Student leader rules out link-up with advocacy group Cage

Megan Dunn

The president of the National Union of Students has emphatically ruled out working with the controversial advocacy group, Cage, which has opposed counter-terrorism legislation.

“I will not work with Cage, the NUS will not be working with Cage and there will be no NUS resources used to work with Cage,” said Megan Dunn.

The NUS had been criticised by David Cameron for “allying” with Cage.

Cage has argued counter-terror policy threatens “freedom of expression”.

The NUS president said she wanted to stop a “lack of clarity” over the relationship between the students’ union and the organisation.

Ms Dunn said the NUS was still strongly committed to opposing the government’s approach to tackling extremism on campus – but any campaign would have no connection with Cage.

Cage describes itself as “an independent organisation working to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror”.

It has criticised counter-extremism policy as creating “unprecedented levels of censorship and self-censorship of Muslim opinion”.

But Ms Dunn said she believed working with Cage would not be compatible with the NUS’s policies on “anti-racism, anti-fascism and how we define anti-semitism”.

Cage spokesman, Ibrahim Mohamoud, said: “We support the NUS’s opposition to Prevent, but we disagree strongly with Megan Dunn’s assertions about Cage.

“Islamophobia is the new racism and buying into this narrative is simply unacceptable,” said Mr Mohamoud.

Campus extremism

The NUS president was responding to criticism by Prime Minister David Cameron in a speech on tackling extremism.

“I want to say something to the National Union of Students. When you choose to ally yourselves with an organisation like Cage, which called Jihadi John a “beautiful young man” and told people to “support the jihad” in Iraq and Afghanistan, it really does, in my opinion, shame your organisation and your noble history of campaigning for justice,” said Mr Cameron.

Cage has said it “does not support terrorism in any form”.

The prime minister’s comments followed a motion passed by the NUS annual conference in April which had agreed to campaign against the government’s counter-extremism Prevent strategy alongside Cage.

However the NUS president is now making it clear this will not happen.

Ms Dunn accused the prime minister of “grandstanding” and wanting to stop the NUS raising legitimate concerns about the impact of counter-extremism policy in universities.

‘Counter-productive’

This term saw new legal duties put on universities to stop radicalisation on campus.

But student leaders argue that it will be counter-productive and make vulnerable students feel that they cannot talk to staff in confidence.

Ms Dunn says that universities are uncertain on what is meant by extremism and that free speech would be limited on campus.

A postgraduate student in Staffordshire University studying counter-terrorism received an apology from the university after concerns had been raised when he was seen reading a book called Terrorism Studies.

“The NUS is against terrorism, that’s never been in question,” said Ms Dunn.

“But government needs to look at the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act and see that there are consequences to this act that are hugely damaging – and they need to look at it again.

“The NUS and the education sector would be more than willing to engage in a conversation about keeping our campuses safe.”

The government’s Extremism Analysis Unit says that last year there were at least 70 events in universities where “hate speakers” had appeared.

And it says that a number of people who had committed terror-related offences or travelled to fight in Syria had studied at UK universities.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson wrote to the NUS in September, saying: “Universities represent an important arena for challenging extremist views.

“It is important there can be active challenge and debate on issues relating to counter terrorism and provisions for academic freedom are part of the Prevent guidance for universities and colleges.”

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