The British Academy is calling for aspects of government policy to be reconsidered in response to the ‘Prevent Duty’ open consultation.
This consultation seeks views on the draft guidance to be issued under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, for specified authorities to have due regard to the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism.
In its response, the British Academy states that it is entirely appropriate that the UK government should seek to do all it reasonably can to prevent people from being drawn into terrorist activity, and fully supports that protective goal. However, the Academy argues that some of the current recommendations seem potentially counter-productive in relation to higher education. The Academy highlights three main problems with the current recommendations:
1. The suggestions about events featuring speakers and public debate seem potentially unhelpful, as university settings can offer one of the few places in which those who espouse extreme views might be challenged in a calm, interrogative manner. To insist that any speaker must provide prior presentations and detailed contents for their talks, in order that they be assessed beforehand, will make Universities far less likely to be able to host the kind of events which have, on occasions in the past, been fruitful in rationally challenging the views of those who advocate violence.
2. There is considerable debate about whether it is right to assume that the expression of non-violent extremism is something to be monitored because it might encourage terrorism. Some within government service itself (not least within the setting which has produced the most sustained UK terrorism to date, Northern Ireland) hold the view that the encouragement of non-violent articulation of extreme political views can in fact work as an insulation for some people against involvement in terrorist violence. To seem to blur the distinction between violent and non-violent political views might, in practice, risk pushing exponents of the latter more probably towards the former.
3. The many bureaucratic requirements are likely to have the practical effect of discouraging academics and students alike from sustaining open and fruitful political debate on issues of high importance. They would also damage the reputation currently enjoyed by UK universities as places where open debate can be had without fear or favour.