College activists fear race reaction
By Louise Nousratpour
Morning Star, 18 November 2006
EDUCATION campaigners warned of a potentially “racist and Islamophobic” backlash against new government guidelines on how to combat extremism on university and college campuses yesterday.
The Department for Education is to release guidance advising universities and colleges on how to respond if staff suspect that “extremist” literature is being circulated on campus or if they are worried about radical speakers visiting their institutions.
Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell insisted that Muslims were not being singled out, in the same breath as he declared that the threat from Islamic radicals must be faced head-on. “Violent extremism in the name of Islam is a real, credible and sustained threat to the UK,” he claimed. “There is evidence of serious, but not widespread, Islamist extremist activity in higher education institutions.”
Trade unions and student groups said that, while the guidance is an “improvement” on previous leaked drafts, it does not solve all the problems and falls short of suggesting practical steps to build cohesive relations on campus.
University and College Union (UCU) joint general secretary Paul Mackney stressed that universities and colleges must combine the guidance with a “robust strategy for defeating racism and Islamophobia.” He warned: “Radicalism must not be conflated with terrorism. Institutions must maintain a moderating environment where discussion flourishes, where people learn about different cultures and where ideas can be explored, challenged and debated.”
Mr Mackney called on institutions to be more “proactive” in engaging with the communities that they serve, warning that this “is essential to maintain trust and confidence between staff, students and institutions.”
Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) spokesman Faisal Hanjra attacked the government for not asking Muslim students about the guidelines and he called for open dialogue. “Students and staff should be assured by their institutions that there is no intention of adding to a climate of Islamophobia,” he said. “Any implementation should recognise that demonising Muslims is unacceptable and dangerous, whether in educational institutions or in communities.”
The National Union of Students welcomed the “more moderate” tone of the final draft, but it agreed that its focus on Islamic extremism could have a “racist or Islamophobic backlash.”