Speaker’s Corner: Preventing “PREVENT”, why the NUS opposes the government’s counter-terrorism strategy in education, by Malia Bouattia

By Myriam Francois|December 21, 2015|Speaker's Corner|0 comments

Preventing  “PREVENT”, why the NUS opposes the government’s counter-terrorism strategy in education

Malia Bouattia, NUS  UK Black Students’ Officer 

The National Union of Students (NUS) has come under fire as of late for opposing the government’s PREVENT counter-terror extremism strategy – the main criticism for this stance coming from, unsurprisingly, the government themselves who have called on the NUS to drop this opposition.

Firstly and above all, this position has come about from a mandate voted in by an overwhelming majority of attendees at this year’s NUS National Conference – NUS’ sovereign decision-making body – and was itself raised following a groundswell of grassroots student campaigning against PREVENT – which had become a toxic agenda amongst the student movement for its deeply racist and Islamophobic foundations well before this year’s decision.
And it is a campaign founded on the key values that NUS, and the student movement at large, was built upon, so it isn’t one that will be easily swept aside at the government’s demand.

More pressingly though, this raises the questions of: why the government is so eager to supress student resistance against PREVENT in particular in the face of the almost-universal condemnation the strategy has received and why NUS in particular is tasked with the responsibility of upholding this mandate.

The former informs the latter here.

Whilst the government’s claim that universities and colleges are ‘hotbeds of extremism’ – which it uses to justify the programme – are quite patently false, they are and have been sites of dissent traditionally. In the years leading up to and following the 2010 General Election the student movement had strengthened and for the first time in a long while, presented an actual threat to the government’s interests, namely with the campaigns building around the government’s plans to raise tuition fees. This was for the most part independent and in many cases in spite of the NUS’ work on and approach to the issue, but it made for a very uncomfortable political environment for the new government to settle in to.
The introduction of PREVENT to the education sector soon after the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition took power, with the 2011 version of the strategy, had the intention of stifling this growing movement by bringing universities and colleges into the fold of surveillance and paranoia of PREVENT.
It also had the effect, as with all other quarters, of ostracising and problematising Muslim and Islamic expression, in this case Muslim students and Islamic societies who have in many cases faced an ongoing struggle with their institutions in just trying to exist without harassment or policing.

Even in spite of student opposition to PREVENT in those earlier days of the programme, the shifting stances of NUS towards PREVENT in some ways resembled that of ‘mainstream’ Muslim organisations.
Without meaning to make half-hearted comparisons or elide the manner in which PREVENT is certainly an attack on Muslims and Islam (and has affected Muslim organisations differently for that reason), the NUS’ path with PREVENT followed the similar trajectory from appeasement through to cautious collaboration to discontent to, in 2015, finding themselves on the receiving end of threats from the government.
Collaboration did nothing to spare either those organisations or the NUS from the government’s crosshairs as they rolled onwards with a steadily more belligerent approach to PREVENT, culminating in the Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015 and PREVENT being placed on a statutory basis.
This appeasement only deepened and legitimised PREVENT and left behind a legacy of misinformation and apologia which can still be found, in the case of NUS, through briefings released at the time dismissing student concerns about PREVENT.

So it is in light of that history that the NUS’ responsibility in opposing PREVENT now should be viewed, and is also partly for this reason that the NUS Black Students’ Campaign produced the Preventing PREVENT handbook.

The handbook was designed following feedback from students and student officers that was taken over the summer and during the ‘Students Not Suspects’ tour co-hosted by the Black Students’ Campaign which visited campuses across the UK this October.
During the tour we encountered many unaware of their obligations and duties under the Counter-terrorism and Security Act’s so-called ‘Prevent duty’, as well as the more general history of PREVENT from its introduction in 2006 to the present day. The handbook is therefore intended to serve as a practical resource on undermining, countering and ultimately, dismantling the PREVENT strategy at the university/college level as well as an informative one.
The handbook can be downloaded digitally here:

and ordered online here: http://goo.gl/forms/nn6o7BIArV



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About Myriam Francois

This is the official blog for the SOAS-CIS. It aims to encourage scholars to debate and engage with the wider public on the basis of their research and will foster discussions about mainly UK and also European Integration discourse as relates to Islam and British Muslims. We tweet @SoasCis

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