campus delivery is to implement Prevent via the ‘three Is’: supporting vulnerable individuals; challenging ideologies; and working with institutions where there is a risk of radicalisation from extreme views;
  • There is increasing engagement from universities and unions, and seeking to implement Prevent in its abstract form within universities is correct as it is governed by good principles, being proportionate, legal, accountable, and necessary;
  • However, at the point of delivery there is potentially a lack of knowledge about Prevent, while the level of command and control structure of universities is low: societies and students act autonomously;
  • There is also a struggle to tell positive stories about Prevent to the public due to their sensitivity, and to prove the success of interventions.

The future of On-Campus Prevent Delivery

  • There are opportunities to be exploited in the increasing interest and engagement that can be seen nationally in Prevent, including to form counter-narratives;
  • This could potentially be done by the creation of student societies like those planned by the Quilliam Foundation, with the provision of spaces for debate on these issues important;
  • However, delivery also faces challenges, including those caused by the institutional language used to describe Prevent leaving students behind, and by malicious narratives spread by extremists;
  • This must be challenged by identifying the relevant narratives used by extremists, and providing support for those who seek to challenge these – and to ensure that any legitimate concerns are properly addressed.

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