A review of policy on radicalisation will call upon university and college lecturers to monitor radical students, according to the BBC. Of particular concern are students who might be vulnerable from radical groups trying to recruit them (no doubt the TNG will soon be under investigation). Lecturers would be encouraged to monitor course work for signs of extremism. It is as yet unclear what the detailed recommendations will say. The Radicalisation Review, chaired by LibDem Lord Carlile, will probably be published in May. The report is aimed at Islamist extremism.
The state telling lecturers to spy or to police the beliefs of their students should be fought tooth and nail by every freedom loving individual on four grounds:
1. This is clearly a free speech issue. Democracy and freedom can only survive if unfettered free speech is allowed. Outlawing or persecuting radical views will only result in those going underground (and becoming more exciting and cool as a result). Freedom can win from anti-freedom extremism in every open debate. Take for example the infamous Phelps family. Under the name of the Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps and his family have picketed all sorts of events for many years – including veterans’ funerals – with a message of hate towards gays. Seeing them in action is cringe worthy and makes you feel ashamed to be a human like them. But the fact that they are allowed freely to express their views shows the whole world what plonkers they are and how bigoted and hateful their views are. Freedom wins: as a reaction against Phelps, more tolerance towards gays will result.
Reducing freedom of speech by outlawing or persecuting specific views is either lazy (not bothering to make the counter-argument in free and open debate), or defeatist. As Voltaire said: “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it”.
2. If we change our way of life, the extremists win. We should never suspend any form of freedom under pressure from extremists or terrorists. Freedom is our main selling point. It is why we can always win from them. I don’t want to smother you with quotes, but can’t resist another one: “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither” (Benjamin Franklin).
3. A thought should never be a crime. A thought, including when it’s expressed in speech, harms nobody. It is only when the thinker or speaker or the audience acts upon it that it can become a crime against other individuals. The police and the judicial system deal with criminal acts.
4. Give students a break. University is the time when many are attracted to this or that form of extremism. Later, we sometimes regret it – but that’s part of the learning process. With views unfettered by social fear students are often at the vanguard of new and exciting change. Students are the first to stand on the barricades. Recently students were the first to oppose the tyrannies in the Middle East. Renewal seldom comes from those with a mortgage, 2.1 kids, a steady job and a semi (nothing wrong with those characteristics, of course).
Let’s leave the spying to MI5.