Education, education, education. Education is everything, and at this point in time, post-Paris and with a dramatic, soul destroying rise in Islamophobic abuse, we have never needed it more.
Yet, through the PREVENT agenda, our education sector has been transformed into a tool of the British government for the monitoring of Muslims and a mechanism to promote self censorship of those who might have something critical to say about Britain foreign policy and so-called 'British values'. We need education more than ever, but our ability to educate is rapidly being lost under the guise of 'counter-terrorism'.
It is clear that the recent attacks in Paris mark a turning point in international relations, and importantly, a turning point for relations at home. Already we have been witness and privy to a rise in Islamophobic abuse and attacks taking place on a daily basis in both Britain and the wider Western world, particularly against Muslim women. Politicians have taken to the stage to denounce Islam, with Republicans in the United States predictably making racist, inflammatory remarks. Meanwhile, in the UK there is a profound silence on behalf of our government with respect to the need to safeguard Muslims in a time of crisis.
Responses to the Paris attacks are not limited to foreign policy; it's about domestic policy too and how we can promote positive relations within our communities and take a firm stance against Islamophobia.
Education is critical.
Yet now we are living in the era of PREVENT, which is a lesson in hypocrisy, discrimination, and double standards. Children, pastoral staff, fellow parents, students, are being taught to treat Muslims with suspicion. To treat any questioning of British values as a sign of radicalisation.
The UK government is requiring academic staff and professional services staff to undertake training to detect 'signs of radicalisation'. For no clearly stated reason, there should be 'monitoring' systems in place in faith centres. It is fairly straightforward to see that in domestic terms, the government is drafting in teachers, support staff, and attempting to arm SUs in their racialised war against Islam.
More than anything, this destructive policy serves no purpose other than to be seen to be doing something in a time when predicting the next steps of the Islamic State is an enormous challenge, and the UK government is unable to issue failsafe guarantees to their citizens that they will be safe.
Moreover, it bows down to pressure from right wing critics who see education as a tool for radicalisation rather than constructive, challenging debate. References may well be made to isolated cases where terrorists have emerged from universities, such as Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, from my very own university, the LSE. However, it is baseless to use isolated examples as a justification to implement Orwellian monitoring mechanisms against a particular group of people, namely Muslims.
Damage is not limited to universities, and in many ways the higher education sector has gotten off lightly. Exempt from the commitment to academic freedom, nurseries and schools are subject to the expectation to promote British values, such as 'rule of law', 'democracy', and 'individual liberty' - nothing but an ideological agenda designed to brainwash young children into treating the British state as the paradigm of all that is good. Sorry, but it's not.
So in this state of confusion, of fear, of paranoia, it is time for our education sector to become the bastion of tolerance, liberty, and debate. Education is where we engage with the key issues, and engage with each other. Universities, with limited state funding, are in a position to speak out against this and now is the time to speak out and stop education becoming a tool of the state, a tool to spread the absurd thoughts of Theresa May and others.
On home turf, with Islamophobia and myths being peddled about the religion and those who follow it, as well as the further racialisation of Muslims, critical thought and engagement is of the essence. Let's create a climate where that is genuinely possible, because 'we're all in this together' - right?