Home Office accuses UK Muslim student group of acting 'dangerously and irresponsibly'

Federation of Student Islamic Societies plans to host anti-counter-extremism university tour

The Home Office has criticised a student group that is hosting a tour of controversial speakers at universities across the UK. AFP
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A British Muslim student group has been accused of acting “dangerously and irresponsibly” by the government for hosting an anti-counter-extremism university tour.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis) is hosting a tour of seven universities, including three Russell Group institutions, with groups that have previously been accused of undermining the UK’s counter-extremism strategy: Cage, Mend and Prevent Watch.

Fosis — which was created by the man who also founded the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Iraq — announced the tour, which is due to start on Friday at Strathclyde University, on Twitter.

The post advertises speakers from Cage — including former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg — Prevent Watch and Mend. UK think tank Policy Exchange has said these organisations have “sought to undermine Prevent and counter-extremism efforts”.

The Prevent policy was introduced in 2003 but expanded after the attacks on the London transport network on July 7, 2005, in which 52 people were killed.

It is one part of a four-pronged strategy designed to stop people from being drawn into terrorism and has been strengthened by successive governments, now requiring schools, universities, councils and hospitals to flag concerns over suspected cases of radicalisation.

The student group — which has previously called for the “complete abolition” of the government's anti-radicalisation Prevent programme, claiming it is “toxic” — is hosting the tour at Coventry University, Imperial College London (ICL), London City University, Dublin City University, Bristol University, Bradford University and Strathclyde University.

“Organisations that undermine the Prevent programme in this way are irresponsible and dangerous, particularly when they offer no credible alternative,” the Home Office told The National.

“They are eroding the trust that is required for susceptible people to receive the support they need and diminishing the brilliant work of dedicated professionals, who work tirelessly within communities to keep them safe from extremism.”

Tweets from the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, which is holding a UK university tour with groups accused of undermining the UK’s counterextremism strategy. Photo: Twitter

Charlotte Littlewood, a former Prevent practitioner and counter-terrorism expert at the Henry Jackson Society, has labelled Fosis “abhorrent” for hosting the tour.

“With a legal duty to safeguard students from being drawn into terrorism, it is abhorrent that groups who make it their priority to undermine such work are able to hold talks in universities with seemingly no counterbalancing organisations to debate their pernicious narrative,” she said.

“In 2015, Fosis's vice president of student affairs, Ibrahim Ali, whilst celebrating the work of Cage, declared that 'Prevent in itself is a racist agenda; it’s an Islamophobic agenda'.

“Claims are built on demonstrably false or exaggerated 'case studies' and raise the question why would they want to disrupt work that sets out to prevent radicalisation?

Tweets from the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, which is holding a UK university tour with groups accused of undermining the UK’s counterextremism strategy. Photo: Twitter

“The disingenuous ‘Preventing Prevent’ campaign creates a greater sense of victimhood and otherness among Muslims, again creating a greater vulnerability to radicalisation.”

Strathclyde and ICL said Fosis has not asked permission for the talks and Bradford has suspended the tour pending further investigation.

“As with all University of Bradford events, the speaker and format for the proposed 30 November event were assessed — in this case on the understanding that there would be only one speaker — and enquiries revealed no concerns,” a representative for Bradford University said.

“As the university has since learnt that there will be multiple speakers at the event, which is part of a wider series, the event is being reassessed. The event will not go ahead until the assessment is concluded and unless approval to proceed is given.”

The tweet of the full tour had been deleted after The National contacted the universities and the Home Office.

Fosis has not responded to The National's request for comment.

In April, think tank Policy Exchange published a report urging the British government to stop all funding of two of the groups listed in the tour — Cage and Mend — over their campaigning against the government's Prevent anti-radicalisation programme.

The report, “Delegitimising Counter-Terrorism: the Activist Campaign to Demonise Prevent”, was led by Sir John Jenkins, who played an active role in Sir John Chilcott’s Iraq Inquiry and was previously asked by Mr Cameron in March 2014 to lead a policy review into the Muslim Brotherhood, called for the government to strip the funding of organisations that are spreading “false narratives” about its strategy.

It cited the publication of a 2021 statement by Mend boycotting the Prevent review signed by Cage and 15 other groups.

Sara Khan, the government's former commissioner for countering extremism, has previously called Mend a “divisive organisation where some of whose staff had engaged in hate”.

In 2017, a report accused Mend of “promoting extremism”.

In April, Cage was labelled a group composed of “Islamist militants” by the French government's anti-radicalisation body.

The Interministerial Committee for the Prevention of Delinquency and Radicalisation published nine tweets accusing Cage of conducting a “smear campaign” against France.

In April, France accused Cage of supporting the killing of French teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded by an extremist. AP

The committee also accused Cage of supporting the killing of French teacher Samuel Paty, who was beheaded by an extremist.

In 2015, Cage drew controversy when its research director described Mohammed Emwazi, who beheaded western hostages in Syria and made propaganda videos of the killings, as a “beautiful young man”. Emwazi had been in contact with Cage before he went to Syria.

Updated: November 18, 2022, 5:00 AM