Muslim student accused of 'terrorism' for reading masters course text at Staffordshire University
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Friday September 25 2015
The Guardian and Independent disclose details of a Muslim university student who was accused of being a “potential terrorist” after he was spotted by a university official reading a textbook for his masters’ degree in terrorism, crime and global security at Staffordshire University.
The student, Mohammed Umar Farooq, was studying in the library when he says he was approached by someone who he thought was another student. Farooq said that he was seen reading the book “Terrorism Studies” and was subsequently probed about his “attitudes to homosexuality, Islamic State (Isis) and al-Qaida.”
Farooq was referred by the official to security guards at the university after the official decided “too many red flags” were raised in the conversation.
Staffordshire University have since apologised to Farooq after the incident occurred in March of this year saying the higher education institution was struggling with the requirements of a “very broad duty … to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.
The statutory duty which was proposed in the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill and which covers all levels of the education system, from nurseries to higher education institutions, has generated considerable opposition among the teaching profession, students’ unions and Muslim communities who have argued the proposals will result in interference with academic freedom, turn teaching staff into an arm of the security services and foster discriminatory practices towards Muslim students.
During the passage of the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, many of these arguments were advanced to no avail with the Government determined to impose a duty which in the short time it has been in operation, has seen several cases of discrimination and intimidation of Muslim pupils.
Cases involving a student who was referred to a child protection officer for using the term ‘eco-terrorism’ in the classroom, a student who was visited by a Prevent officer because he advocated support for Palestinian human rights, and numerous others presented in a submission by the Muslim Council of Britain to the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, have all recently come to light.
In light of these, fears of the statutory duty resulting in a ‘cradle to grave’ surveillance state of British Muslims look to be less about alarmism and more about human rights violations of Muslims.
The Guardian reports that Farooq was “so unsettled by the incident that he chose not to return to the course – but that he felt he had to make a statement about what had happened.”
The human rights organisation, CAGE, which Cameron singled out for stern criticism in his ‘Munich 2’ speech, though the organisation is known for its robust challenge of human rights violations arising from counter-terrorism legislation, said Farooq’s experience is one of “hundreds of cases” which have been reported to it since October 2014.
CAGE said, “What this case displays is something we have seen frequently: most notably the over-reporting of normative behaviour, and a fear-based approach that alienates and antagonises communities.”
Speaking about his decision to share the experience and draw wider attention to the pernicious effect of the statutory duty, Farooq told The Guardian, “The implications if I did not challenge this could be serious for me. I could go on a police list, I could be investigated without my knowledge. This could happen to any young Muslim lad. I had to fight back.”
“[Government policy] can and should prevent the whims of suspicious minds from aggregating into systematic differences in treatment.
“The need is for a different language that talks to diverse society – a language that can condemn the vicious nihilism of Isis without lapsing into the sort of nationalism that could sound like chauvinism in disaffected Muslim communities; a language that allows the state to balance the objective of a happily integrated society with its duty to defend itself. That language exists: it is the language of international human rights. It is high time the government began speaking it, instead of seeking to undermine it.”
With the Extremism Bill mooted for publication this autumn, redressing the imbalance in human rights, non-discrimination and equality prompted by practices adopted since the passing of Counter Terrorism and Security Act is urgent if we are to avoid further misguided and punitive legislation.