Unions have slammed government proposals for lecturers to “spy” on students of Muslim origin on campuses in the ongoing battle against extremism.
University and College Union (UCU) Joint General Secretary Sally Hunt commented on the furore: “Academic freedom is a key tenet of any democratic society, even if this sometimes means the discussion of ideas that many would find unacceptable. Universities have traditionally encouraged debate, allowed students the opportunity to broaden their horizons and challenge opinion”.
Speaking on the proposals, likely to cause further friction between the government and Muslim community, Sally Hunt continued: “UCU fought hard to stop academic freedom being eroded in the recent Terrorism Bill. We will not accept further government attempts to restrict academic freedom or free speech on campus. There is little point in having these nominal freedoms if they can be removed when certain people dont like what they hear”.
Noting the already tentative relationship, she added: “If we really want to tackle problems like extremism and terrorism then we need to be safe to explore the issue and get a better understanding of it. The last thing we need is people too frightened to discuss an issue because they fear some quasi secret service will “turn them in”.
Paul Mackney, also with the UCU, said: “UCU has expressed its concern to the Minister that our members may be sucked into an anti-Muslim McCarthyism which has serious consequences for civil liberties by blurring the boundaries of what is illegal and what is possibly undesirable. UCU members have a pivotal role in building trust – these proposals, if implemented, would make it all but impossible”.
“There is a danger of demonising Muslims, for example by the statements of five ministers in the last couple of weeks, when actually Muslims have made enormous strides in getting more of their young people to universities and colleges”.
“The governments premise is wrong: radicalisation is not the result of Islamist segregation, but government policy, especially in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq. Even so, radicalisation is not the same as violent extremism or terrorism”.
And in a related response to the uproar, National Union of Students (NUS) President Gemma Tumelty said: “NUS is deeply concerned by this policy and we fear, above all, that it will create a McCarthy-like atmosphere of suspicion between students and lecturers”.
“Treating any one section of the student community with such mistrust shows contempt for their basic civil liberties, and flies in the face of encouraging good relations on campus and in society at large”.
“Lecturers and students both have an interest in defeating terrorism and we have serious concerns that polarizing their relationship could prove counterproductive to the dialogue and free flow of information that is essential to any sustainable counter-terror initiative”.
“Demonizing and stigmatizing student communities is no way to defeat terror. Indiscriminate monitoring of groups on campus assumes collective guilt. This will only fuel the racism and Islamaphopia that our society should be trying so hard to stamp out and also runs the risk of alienating those students who oppose terrorist attacks like those of 7/7 and 9/11, and whose cooperation will be vital to the work of the police in preventing further attacks”, she added.
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