On February 1, the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), a U.K. think tank, released a report titled, “Tolerating the Intolerant: A Report on ‘Students not Suspects.’”
As the title suggests, the report focuses on a movement known as “Students Not Suspects” (SNS), which operates under the umbrella of the National Union of Students (NUS). According to Richard Black, the author of the report, the mission of SNS is the abolition of a government-backed counter-extremism program called “Prevent.”
According to the BBC, “Prevent is designed to support people at risk of joining extremist groups and carrying out terrorist activities. In practice it aims for police and other organisations to build relations across the UK and requires faith leaders, teachers, doctors and others to refer any suspicions about people to a local Prevent body. An assessment is then made about whether further action is needed.”
The HJS report states that “under the pretense of wanting to abolish Prevent, leading ‘Students Not Suspects’ activists have hosted extremist speakers at a series of unbalanced events. Many of them belong to organizations that have Islamist links and troubling histories of intolerance and sympathies for terrorism. …”
The activists have also allegedly “condemned individuals who have expressed opposition to extremism,” crying “racism” and “Islamophobia.” The report suggests that while criticizing “Prevent” is a legitimate endeavor, SNS “has effectively become a vehicle for extremist interests.”
The report can be read in its entirety here.
The following is an interview The Daily Wire conducted with Richard Black, who, as previously mentioned, was the principal author of the report:
DW: What is the NUS?
BLACK: The NUS is the National Union of Students. It’s basically an umbrella body for different student unions throughout the U.K., and they effectively elect delegates to go to annual conference, and it’s from that conference that they elect the president. They purport to represent seven million students on U.K. campuses, but as my report tries to demonstrate, ideologically, they’re toward the far-Left. While the body has many good people, their leadership has effectively been hijacked by extremist interests.
DW: Do they have any kind of official standing with the government?
BLACK: Historically, yes. They would often be the first to negotiate with politicians like those in the Department for Education, and the Education Minister. Often, their representatives are called into parliament to give evidence to select committees – that still takes place, actually. I would say that in the last few years, they’ve become much more of a protest organization, and that they’re far less pragmatic in dealing with the lobbying side.
DW: What is “Prevent” as part of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (CTSA)?
BLACK: Prevent actually preceded the CTSA. The CTSA is an act of parliament that was passed in 2015. Prevent is a wing of the government’s counterterrorism strategy that attempts to prevent radicalization that could lead to vulnerable individuals being drawn into terrorism. It actually has a big influence on policies around the world, including, I think, in the United States. You’ve got CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) which, to some extent, is influenced by Prevent in the U.K. They key thing is since 2015, public bodies in the United Kingdom are expected to uphold their legal duty to adhere to Prevent, and have policies and procedures in place to try and prevent radicalization – and this includes universities, hospitals, schools, etc.
DW: The NUS has started “Students Not Suspects” (SNS), and you mentioned in the report that they invite extreme speakers to speak to their student groups. Who are some of these extreme people?
BLACK: The details are in the report, but they basically belong to, I would call them Islamist front groups. These are organizations that pass themselves off as legitimately bringing up civil liberties; they will protest the war on terror, or Guantanamo Bay – groups like CAGE, Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND), and the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC). But actually, some of the people who are involved in these groups have very, very suspicious backgrounds that are on the public record.
Take a group like CAGE for example, one of the guys who heads up that organization is called Moazzam Begg, he’s a former Guantanamo Bay detainee; he actually served in the Afghan/Pakistan border with the Taliban; he had links to individuals in Al-Qaeda. There are other members of CAGE that have spoken at rallies by the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which calls for a worldwide caliphate.
Also, you have a lot of these groups and these speakers who the NUS has been inviting that have histories of appalling anti-Semitism as well. So, on the one hand, they’re parading themselves as an anti-racist body engaged in an anti-racist campaign against Prevent, which they say is stigmatizing black and Muslim students, and on the other hand, they’re giving a platform to these violent anti-Semites. An explicit example would be a group like MEND, which has had staff members who have talked about a 300-year-old Israel lobby in Britain. The IHRC is directly pro-Iranian regime. They have members of staff who have talked about Zionist media conspiracies and Zionist lobbies. Then there’s Friends of Al-Aqsa, who openly praise Hamas.
DW: NUS claims they don’t engage with CAGE. What do you say to that?
BLACK: A couple of the previous presidents – Toni Pearce and Megan Dunn – said personally that they would have nothing to do with CAGE while they were presidents. However, they basically suggested that even though the NUS conference had voted in support of the Students Not Suspects campaign, which included working with groups like CAGE to subvert government counterterror legislation, that they would have nothing to do with CAGE because it would be incompatible with their values vis-à-vis anti-Semitism, and opposing fascism and racism. The problem is, in the last couple of years, and especially with a latter president of the NUS, named Malia Bouattia, the Students Not Suspects activists became the leadership of the NUS [Bouattia was defeated by Shakira Martin in an April 2017 election]. So there was a much closer link between the leadership and the activities of Students Not Suspects. They were legitimized, and given official backing, and everything they did was done effectively in the NUS’ name.
