Tuesday 19th April, 6pm
Lecture Theatre G7, Pavilion Parade
Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics
Ibrahim Ali (CAGE)
Rahmaan Mohammadi (Student reported for Palestine-related campaigning)
Molly Maher (University of Brighton Student and UBSU)
Louise Purbrick (Lecturer, University of Brighton)
Tom Hickey (Lecturer, University of Brighton)
What is the Prevent Duty?
The Government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy is presented as a mechanism to deter the development of violent, and non-violent, extremism. Since October 2015, it has been a legal duty for Universities to implement the Prevent agenda. Many argue that ‘Prevent’ has been, and will be, exclusively targeted at those from Muslim communities (creating distrust and hostility as well as anxiety and fear). Additionally, the counter-terrorism strategy, of which Prevent is a part, has been generalised into a Government-promoted attack on ‘extremism’ of any kind. Thus anyone whose opinions or criticisms appear to lie outside a progressively narrowing, mainstream view of politics find themselves, actually or potentially, falling foul of the ‘Prevent’ agenda.
University of Brighton policy
In universities, the implementation of this agenda is particularly bizarre. Students and their Unions, as well as staff organising academic events, in universities including Brighton, have been informed that any meeting on university premises that involves an ‘outside’ speaker requires a) permission, applied for three weeks in advance, b) the speaker list to have been vetted by management, and permission for external speakers to have been granted, and c) that the
meeting have a ‘balance’ of views represented on the platform. At Brighton, this position seems to have been adopted as policy without any debate amongst staff or students. Its legitimacy remains, therefore, entirely unclear. For the first time in Britain since the early c.19th, the managements of universities have been put in a position to adjudicate on what can, and cannot, be debated. No more lethal a threat to ‘academic freedom’ could be imagined.
Informing the Police
According to ‘Prevent’, public bodies now have a legally enforceable ‘duty’ to inform the police about anyone with whom they come in contact whose behaviour or whose speech ‘seems to’ indicate that they might be ‘vulnerable’ to ‘non-violent extremism’. This is a chillingly ambivalent configuration not helped by the legislation’s definition of ‘extremism’ as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”. What are our Universities if not spaces where the history and desirability of such values can be debated? What will be the effect of such monitoring on the educational role of, and relationships within, our universities? Moreover, the markers for the identification of a potential terrorist include growing a beard, or wearing a hijab. The stereotyping of such profiling is thus inescapable.
Responsibilities of Staff and Students
There is then a largely subterranean erosion of the freedom for universities to be the sites of open debate and argument. This threatens to have dramatic consequences. All staff and students need to feel free to debate the implications of the Prevent strategy, its operation locally, and how their duties as citizens, scholars, teachers or students may conflict with their ‘duties’ under the terms of ‘Prevent’.