Prevent Watch

Postgraduate student on Terrorism

Date: April 2015
Gender: Male
Location: Staffordshire
Case Study – MF
On 23 March 2015, a postgraduate student in Terrorism, Crime and Global Security at Staffordshire University was approached by two female staff while in the library – the three had a brief discussion on Shari’a, British values and democracy – this conversation was initiated by the female staff and is questionable whether it was a test for extremism. The tense conversation ended, and after a short while a security guard approached the student, confirming that he had received a complaint from staff members. The staff told the security guard that “there is a man, who is Asian and with a beard, who is not a student and is reading book on terrorism”. The staff went further to say, “check him out”, as she suspected he is a “radical terrorist”. The security guard approached and recognised the student, and did not take any further action.

The student was deeply offended and filed an internal complaint due to the discrimination he faced. In the internal complaint procedure, MF asked the teachers why they chose to question him, the only Muslim with a beard, holding books on terrorism. The teachers refused to answer any of the questions. In response to the internal complaint submitted, the Academic Registrar and Director of Student Experience responded by acknowledging that the university has “a commitment to “secure freedom of speech and to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.” Moreover, in reference to the duty imposed by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act [2015], the Academic Registrar described it as “very broad, devoid of detail.” In reference to the statutory guidance which underpins the statutory duty, the Academic Registrar described it “insufficient detail to provide clear practical direction in an environment such as the University’s.”

MF also received a letter of apology from the teacher that wrongfully questioned him. The teacher said “I do not possess any particular knowledge or experience of terrorism and radicalisation, and I have only attended a short training session on how to identify students who might be at risk of being radicalised.” She further asserted, that a “combination of the content of our discussion and my lack of experience in this arena caused me to consider whether this was something that may fall within the ‘prevent agenda.’”

MF’s case illustrates how individuals are targeted based on their appearance and ethic and/or religious background. Due to the climate of fear that already exists with extremism, it is concerning whether those imposed with the PREVENT duty will blur lines between Islamophobia, extremism and radicalisation. The policy guidance to monitor students for radicalisation can be conflated with other issues of Islamophobia. This will then lead to disproportional reporting that may potentially lead to referrals to PREVENT and Channel.

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