By Emma Fox
On Monday 21st January, HJS’ centre for Student Rights released a report cataloguing events promoted to students in the last academic year with a link to extremism. The events featured speakers with a history of extreme or intolerant views, representatives of extremist groups, or fundraisers for extreme or terror-linked charities.
The report uncovered that 200 extremist-linked events took place on UK Higher Education institutions in 2017/18, with SOAS the most common institutional host. Some of the speakers scheduled to appear had supported convicted terrorists; expressed hatred towards Jews, minority Muslim sects and “disbelievers”; advocated for an intifada [violent uprising] in America; endorsed the use of sharia-sanctioned slaves and strict hudud punishments; defended Hamas’ employment of suicide bombings and promoted violent jihad. One speaker was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Centre bombing.
In 2015, then Prime Minister David Cameron warned that extremists were exploiting campus platforms to gain access to vulnerable and “impressionable young minds”. He identified four universities as holding the most number of extremist preachers – The University of London’s Queen Mary, King’s College London, SOAS and Kingston University. He further named six speakers who had all “publicly denounced British values”.
Our research revealed that these four universities remain the top institutional hosts for extremist speakers – despite Cameron’s caution – and three of the six speakers he publicly denounced also continued to be invited onto campus. Of even greater concern, one of the speakers – Uthman Lateef – doubled his campus presence in the last three years, and individuals representing organisations linked to Haitham al-Haddad (another speaker identified by Cameron) accounted for 140 events since 2015/16.
This is simply not good enough. Universities have a statutory obligation to have due regard to those within their care from being drawn into terrorism. They have been repeatedly warned by the government that extremist groups are exploiting their premises to access students, and even been provided a list of individuals that the government considers extreme. The fact that the problem has worsened in the last few years, during which time several British students have fled the country to join terrorist groups overseas, or committed attacks in the UK, attests to the industrial-scale failure of universities to uphold their legal duties.
The Office for Students, who monitor the implementation of the Prevent duty at universities, have claimed that 97% of Higher Education institutions are in full compliance with it. This statistic bears no relation to the facts on the ground. There is no evidence that any risk-assessment or due diligence occurred at any of the events that we have catalogued. Indeed, in only two of the 200 events that occurred last year appeared subject to challenge or critique.
The findings uncovered by our report necessitate wider inquiry. Safeguarding leads must review their procedure for determining external speaker risk, and the Office for Students must re-evaluate their process for assessing compliance with the Prevent Duty.