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Anti-terror scheme 'reinforcing stereotypes of Muslims'

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A leading Leicester imam has welcomed a new report calling for the anti-terrorism scheme Prevent to be scrapped at universities.

Prevent was set up by the Home Office in response to the 2005 terror attacks in London, and the aim was to stop vulnerable people being turned into terrorists by radicals.

Part of the scheme has involved monitoring university campuses to watch out for people at risk of being radicalised.

Now, however, academics from around England have carried out a survey of students and concluded the Prevent scheme should be scrapped.

That decision has been welcomed by Ibrahim Mogra, a leading Leicester imam who works with the University of Leicester supporting Muslim students.

The authors of the new report, which was led by the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, concluded Prevent encouraged “a culture of mutual suspicion and surveillance” and “reinforced negative stereotypes of Muslims”.

They also accused it of failing in its aim to help students avoid being radicalised.

Mr Mogra, speaking during an online panel discussion about the report yesterday, said: "I wish to thank those that produced the report for helping make my resolve not to support Prevent even stronger.

“I feel it has wholesale stigmatised an entire faith community.

"We have Muslims who have done horrible things but when Islam as a religion is made to look like a negative presence on university campuses it is very worrying.”

Mr Mogra, who sits on the University of Leicester's faith advisory group, said one risk was that Prevent encouraged Muslims to “dilute the practice of their faith” and avoid expressing their beliefs, which could have a “bad effect on their spiritual wellbeing and mental wellbeing".

He said: "As a chaplain, I would want to see students bring their own selves to university."

The project included a national survey of 2,022 students across 132 UK universities. In addition, interviews and focus groups were conducted with 253 staff and students at six higher education institutions, including four universities and two Muslim colleges of Higher Education.

Other findings included:

  • A quarter of all students got most of their information about Islam from TV, newspapers, magazines, news websites and social media.
  • Only about 70 per cent of students agreed that Muslims have made a valuable contribution to British life
  • Around a fifth of the students asked – which included Muslims - believed Islam was incompatible with British values.

In its conclusion, the report states: “We believe there is a strong argument for Prevent to be discontinued in its current form.

“The evident damage this programme has done to university life clearly calls for a rethink at the policy level.

“Prevent has caused significant harm by reinforcing common stereotypes of Islam and Muslims and by curbing freedoms of speech and expression on campus.

“Within the cultural imagination, including on campus, a close link between Muslims, radicalisation and terrorism is already firmly embedded.”

The Prevent scheme on university campuses is operated by the Department for Education.

A spokesperson said: “The Government is committed to strengthening academic freedom and free speech in universities, so that they are places where debate thrives.

“Universities are required by law to uphold freedom of speech, allowing academics, students and visiting speakers to challenge ideas and discuss controversial subjects. The Prevent duty explicitly requires this.”

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