By Michael Wilson and Anna Darey – News Editor & Chief News Reporter
The Counter Terrorism and Security Act, passed in February by Parliament, gave local authorities new powers to prevent people being radicalised into supporting or committing acts of terrorism.
Lancashire County Council is among other authorities throughout the country that have been tasked with preparing mechanisms to fulfil their obligations under the act. New initiatives being considered are the training of local government staff in the identification of radicalization, and also a programme to estimate how many people are ‘at risk’ of being radicalised, or being actively or passively involved with Terrorist Acts.
Cllr. Peter Rankin, Leader of Preston City Council, identified the ‘clear’ need for this programme to be implemented correctly in the local area. “Across Lancashire, the police and local councils work closely together to identify any possible threat from terrorism or extremism”, said Cllr. Rankin, “Essentially, it’s about working with local communities to be on the lookout for people who may have or may be susceptible to taking extremist views – as a community we have to be aware and vigilant about this.”
The Council Cabinet discussed this issue at a recent meeting, and decided to implement the new proposals, and guarantee Council agencies actuate them effectively. One of the most high profile new additions is a referral system, that has been set up to allow individuals to refer children and adults who they are concerned may fall into the ‘at risk’ category. Cllr. Rankin refers to the system as “robust”, and guarantees that local authorities will not provide any support for extremists and those who support and fund them.
There is, however, some opposition to the government’s changes. Critics say that the reforms unfairly target Muslims and people of non-white ethnicity. There have also been allegations of unfair treatment of students by their universities. Under provisions of the act, public bodies and specified authorities (education institutions), are legally required to ‘prevent people being drawn into terrorism’, and have a duty to report individuals who are suspected of being involved with, or sympathetic to, terrorism. This has led to instances of Muslim students at universities being marked ‘at risk of radicalisation’ and interviewed without legal representation by university security officials for simply taking an interest in political affairs or for observing their religion more closely. One of the most distinctive incidents involved a non-white MA Terrorist Studies student, who was arrested and threatened with academic suspension for reading a book on terrorism in his university’s library.
The National Union of Students (NUS) and University and Colleges Union (UCU) have both passed motions at their conferences opposing the Act and the whole Prevent strategy. Tasmia Salim, UCLan SU Education Officer, has taken the lead on the SU response to this, by proposing a motion on student voice to boycott prevent. Tasmia wasn’t available for comment, but another leading student representative was able to speak to Pluto. “I disagree with the motion (on the UCLan SU website)”, they said, “this isn’t an issue we can avoid as we have a legal obligation to comply with Prevent, and I think we should instead be trying to work with the university on a positive response rather than trying to boycott it”.