To this day, you can go on the NUS website, and see the degree of material they have supporting and promoting the Students Not Suspects campaign. It’s going on to this day. I believe their last tour was in November 2017 to coincide with something called Islamophobia Awareness Month. They’re still bringing speakers from groups like CAGE to universities.
DW: You mentioned that SNS were very averse to dissenting opinions. Can you offer any examples of that?
BLACK: A very noticeable example of this is the way in which they stigmatize groups that speak out against extremism in the “Preventing Prevent” handbook. That would include the organizations I work for – Henry Jackson Society and Student Rights – but also liberal Muslims as well.
A man named Maajid Nawaz, who did a book with Sam Harris relatively recently, is involved with an organization called Quilliam, who are a group of liberal Muslims who oppose Islamic extremism. They’re also singled out as a group that apparently is cooperating with Islamophobes and racists, and students are being told by the NUS that these liberal Muslim and anti-extremist charities, like ours, are beyond the pale.
DW: You say that criticizing Prevent is a legitimate political position, but SNS goes too far in that they’re a vehicle for extremism. Can you expand on that?
BLACK: That part is really important. I stress that both at the beginning and the end of the report because criticizing a policy – criticizing this aspect or that aspect, or recommending that it can be improved – is perfectly legitimate, and in fact, that is what the government has done with Prevent itself. It went through a major review in 2011; it has mutated, and there have been politicians and reputable organizations who have made very valid points about Prevent. We, as an organization, will talk about how the government needs to do more to communicate Prevent, and that’s one of the key recommendations of this report. They’re losing the PR battle on campuses.
However, what’s going on is not mere criticism. These are speakers, and these are student activists who don’t agree with counterterrorism at all. They, to quote Shelly Asquith, who was another major figure in SNS – she’s now advised Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, and she’s working for a trade union as an advisor. She talks about “so-called terrorism,” and “so-called Islamism.” She’s been asked by students at events, “Okay, you want to scrap Prevent? What’s the replacement?” She has replied that she doesn’t know because she’s not an expert. These people seem to be against having a counter-extremism or counter-radicalization policy both in theory and in practice. The fact that they’re cooperating so closely with these Islamist groups says all you need to know.
They are not proposing any kind of feasible replacements or alternatives for the current policy because they don’t want one.
DW: What is the NUS’ and SNS’ end game?
BLACK: Their end game is to scrap Prevent. Basically complete non-compliance. They are linking up with trade unions like the National Union of Teachers, with the UCU, which represents academics, and they’re basically telling people employed in the public sector: “Have nothing to do with this.” They’re telling people to break the law. Shelly Asquith has explicitly told students: “We’re asking you to break the law.” This is serious. The reason, they say, is because it’s racist, Islamophobic legislation, and at the end of the day, you need to operate according to your own conscience, and show solidarity with Muslims and black people who have been deliberately persecuted by the government under the veil of counter-extremism.
DW: Going forward from this report, you have policy recommendations. Could you talk about those in brief?
BLACK: Generally, what we are recommending is that the government and the universities up their game when it comes to the PR battle. So, investing a lot more resources into bringing Prevent coordinators and staff onto campus to talk to students, and to host training workshops. One of the other things that would be very useful is to have sessions, which could be framed as opportunities for students to express their genuine concerns about Prevent, almost as like a myth-busting exercise, because I think one of the real problems is as part of this boycotting and non-compliance strategy, they’re trying to get people to have noting to do with Prevent practitioners. They don’t want to normalize it, so to speak. Those types of things would be very effective at combatting some of the myths head on.
The other thing is for the government to give more support, both financially and politically, to those groups which are fighting for the shared principles of the democratic society that we live in. That would mean working with liberal Muslim organizations, working with counter-extremist groups, maybe interfaith groups as well.
DW: What can the United States learn from the SNS versus Prevent fight that could help us in preventing the growth of extremism?
BLACK: What the U.S. could learn from the U.K.’s experience is to be very clear about its strategy; to be open and transparent; to have effective PR and communication.
I think one of the things that certainly has been more successful in the U.K. is that Prevent has been formulated as a counter-extremism strategy, but it’s directed both against the far-Right and also against Islamism – and that’s made very clear. I think that gives it a lot of legitimacy amongst policy-makers and opinion-formers.
Having it as a legally enforceable policy is absolutely vital in stopping vulnerable young people being targeted by recruiters or extremist speakers.
The Daily Wire would like to thank Mr. Black for speaking with us. For more information on the Henry Jackson Society, click here. Once again, to read the report authored by Black (highly recommended), click here.