Written by Student Rights on 14 November 2011 at 5pm

Fresh faces and new ideas...

Having recently joined the team at Student Rights as part of the organisation’s growing research element, I feel the key to understanding the impact of radicalisation is appreciating the dangerous ease with which ideas can develop into action. I come to this role with a background in the study of political violence and communal conflict, having focused on Loyalist sectarian killing in Northern Ireland whilst at university.

Inherent in this was the notion that much of the violence was committed by individuals exposed to both a violent ideology as well as a sense of their community as one ‘under siege’. As a result of this toxic combination, young men who in any other circumstance would not have carried out the crimes they did became part of organisations that helped to tear the country apart. In the UK today the situation is of course very different, yet for many young people of all races and religions there remains a nagging echo of this feeling of communal insularity.

Both far-right and Islamist radicals rely on these self-doubts to allow their ideas to gain hold and the large population of British students are among the most vulnerable to their approaches. University is both an enjoyable and stressful experience for most of us and the presence of groups that target students in this way can turn that stress into intimidation and fear. It is at this time when an organisation which can stand alongside students to help them challenge this behaviour, as well as highlight the dangers of those who propagate such ideologies, is most important.

Opposing these views on university campuses is one of the key ways in which academics and policy makers can both improve the lives of the student population and contribute towards the rejection of ideas which run counter to our values. The ways in which this should be done are manifest, yet by far the most vital are the development of links with those who feel most threatened, and the direct opposition of ideas on campuses.

By working closely with those students on the front-line an organisation like Student Rights can remain relevant in an environment whose members and groups change all the time. Creating alliances with those who are frequently targeted by extremists is important as it can raise awareness of what such groups face on campus, as well as provide a platform from which to challenge the ideas that they are threatened by. However, it is also clear that in order to fully challenge dangerous and unpleasant ideas we are able to engage with those who share them.

Campaigning against extremism on a simple no-platform ticket is something that needs to be used only in extreme cases. It is vital instead that rather than driving ideas underground and allowing individuals to gain notoriety and credibility by complaining of censorship we should encourage with all our ability the increase of openness and of fair debate. By highlighting the inconsistencies of thought and the unacceptability of sentiment in extremist ideologies we can be more effective than simply by standing on the sidelines.

To do this we will need to increase the numbers of events at which we have a presence, on the platform or in the audience. We must also demonstrate the fact the many of the extremists invited to speak on campus do so unopposed, and work hard to change a status-quo which enables the spread of misleading and malicious information. By following these two paths our ability to both challenge radical elements on university campuses and to highlight the intimidation felt by those who stand up to them will be greatly improved. It will take support from students on campus to make it complete though, so please get in touch with Student Rights if you feel you would like to help us.

Rupert Sutton is a Researcher at Student Rights