Roots of violent radicalisation - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Annex C: Note of SOAS meeting

We met with around 15 students from SOAS, including the Student Union officers, on 6 December 2011 to discuss radicalisation at British universities and student responses to the Prevent Strategy. A summary of the main issues raised follows.

Drivers of radicalisation

  • Young Muslims were disenfranchised from mainstream culture. Although the UK was less anti-Muslim than most other Western countries, Islamophobia was growing, with David Cameron's speech on multiculturalism in Munich a turning point.
  • Individuals did not behave in a vacuum—disenfranchisement was also driven by the closure of youth services and a feeling that Muslims were disproportionately targeted by police during legal protests, for example.
  • There was a link between radicalisation and UK foreign policy.
  • Radicalisation was linked to individual vulnerabilities, and could be countered through the development of critical analytical skills.
  • Radicalisation took place behind closed doors, with the internet playing a large role.

Scale of radicalisation at university

  • Universities were not a major forum for radicalisation. Muslims students had not encountered anyone supporting terrorism at Islamic societies or elsewhere at university.
  • The statistic that around 30% of terrorist offenders attended university should not be used on its own to imply cause and effect between university attendance and support for terrorism.
  • Extremist preachers were a "novelty" for Muslim youth, which had now largely worn off, particularly since people had been killed. Radicalisation had decreased as a result.
  • To the extent that there was a problem, it was in London and linked to the fact that universities provided "free space" whose use was difficult to regulate.

Attitudes towards Prevent

  • Many students were unhappy with the definitions of radicalisation and extremism and the negative connotation given to the word radical in the Prevent Strategy.
  • The perception was that Prevent was clearly targeted at Muslims, which would lead to further radicalisation.
  • Universities were places of challenge for extremist ideology and should be defended as such. Community cohesion occurred through discussions between groups with conflicting ideas.
  • Students Unions distrusted Prevent because it appeared to deal with the symptoms rather than the causes of radicalisation. It was viewed as a sophisticated intelligence-gathering structure.
  • SOAS Student Union had never been approached by Prevent police officers but believed this practice was counter-productive.

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Prepared 6 February 2012