Students warned not to read UoM professor’s essay on personal devices over concerns of radicalisation

The essay was essential reading for third year politics students


A late University of Manchester professor's work has been flagged by Reading University as "sensitive" under the UK's anti-terrorism Prevent scheme.

Third year politics students were warned to "take care" when accessing the essay on personal devices, lest they traverse the UK government's anti-terrorism strategy.

The essay, essential reading for the course, was written by UoM professor Norman Geras, titled Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution and was published in The Socialist Register in 1989.

Geras, who died in 2013, begins the essay by advising that it will guide socialists "whether in judgement or in action, when it comes to revolutionary change" and quotes John Locke's (commonly known as the "father of liberalism") proposition that "The tyranny of established governments,' as it has recently been put, 'gives rise to a right of revolution, held individually by each subject or citizen, rightly exercised by any group of them, of which they cannot be deprived."

While discussing the ethics of revolution Geras purports that "in any such struggle the means must be prefigurative of the ends in view" and takes the current situation in South Africa at the time (early apartheid and the struggles of the 1980s) as an example that revolution is "sometimes justified".

Prevent is the government's anti-radicalisation scheme, which universities can choose to take part in voluntarily.

The scheme works to avert students from radicalisation by aiming to cut off vulnerable students from material that may encourage terrorism.

The scheme has been largely criticised with students and lecturers feeling "spied on".

In a report based on interviews with 36 Muslim students, academics and professionals, Just Yorkshire said the scheme had fostered a “policing culture”, with Dr Waqas Tufail, co-author of the report and senior lecturer on social sciences at Leeds Beckett telling The Guardian "If we get into this habit of the police authorising what we teach then we’re living in dangerous times.”

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Reading University's decision to flag up the essay has also received scathing criticism from Tufail who dubbed the incident "hugely concerning".

Ilyas Nagdee, Black students’ officer for the National Union of Students said the case highlighted “misunderstanding of the [counter-terrorism guidance].

“Prevent fundamentally alters the relationship between students and educators, with those most trusted with our wellbeing and development forced to act as informants.

"As this case shows, normal topics that are discussed as a matter of course in our educational spaces are being treated as criminal.”

Cases like these along with the Prevent scheme have been dubbed as censorship, with academics worrying that the scheme encourages self-censorship at the risk of causing offence.

In the case of Reading University's approach to the professor's work, students were warned not to access it on personal devices, to read it only in a secure setting, and not to leave it lying around where it might be spotted “inadvertently or otherwise, by those who are not prepared to view it”.

In rare cases, university students have applied misinformed ideas about potentially dangerous political thinking with dire consequences, like the MMU grad who admitted to involvement in an alleged neo-Nazi plot to kill a police officer.

It is generally understood that university is a huge time of growth for many young people, personally and academically and it's easy to see how preventative strategies such as these contribute to the snowflake narrative that students are so often forced into in 2018.