Muslim students are avoiding participation in politics for fear of being labelled extremist, according to the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS). The organisation, which represents nearly half a million Muslim students in the UK, issued their warning before the details of the Queen’s speech were announced on 18th May.
While the Counter Extremism and Safeguarding Bill outlined in the Queen’s speech did not include previously reported plans for the creation of an anti-extremism register accessible to employers, FOSIS’s Vice President, Yusuf Hassan, stated UK law in general still risks criminalising Muslim students. Hassan argued while the Queen’s speech may have been “watered down”, his organisation is still concerned by “a wider narrative to restrict engagement with political discourse”.
The Government’s anti-extremism ‘Prevent’ strategy already requires public bodies such as the General Medical Organisation to communicate to its members “the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. Muslim students training to be doctors or nurses are said to be the most constrained by government policies to tackle Islamic extremism, fearing jeopardising their careers if they get involved with campaigns that appear sympathetic to Islam.
The president of a London university’s Islamic society told the Middle East Eye that Muslims studying medicine or nursing are “already concerned about being written up by the General Medical Council (GMC) for doing anything political”.
Critics of the government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy have suggested Muslim students are especially cautious owing to the absence of any precise definition of what extremism is. Hassan said, “the vague nature of what constitutes extremism is forcing Muslim students to police themselves” on their campuses.
In April, in what many have called a sign of organised dissent against the government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy, the National Union of Students elected as president Malia Bouattia, a prolific organiser of their ‘Students not Suspects’ campaign. Concerns about the ostracising potential of government anti-extremism policies have also been expressed by teachers in primary and secondary education. In March, the National Union of Teachers warned the strategy would cause “suspicion in the classroom and confusion in the staffroom”.
The government, however, has previously justified its line of action as necessary to prevent young people becoming radicalised, with Jo Johnson, the Higher Education minister, stating universities were an “important arena for challenging extremist views”.