University students and lecturers have launched a campaign to highlight how the government’s Prevent counter-terrorism policy is “normalising Islamophobia” and “forcing public servants to act as informants,” writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.
The Students Not Suspects tour kicked off at King’s College London last night at an event attended by around 100 people. It aims to raise awareness about the impact of Prevent on universities and to counter the “growing surveillance culture,” the presence of police on campuses and “racism and repression” in communities.
Organised by the National Union of Students, the Black Students Campaign, Defend the Right to Protest, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies and the University and College Union, the tour will also visit Birmingham, Swansea, Manchester and Glasgow.
It has now become a statutory duty for universities to look our for the signs of radicalisation and report students to the authorities in appropriate circumstances.
But the tour organisers say that “state repression and violence is fuelling racism and resulting in deaths on the streets.” They say that students opposing Prevent “are threatened with dismissal, arrest and huge court costs.”
At last night’s event one of the speakers was Mohammed Umar Farooq, a postgraduate student of counter-terrorism who was falsely accused of being a terrorist after an official at Staffordshire University spotted him reading a textbook entitled Terrorism Studies in the college library.
Farooq said that he was on route to an academic career but was effectively silenced. He said the woman who questioned him about the allegation had no knowledge of Islam or the Middle East.
The university subsequently apologised to Farooq and admitted that the accusation that he was a potential terrorist had exposed the difficulties in implementing the government’s new anti-radicalisation policy.
Other speakers said that the government’s definition of extremism was very loose and that there was now a conflict over whether universities are really a space for free speech and thought or not. Yet others urged students and universities to publicly state their opposition to Prevent so that a “critical mass” could be achieved to force the government to backtrack.
Another speaker, CAGE’s Moazzam Begg, said that we are effectively being “taught that radicalism is a bad thing” and warned that anti-war activists could be punished by Prevent.
He said only 0.3% of terrorism acts in Europe between 2013-14 were committed by Muslims, yet the focus on the community was totally disproportionate and the surveillance regime that the UK had set up was something the Stasi would be proud of.
“It’s high time we stand shoulder to shoulder with those being targeted,” he added.
Meanwhile, Jim Wolfreys of UCU said the government’s agenda was based on the work of organisations such as the Quilliam Foundation and the Henry Jackson Society and is not actually aimed at defeating terrorism but is rather about “stigmatising a community” and feeding the “environment of Islamophobia.”
He added – to much applause – that he would not “cooperate with bad legislation.”
“Named and shamed”
Last month leading universities were “named and shamed” by David Cameron for giving a platform to “extremists.”
Whitehall’s Extremism Analysis Unit claimed at least 70 events featuring hate speakers were held on campuses last year and security officials also have concerns about the number of young people being radicalised and travelling to join Islamic State jihadists.
Mr Cameron said: “All public institutions have a role to play in rooting out and challenging extremism. It is not about oppressing free speech or stifling academic freedom, it is about making sure that radical views and ideas are not given the oxygen they need to flourish.
“Schools, universities and colleges, more than anywhere else, have a duty to protect impressionable young minds and ensure that our young people are given every opportunity to reach their potential. That is what our one nation government is focused on delivering.”