A postgraduate student was accused of being a terrorist after an official saw him reading a Terrorism Studies textbook in the school’s library.
According to The Guardian, Mohammed Umar Farooq, a student enrolled in the terrorism, crime and global security master’s program at Staffordshire University, was approached in March by someone he believed to be a fellow student while reading his textbook. He was questioned on his views on Islam, homosexuality and the terrorist organizations ISIS and Al-Qaeda. The “assumed” student was actually a complaints officer who reported Farooq to security guards because his largely academic responses raised “too many red flags.”
“I could not believe it. I was reading an academic textbook and minding my own business,” Farooq said.
Farooq initially planned to laugh off the situation, but a lawyer encouraged him to challenge the claims.
“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,” Farooq said.
The university has apologized to Farooq, admitting the accusation arose out of the struggles adapting to the British government’s new anti-radicalization policy. Addressing concerns on how campus hate speech can potentially radicalize college youth , the anti-extremism Prevent initiatives, which came into effect on Monday, place a legal duty on colleges and universities to prevent extremists from radicalizing students. Yet the university warned of the foreseen challenges in differentiating between “intellectual pursuit of radical ideas and radicalization itself.”
Yet not to mention, the discriminatory element the new policy incites. Farooq was not just interrogated because he was reading a book on terrorism, but also because of his appearance. A Muslim simply having an academic discussion about terrorism is enough evidence in our society to label him a terrorist as this incident proves.
Farooq has not returned to the course and was so unsettled by the accusation he now finds himself constantly “looking over his shoulder.”
Groups advocating on behalf of universities and students say the new preventive measure endangers academics’ freedom of speech.
The fear-based approach in tackling extremism hinders students’ academic pursuits and suppresses their thirst for knowledge.
“We are seeing students worry about being unfairly singled out and staff being forced to monitor students under vague guidelines that damage academic relationships and the education system as a whole. The evidence suggests our fears are again being confirmed,” Megan Dunn, president of the National Union of Students, told The Guardian.
But Prime Minster David Cameron disagrees, stating:
“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.”
Yet the new policies, instead, prevent academic thinking from flourishing.