Article
Written by Student Rights on 20 November 2013 at 2pm

Huffington Post UK: The Police Must Change Student Perceptions if They Are to Challenge Extremism

By Rupert Sutton

20th November 2013

The news that a police officer had been recorded trying to persuade a political activist to report on student protests has led to outrage, and has further damaged the reputation of the police on campus.

Seeking information on protests which can lead to civil unrest is within the public interest, yet attempting to recruit activists to inform on students is intrusive and was only ever likely to backfire.

Whilst such information may provide some value in local policing, botched approaches like this damage the ability of the government to challenge the real threat, radicalisation on our campuses.

The perception that the Prevent Strategy, which deals with this issue, exists to spy on students is already widespread, and stories of attempted recruitment of Muslim students by MI5 thrive in this atmosphere despite a lack of evidence.

There have also been several incidents which have almost seemed designed to alienate the student body in their heavy-handedness.

These include the request for details of all members of the UCL Islamic Society following the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by former student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and the wrongful arrest and detention of University of Nottingham student Rizwaan Sabir for downloading an Al-Qaeda training manual.

As a result, there is often a reticence to engage with the police, and some students have even sought to prevent the police from operating on campus, with officers barred from union buildings at the Universities of Birmingham and Staffordshire in the past.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has also actively criticised the Prevent Strategy, declaring in a motion passed in 2012 that it would:

"...stand in solidarity with those negatively affected by Prevent, by broadly opposing the Prevent narrative and condemning any specific local implementation that threatens the rights of our members".

With this negative perception of counter-extremism policing, it is extremely difficult for the authorities to effectively engage students and their universities with policies which seek to challenge extremism.

Indeed, in some cases it is clear that students are attempting to undermine Prevent, with a 'Preventing Prevent' fringe held at the Federation of Student Islamic Societies Annual Conference this year.

Until the police are able to challenge current perceptions of them on campus, the Prevent Strategy will continue to be opposed like this, with work to understand and document student grievances as a way to begin this process something that Student Rights plans for 2014.

In the meantime, the news that University of London Union (ULU) President Michael Chessum was arrested last week for holding an unauthorised protest suggests that this perception is also only likely to get worse.

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