This week we found out that the perpetrator of the horrendous Westminster attack, Khalid Masood, studied at Sussex back in the 1990’s .
Students tweeted about worries the university’s reputation would suffer, and concern that our university “educates terrorists”. A general sense of shock spread. I feel these reactions couldn’t be farther from the essence of what we could – and probably should – be taking out of this.
Khalid Masood, then known as Adrian Russell Elms, studied at Sussex between 1994 and 1997. This was long before he grew to feel the hatred which led him to plough his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge – killing three and wounding many more – and attack a policeman outside the Houses of Parliament.
In the revelation that Masood went to Sussex in the 1990’s we have the perfect chance to analyse what could make a British man feel so isolated he would turn to the extreme hatred and violence which he enacted at the end of his life. We have the perfect chance to see that there was a life before radicalisation; that there was a time when he was likely far more like anyone who goes to university in an attempt to forge themselves a future and support their family.
What we can also trace is that the true evidence of radicalisation came far later: yes, Adrian Russell Elms (as he was then) picked up petty criminal convictions, but it was seemingly years after his time at Sussex that he developed violent aims.
Rather than blaming universities for not spotting early signs, we should look instead at our society as a whole and ask how we can better help people before it is too late.
As Sussex students today, we must not let the notion of a young adult Adrian Russell Elms as a former Sussex student become a politicised image. We must not let this become a means by which the powers of the Prevent Agenda (which nominally aims to combat radicalisation, but often racially and religiously profile Muslim students) are increased and it becomes acceptable to exert greater control over student life. The University and Students’ Union felt it was not apt at this time to address our questions about the Prevent anti-terrorism legislation – but the onus falls on us as students to make sure that Sussex students today do not suffer.
This is my final Editorial: the time to express a strong view if ever there was one. Please remember, students have incredible power to make the university and the wider community listen to us, and to support one another.