1st Edition

Freedom of Speech in Universities Islam, Charities and Counter-terrorism

By Alison Scott-Baumann, Simon Perfect Copyright 2021
    150 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    150 Pages 2 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

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    Freedom of speech and extremism in university campuses are major sources of debate and moral panic in the United Kingdom today. In 2018, the Joint Committee on Human Rights in Parliament undertook an inquiry into freedom of speech on campus. It found that much of the public concern is exaggerated, but identified a number of factors that require attention, including the impact of government counter-terrorism measures (the Prevent Duty) and regulatory bodies (including the Charity Commission for England and Wales) on freedom of speech.

    This book combines empirical research and philosophical analysis to explore these issues, with a particular focus on the impact upon Muslim students and staff. It offers a new conceptual paradigm for thinking about freedom of speech, based on deliberative democracy, and practical suggestions for universities in handling it.

    Topics covered include

    • The enduring legacy of key thinkers who have shaped the debate about freedom of speech

    • The role of right-wing populism in driving moral panic about universities

    • The impact of the Prevent Duty and the Charity Commission upon Muslim students, students’ unions and university managers

    • Students’ and staff views about freedom of speech

    • Alternative approaches to handling freedom of speech on campus, including the Community of Inquiry

    This highly engaging and topical text will be of interest to those working within public policy, religion and education or religion and politics and Islamic Studies.

    1. Freedom of speech: understanding the ideas

    2. Populism, freedom of speech and human rights

    3. The Prevent Duty and the views of university Prevent Leads

    4. External agitators and students’ views about freedom of speech and Prevent

    5. Charity law, political activism and speaking freely in students’ unions

    6. The Charity Commission’s interventions in students’ unions

    7. Improving conversations about difficult topics


    Alison Scott-Baumann is Professor of Society and Belief at the School of Oriental and African Studies, UK.

    Simon Perfect is a researcher and tutor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, UK.

    "This important book is both timely and necessary. Freedom of Speech in Universities is a very thoughtful and incisive response to the manufactured panic about free speech in universities and the supposed restrictions on right-wing self-expression. As Scott-Baumann and Perfect show, academic freedom is best thought of as a condition for testing arguments and a means by which we learn from others. Instead, it has become a weapon through which to attack the speech of others. The advocates of academic freedom are happy to decry the idea of Islamophobia, while supporting increasingly restrictive measures against Muslim self-expression as potentially extremist."

    John Holmwood, University of Nottingham, UK

    "Despite vast internal differences over the centuries, advocates of participatory democracy have always agreed on one point: education plays a decisive role in promoting an active citizenry. The university is, or should be, an educational establishment but also a vibrant community. It is, or should be, an exemplary democracy within a democracy. In this book Alison Scott-Baumann and Simon Perfect probe the problems but also the possibilities that arise around that mission. Drawing upon ongoing controversies regarding such matters as hate speech and identity politics, the authors show how the status of free speech within higher education crucially mirrors its status within the broader society."

    Eric Heinze, Queen Mary University of London, UK.

    "This book is a cogent and timely intervention that invites the Higher Education sector, and British society at large, to recognise how necessary it is to have difficult conversations about how populist politics undermines freedom of speech, and how Muslim students and staff are, until now, the main target of the regulatory structures of the Prevent Duty and the Charity Law. The authors’ diagnostic analysis culminates in a model of practice that has real transformative potential for universities. Weaving important pedagogical concepts with rich, empirical knowledge of the current conditions of university life, the model offers practical ways for enabling more democratic citizenship of the university from the classroom to the Vice-Chancellor." 

    Dr Shuruq Naguib, Lecturer in Politics, Philosophy and Religion, Lancaster University, UK.

    "With the rapid rise of populism and right-wing extremism globally, one cannot think of a more timely and pertinent book than Freedom of speech in universities. Scott-Baumann and Perfect unpack and demystify brilliantly the concerns propagated by the far-right regarding the supposed curtailment of freedoms and liberties. The book's focus on universities is incredibly percipient, given that educational institutions have, for too long, served as the right-wing’s chosen stage for intellectual inquiry propped up by identity politics. This thoroughly well-researched and insightful book is written in a most comprehensive style, making it accessible to wider audiences. A must read for those within the academy and beyond."

    Dr Maryyum Mehmood, Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, University of Birmingham, UK.

    "Scott-Baumann and Perfect offer a novel and insightful commentary on what lies at the heart of the different positions adopted on free speech: by describing four different approaches: liberal, libertarian, guarded-liberal, and no-platforming they give us the tools with which to understand different voices in the debate. With their forensic exploration of the politicisation of free speech, they reveal the more authoritarian aspects of the free speech debate. This can be seen in compelling data that the authors have gathered and their final proposal for a Community of Inquiry approach offers a concrete example of how universities might better navigate this contested terrain in the future."

    Dr Rob Faure Walker, Senior Research Fellow, SOAS ICOP, UK.