Students Right report on Government's counter-terrorism scheme 'fuels Islamophobia' and 'limits free speech' on UK campuses, says Cage

CAGE director says report is 'biased' by implying being a Muslim student at a UK university during extremist talks 'may be a cause of radicalisation'

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The Independent Online

The organisation that claimed the Isis executioner “Jihadi John” was radicalised after coming into contact with the British security services has accused a student rights group of releasing a report that aims to limit free speech and thought on campuses.

The organisation that claimed the Isis executioner “Jihadi John” was radicalised after coming into contact with the British security services has accused a student rights group of releasing a report that aims to limit free speech and thought on campuses.

Cage, a UK-based advocacy organisation with a focus on Islamic issues, has accused Student Rights of “fuelling Islamophobia” in its latest report on the Government’s counter-radicalisation strategy, Prevent.

In the report, Student Rights says Prevent is being held back from functioning effectively due to widespread student opposition, despite significant concerns about on-campus extremism.

The group says it has recorded more than 100 on-campus events each year since 2012 which have hosted speakers with extreme views or a history of involvement with extremist organisations.

It says that a number of those convicted of terrorist offences had previously passed through Britain’s higher education institutions.

The report is highly critical of Cage, and says the advocacy group has accused the government’s Prevent strategy of having a “racist” and “Islamophobic agenda”.

It also accuses Cage of using “language and strategy used by extremists to deflect and silence criticism of its activities”.

Cage’s director, Dr Adnan Siddiqui, claims there is no evidence of convicted terrorists subsequently attending university events and argues that Student Rights’ report is wrong to suggest a correlation between events taking place at university and terrorism.

He added: “The data used in the report is completely inadequate to even make a judgement regarding correlation and nothing links the two besides innuendo.

“The report rather implies that simply being a Muslim student at a UK university while these events are held may be a cause of radicalisation – an assumption that, in itself, is biased.”

Dr Siddiqui argues that British universities have a tradition of hosting speakers who were deemed ‘extremist’ in their time and said the airing of views that run contrary to the mainstream is necessary for society to establish the truth.

Rupert Sutton, a director of Student Rights and the author of the findings, said extremism on university campuses remained a serious issue: “It is vital that the Government works to increase support for those challenging extremist narratives about Prevent and that any guidance for university staff addresses fears driven by these narratives.”

A Student Rights spokesperson told The Independent that CAGE’s remarks about the report were “a perfect illustration of the problem faced by anyone seeking to challenge extremism on our campuses.”

“This report is the most thorough examination of the serious problems faced by universities, the gravity of which has been acknowledged by the Prime Minister as recently as last week.”

Cage, which says that it helps communities of those affected by the war on terror, has been criticised in the past.

The group sparked controversy earlier this year when its research director Asim Qureshi, described Mohammed Emwazi, who had been alleged to be Jihadi John, as having been an “extremely gentle, kind” and “beautiful young man” and that it was difficult to believe he could be the Isis executioner.

Mr Qureshi later said his comments were “not about sticking up for” Emwazi.

Last week, the High Court ruled that the Charity Commission will face a judicial review after it allegedly acted outside its powers by seeking assurances from two charities - the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) and the Roddick Foundation - that they would rule out any future funding of Cage. The two charities were not at that time funding Cage; they had done so previously, and the Charity Commission had asked them to give a commitment that they would never do so again, regardless of any future changing circumstances.

Students Rights, which was launched in 2009 with the stated aim of tackling extremism on university campuses, has links with the Henry Jackson Society, whose associate director Douglas Murray infamously remarked that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”.

In May 2014, the National Union of Students (NUS) passed a motion condemning the activities of Student Rights.

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