Prevent Watch

Prevent and racism: PhD student referred for reading book on terrorism

prevent and racism university book terrorism

This case illustrates how Prevent and racism work hand-in-hand, and involves a PhD student referred after reading a book on terrorism that formed part of his doctorate studies.

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 . It is questionable whether this 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.

A Muslim reading about terrorism!

The staff member 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”.

She went further to say, “check him out”, as she suspected he might be 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, citing discrimination. 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.

Staff say Prevent is vague, unsuited to universities

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.”

However, 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.’”

Prevent and racism, Islamophobia

MF’s case illustrates how individuals are targeted based on their appearance and ethic and/or religious background under Prevent.

Due to the climate of fear that already exists around Islam, combined with the vague “extremism”, Prevent will likely further and deepen Islamophobia and racism.

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.

Photo by Trnava University/Unsplash

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