Written by Student Rights on 9 June 2016 at 11am

Students Not Suspects Conference: Campaigning with Extremists

Founded last summer, the 'Students Not Suspects' campaign has now spent an academic year working to undermine Prevent, the government’s counter-radicalisation strategy, on university campuses.

While students should of course be free to oppose and challenge policy, Student Rights has repeatedly criticised the campaign, which is led by high profile National Union of Students (NUS) officers, for working alongside extremist groups.

In particular, the campaign has allied itself with the pro-terrorist group CAGE, with CAGE Outreach Director Moazzam Begg campaigning alongside NUS President-elect Malia Bouattia on numerous occasions during the past year.

Despite the negative publicity Begg has attracted to the cause, 'Students Not Suspects' has continued to work alongside him, and has even defended CAGE against justified criticism.

Last Saturday was no exception, as Begg was warmly welcomed onto the stage at the 'Students Not Suspects' national conference held at Goldsmiths College and attended by Student Rights.

Hannah Dee, a leading figure in 'Students Not Suspects', introduced Begg by criticising attempts to make him “persona non grata and declaring:

“I’m absolutely proud to be sharing a platform with Moazzam Begg”

This praise was met with a huge round of applause despite Begg's concession he travelled to Syria to train fighters in 2012-13 and his recent praise of men convicted of fighting for an Al-Qaeda-linked group, as well as his past links to violent extremism; admitting to having visited militant training camps on the Afghan-Pakistan border and fighting in Bosnia in the 1990s.

Dee also lamented the “disgusting islamophobic witch-hunt against really important organisations like CAGE [and] the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) who she praised for playing a “vital role” in the campaign against Prevent.

This attempt to smear any criticism of these groups as anti-Muslim is quite astonishing, especially as both of the organisations have long and well-documented records of defending convicted terrorists.

CAGE’s pro-terrorist views have included supporting Munir Farooqi, convicted of soliciting to murder; Djamel Beghal, convicted over a plot to bomb US targets in Paris in 2001; and Nizar Trabelsi, jailed for planning a suicide attack in Belgium.

The IHRC, meanwhile, has campaigned on behalf of Omar Abdel-Rahman, convicted of conspiracy to murder, and Dr Aafia Siddiqui, an Al-Qaeda associate convicted of attempted murder.

As recently as June 2015, meanwhile, the IHRC published an action alert and message from Mufid Abdulqader, convicted of conspiracy to provide material support and goods to a terrorist organisation in the US in 2009.

Given this clear history of support for convicted terrorists, the fact 'Students not Suspects' works alongside CAGE and the IHRC demonstrates the campaign's lack of credibility on counter-extremism issues.

As well as giving a platform to their speakers, the organisers also allowed CAGE a stall outside the main conference room where it could promote its latest fundraising efforts, while the IHRC distributed their 2016 newsletter, which lead with “Challenging the Zionist Prevent Agenda”.

This included false claims, such as that opposing homosexuality would see people referred to the police, and drew on antisemitic tropes of Jewish influence in calling Prevent "Zionist" and claiming it "is predicated on the Zionist/neo-con trope that Islam is the primary cause of terrorism". 

The IHRC's use of such tropes, including its recent claim the suspensions of Naz Shah MP and Ken Livingstone from the Labour party were "in the service of a pro-Israel agenda" should raise further concerns about 'Students not Suspects' willingness to campaign with them, as should the presence of Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA) at the conference. 

FOA, which distributed literature and 'Free Palestine' badges at the conference, has a record of publishing writers with a history of antisemitic views such as Israel Shamir and the Holocaust denier Paul Eisen.

The group’s founder, Ismail Patel, has also said of the proscribed terrorist group Hamas: “Hamas is no terrorist organization...we salute Hamas for standing up to Israel”.

While university staff and students’ concerns about Prevent must be heard and listened to, those working with groups like CAGE and the IHRC to undermine the strategy simply cannot be taken seriously. 

Here at Student Rights, we will continue to highlight the 'Students not Suspects' campaign's associations with extreme or intolerant groups, something which will likely continue into the 2016-17 academic year.