Academics and politicians in Lewisham have expressed concerns over key provisions of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill which passed its third reading this week.
The bill intends to counter the threat posed by Britons who affiliate with the Islamic State or Isis and it places a statutory obligation on public bodies, including academic institutions, to monitor and prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism in the UK.
In particular, the bill places a statutory duty on schools and colleges to ban “extremist speakers” from campus and put policies in place to identify radical persons on campus and to refer them to support or the authorities.
However, the bill fails to define what “extremist” ideas and speakers are. There are concerns that the bill – in its lack of defining “terror” – will lead to the “ethnic profiling” of Muslims in Briton.
A spokesperson from CAGE, an advocacy organisation for communities impacted by the War on Terror, said: “The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill 2014 presents itself as being the single most intrusive piece of legislation in the lives of communities across the UK. By placing a requirement on public sector services to police those under their duty of care, an alternative system of criminalisation is being established.”
“The public sector must respond to these developments, otherwise they risk potentially alienating their services from many who will become fearful of being misunderstood.”
Howard Littler president of the Student Union of Goldsmiths, University of London in New Cross said: “I think this sort of thing inevitably ends up in the government targeting minority groups as has happened in the past. Our fundamental stance, which I hope the university will support as well, is that students aren’t suspects and shouldn’t be spied on.”
Tom Henri, lecturer at the Department of Social, Therapeutic and Community studies at Goldsmiths dubbed the bill dangerous because it “empowers the Home Secretary to control if and how differing opinions are expressed on campus.”
Labour MP for Lewisham East Heidi Alexander added that she supports the principle of the counter-terrorism bill but the details need to be “scrutinised very carefully.”
Alexander said: “While there is no quick fix to tackling the radicalisation of British youth, more can and should be done to stop the escalation of violence abroad and to keep our country safe back home.”
“We need strong powers to deal with the threat of terrorism but such powers should always proportionate and accompanied by equally strong checks and balances”.