France clearly knows it needs to beef up its security agency and other European countries are worried that more scrutiny on potential Islamic terrorists will mean more violent blowback. Regardless of the risk, people want to stop homicidal miscreants before they kill 1,700 rather than 17.
In the British parliament, a new bill seeks to give MI5 some help. It specifically says that all organizations will be legally required to “take seriously their responsibility to exclude those promoting extremist views”. That means everyone, but universities are already scrambling to make sure they are exempted. Yet they can't be. Universities are breeding grounds for extremists in the UK, just like in America and other western countries. Fifth columnists exploit the trappings of diversity and tolerance to gain a foothold.
If Israel is the only problem university students see in the Mid-East, there is a bigger political cancer that will grow. If fracking is the big energy problem they see, there is a worry about student intelligence. Laura Clayson, Lancaster's students' union president, with the posters that attracted police attention. Photo: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
They couch their objection in the language of academic freedom and the openness of debate on campus. Whether or not anyone actually believes there is open debate and freedom on campuses is subjective - nothing demonstrates irony like academics in America suddenly embracing 'freedom to offend' for Charlie Hebdo when they are most likely to want to control speech and thought and get anyone fired who deviates from their groupthink - but even if claims of openness are dismissed universities have a fallback argument; just because terrorists tend to arrive on student visas does not prove that universities are breeding grounds for terrorists. Plenty of terrorist sympathizers also clean dishes.
It's a valid point. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab may have stuck a bomb in his underwear on Christmas Day in 2009 to blow up an airplane - thankfully an intolerant Dutch citizen was willing to look at him in a way British university employees are not - but that doesn't mean his time at University College London caused him to do so. Nor can his position as president of the school's Islamic Society be proved as the cause of his desire to blow a Northwest flight to smithereens.
In other words, no snowflake in an avalanche can ever take the blame.
Yet avalanches do happen and we might like to not have innocent people in the way when they do.
At some point universities need to cast off their faux idealism about diversity and tolerance and openness of debate - the number of Western universities that actually have as much freedom of thought as even delegates at the Republican National Convention can be counted one hand - and be the forces for public good that they claim to be when they are asking for taxpayer money.
No one is asking for academics to be the KGB, but it is well-known that universities harbor extremists and seeking to be exempted from anti-terrorism efforts will just make that problem worse.