Big Debate: Is enough being done to tackle extremism on university campuses?

Theresa May's opponents fear her proposals will stifle free speech on campus (Pic by Dan Kitwood/ Ge

Theresa May's opponents fear her proposals will stifle free speech on campus (Pic by Dan Kitwood/ Getty Images) - Credit: Getty Images

This week we ask whether enough is being done to tackle extremism on university campuses?

Left, 2015 Lib Dem candidate David Thorpe and, right, Abdul Khan.

Left, 2015 Lib Dem candidate David Thorpe and, right, Abdul Khan. - Credit: Archant

With the Liberal Democrats no longer holding her back, Home Secretary Theresa May is taking on terrorism by resurrecting her 2014 anti-extremism bill. It was criticised at the time by her colleague Sajid Javid, now Secretary of State for Business, as stifling free speech. The bill outlines her intention to ban extremist speakers from university campuses. This week we ask: Is enough being done to tackle extremism on university campuses?

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Abdul Khan of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association

I am a Muslim by birth and a member of Ahmadiyya Muslim Association (AMA).

AMA has a track record of being a peaceful organisation across the globe and representative of true Islamic teachings.

I support every effort being made to counter terrorism in its all forms. However, I also accept that the presumption of innocence should be respected and there must not be any unreasonable limitations on freedom of expression.

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According to the holy Qur’an, the value of an innocent life is so high that if someone kills an innocent person, it is the same as killing the human race.

Therefore, it is a duty of people in authority to ensure that every innocent person has the best possible protection to live a peaceful life.

Anyone promoting goodness shall have no limits on his freedom of expression, but freedom of expression is limited for those who create disorder in the society as this is the most disgraceful act to be carried out.

The Qur’an says anyone who does so may be expelled from the land.

It also says that, in dealing with such matters, people in authority must not discriminate and let a people’s enmity incite them to act otherwise than with justice and they must not set punishments beyond what is deserved for any particular act.

Some have suggested the bill threatens free speech at universities, restricts academic freedom, and will make debate on unpopular issues difficult.

I don’t agree as having academic research and debate or discussion on issues like terrorism is different from committing, promoting or glorifying terrorism. And it is not difficult to see the difference.

According to the holy Qur’an, one should adopt anything which has more benefit than loss.

And I feel that, in adopting the bill, there are more benefits than loss. I fully support the bill, as it does not stifle freedom of expression for good.

David Thorpe, 2015’s East Ham Lib Dem candidate

No government can be said to be doing its job if it cannot protect the citizens it has been elected to serve.

But neither can any government claim to be serving its citizens properly if it restricts their right to be curious and challenge the world in which they live.

The problem with the legislation Theresa May is proposing to resuscitate now that the Conservatives govern alone and cannot be prevented from implementing it, as it was in the last by the Liberal Democrats, is that it serves neither to reduce the threat of terrorism to the citizens of Newham, nor to protect the “British values” that underscore her rhetoric on the issue.

By restricting the rights of universities to invite speakers who represent “extreme views”, the government will simply add to the mystique and allure of such characters.

Students have always been attracted to rebellion. The more a viewpoint is proscribed by a government, the more likely it is teenagers will be drawn to those views,.

Rather than accessing those views in the academic, open atmosphere of a university, students will find other ways.

For any students vulnerable to exploitation, those less mainstream channels for hearing extreme views could lead to genuine danger.

But perhaps the biggest reason to object to the Tory plans is that, quite simply, they are un-British.

This country has achieved a place of genuine eminence in the cultural, economic and intellectual development of the world.

That prominence is a consequence of the free thinking of its populace, from the liberals Adam Smith and David Hume, to the socialist Karl Marx and the ability of those great minds to test and challenge orthodoxies.

Once a brake is put on those freedoms for one person or group, every other group and individual, whatever their politics, is immediately less free.