Theresa May has criticised universities for complacency in tackling radicalisation towards extremism on campus. Mustafa Field of the Mosques and Imams Advisory Board has said: "We are…having hate preachers walking into university campuses and there's not enough work being done around that." Boris Johnson wrote in his Daily Telegraph column this morning that "universities need to be much, much tougher in their monitoring of
Islamic societies. It is utterly wrong to have segregated meetings in a
state-funded centre of learning. If visiting speakers start some
Islamist schtick – and seek either to call for or justify violence –
then the authorities need to summon the police."
I am not so cynical as to write that much is said about extremism but nothing is done. Theresa May has keep a lot of hate preachers out of the country, starting as she meant to go on with Zakir Naik. The Times suggested behind its paywall on Saturday that counter-terror co-ordinators are already gathering information on radicalisation towards extremism on campus. There is progress. But I am concerned about David Cameron's measured reaction last week degenerating into a "crackdown" (with the attendant risk of the return of the "Snoopers' Charter"). Let me be clear: I'm all for extremist preachers being kept off campus, websites being shut down, extremism being tackled in prisons, Anjem Choudary's benefits being stopped (why is he still getting any?) and so – a real crackdown.
But when one reads of the Prime Minister's new Ministerial task force – TERFOR – producing initiatives on "disrupting extremist activity" and "challenging poisonous activities", it's worth remembering that John Reid set up the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU) in to do precisely that under Labour – as long ago as 2007. In short and despite advances, there is a pattern. An outrage happens. Ministers promise action. Memories start fading. Newspapers lose interest. Officials resist action, as in the case of Cameron's Munich speech. So do politicians (in some instances). It's two steps forward and one step back, and that's if we're lucky. If we're unlucky, we have what Andrew Gilligan has called the Government being tough where it should be liberal, and liberal where it should be tough. In other words, questionable groups get favours from Ministers while innocent citizens have their freedoms compromised.
I have a simple test. On the one hand, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) has been condemmed by Theresa May and Nick Clegg, two of the most senior Ministers in government, for failing to
“fully challenge terrorist and extremist ideology”. (May ordered civil servants to withdraw from a FOSIS graduate recruitment fair.) On the other, Sayeeda Warsi
attended a FOSIS event in the House of Lords and, according to
Gilligan, "supported claims by FOSIS that extremism was “no more prevalent” in
universities than in any other parts of society". Can Ministers please get their ducks in a row? "You say I am repeating/ Something I have said before. I shall say it again./ Shall I say it again?…"