Saturday, January 26, 2008


British police have offered to train university staff to spot extremists operating on campus despite complaints from Muslim students that they could be unfairly targeted, a government document said Tuesday. Lecturers have been urged to scrutinize both students and invited speakers for signs they could be involved in radicalizing young people, according to new government guidelines.

Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, published advice to universities Tuesday on tackling extremism, requesting institutions share information on suspected radical speakers. "There is a real and serious threat, and we must all take responsibility for protecting ourselves," Rammell said. Al-Qaida influenced terrorism was the government's primary concern, he said, warning schools of the threat posed by far-right groups, animal-rights activists, anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic speakers.

Rammell said he believed some controversial speakers should be allowed to appear at universities, to allow moderate academics to debunk their claims through debate. "We prize academic freedom and freedom of speech as ends in themselves and as the most effective way of challenging the views which we may find abhorrent but that remain within the law," he said. But staff should compile details of speakers they fear may be exhorting students to violence - even in meetings held off campus - and share their concerns with counterparts, Rammell recommended.

British government security officials said Tuesday that radicalization is now much less likely to take place in mosques or formal settings, but instead in homes, gyms or at meetings on the fringes of campus. Jonathan Evans, head of the domestic spy agency MI5, warned in November that there is evidence extremists are grooming children and teenagers for attacks against Britain.

But some students and staff argue that Rammell's guidelines could lead to the victimization of Muslim students. "There is no evidence to suggest that Muslim students at university are particularly vulnerable to radicalization," said Faisal Hanjra of the Federation of Student Islamic Societies in the United Kingdom and Ireland. "Nor is there any evidence to suggest that university campuses are hotbeds of extremist activity." Sally Hunt, general secretary of academic labor organization University and College Union, said university staff should not be expected to police their students. "No student should ever think they are being spied on and no staff member should ever be pressurized into treating any group of students differently from another," she said.


Guardians who need a good smack

Comment from Britain: The NSPCC is parodying itself by setting up a panel to looking into TV parenting shows

How could anybody criticise the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children? Well, they could point out that the NSPCC's media campaigns spread a poisonous message of mistrust by implying that all of our children are at risk from adults, most often those closest to them. I once suggested the charity be renamed the National Society for the Persecution of Child Carers, or the Promulgation of Calumnies about Childhood.

Now, however, the NSPCC appears to be parodying itself by setting up a new body of experts to protect children from abuse on television parenting shows. Not content with saving kids in the real world, they want to rescue those on reality TV. And having bullied and guilt-tripped parents to toe the line, they want to do the same to TV's own parenting experts.

The NSPCC took exception to two "irresponsible" programmes. Bringing up Baby on Channel 4, where mentors taught different systems of childcare, sparked allegations of abuse when one expert suggested that parents leave babies to cry. The Baby Borrowers, the BBC's "unique social experiment", has attracted opprobrium by leaving babies in the care of those whom the NSPCC calls "inexperienced teenagers".

Child protection crusaders have long expanded the definition of child abuse to include anything from smacking a child to shouting at it. Now it appears that even leaving a baby crying in a cot is to be redefined as child cruelty, especially on TV, as is leaving babies with non-related teens - or as we used to call them, baby-sitters. Somehow, generations of us survived such horrific experiences, even without an army of TV producers watching over us.

Of course, those reality shows and their multiple experts are also symptoms of our society's harmful obsession with parenting and child protection. They only add to the inflated debate about the "right" way to raise children, and risk leaving parents with a growing sense of confusion and insecurity. Time to grow up. There is no right way to bring up baby. And whatever hotch-potch method you use will have no long-term effect on your child. As one wise man said, if you can avoid locking them in a wardrobe or beating them over the head with a frying pan, they should be fine.

Old cynics like me might think the NSPCC's new focus rather appropriate, since the charity is something of a reality TV show itself. A huge slice of its 150 million pounds income goes on PR and self-publicity, to raise the cash to put out more propaganda so that it can raise more money to put out more propaganda. Perhaps its new body of experts could start by looking into exploitative broadcasts where child actors pretend to be victims of abuse to guilt-trip innocent people into giving money. Now that's what I call irresponsible TV.


Britain unveils sweeping new terrorism law proposals: "The British government has unveiled sweeping plans to toughen terrorism laws, including a proposal to hold suspects for up to 42 days without charge. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith's plan would increase the limit for detaining suspects without charge from 28 days to 42 days, allow police to take DNA samples from terrorism suspects and urge judges to impose stiffer sentences on criminals whose offences are linked to terrorism. Proposals to increase the maximum time terrorism suspects can be held by police are opposed by human rights groups as well MPs within Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour party, guaranteeing a vicious fight in Parliament. Smith said in an interview on BBC radio that the detention period has to be extended because the severity of the terrorist threat has often forced police to act before they had all the evidence needed for a conviction. "It's growing in scale. It's becoming more complicated in nature," she said. "People need to intervene earlier because of the way in which it aims to cause mass casualties with no warning."

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