Students at the University of Westminster’s Islamic and Palestine Societies have held a week-long series of events to protest against anti-Muslim discrimination.
The students say the university authorities are restricting their freedom of speech through their implementation of the Prevent counter terrorism strategy.
Among their demands are that the university:
- Stops discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or political opinions.
- Upholds freedom of speech.
- Dismisses the Interfaith Advisor, Yusuf Kaplan.
The students say the university is not holding other student societies to the same standard of scrutiny when it comes to hosting events. In the past the University of Westminster has approved Katie Hopkins as a speaker.
The government’s Prevent strategy obliges public sector officials to look out for the so-called “signs of radicalisation.” In practise this means that a disproportionate number of Muslims are being referred to the counter terror authorities by schools, hospitals and other public sector institutions, often on mere suspicion alone.
In universities – which are supposed to be bastions of free speech – Prevent has had a chilling effect. At the University of Westminster the Islamic and Palestine Societies say they are unable to operate freely because their events and speakers are being restricted.
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On Friday around 50 students protested outside several of the university’s London campuses. They then made their way to the state broadcaster the BBC, which they say isn’t giving a platform to the voice of the Muslim grassroots.
Malia Bouattia, the ex President of the National Union of Students, said: “Whilst we are constantly told that Prevent is about security, Muslims and Palestine activists in particular are being accused of terrorist activity or inciting forms of violence simply for attempting to hold the government to account.”
Other students at the demonstration voiced similar concerns.
One said: “Today we are calling for an end to systematic discrimination against certain people who hold certain political opinions, especially ethnic minorities and religious minorities. The university has strict policies against them and it’s discriminatory so we are basically calling for freedom of speech.”
Another student added: “As a result of the Prevent strategy universities including my own are seeking to prevent dissent against Israeli policies including the Occupation.”
The University of Westminster says it is striking a fine balance between the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism, ensuring freedom of speech and protecting academic freedom.