KATHERINE KNEEBONE

Following the motion passed at Student Assembly placing UBS in opposition of Prevent, several Brunel students attended the inaugural ‘Students not Suspects’ event at KCL on the 14th October, run by the NUS as part of the strategy ‘Preventing Prevent’. The aim of this talk was to both discuss Prevent, (what it is, what it aims to achieve and why it exists), as well as answering the key question: how can we oppose it effectively and safely?

‘Prevent’ is part of the Government’s new anti-terrorism bill which claims to attempt to prevent radicalism and terrorism, with particular focus on Universities. The Government is implementing this through training staff members, including lecturers, on how to spot ‘radical ideologies’ (including Islamic extremism and anti-capitalist agendas) and legally binds them to report these to the authorities. These authorities can then question friends and family, seize any and all academic work by the suspected student, as well as monitor and investigate other aspects of their public and private lives. Individuals will then be judged as to whether or not they are involved with terrorism,  or are vulnerable to terrorist attitudes, and if they are found to be vulnerable, the authorities may take steps to re-educate them, and reinforce ‘British values’.

The event began with speakers including Moazzam Begg, an ex-Guantanamo bay detainee, Mohammed Umar Faruq, a postgraduate student of Terrorism Studies targeted by the act, Rachel Hager from the Defend the Right to Protest campaign, Marcia Rigg, an anti-police brutality campaigner, and Jim Wolfreys, head of the local KCL UCU branch. Then followed a Q and A session in which people were able to share their own views on Prevent and ask the panellists how to effectively campaign against the act. To end, these questions were put to groups in workshops in which the audience and panellists were able to share their views and ideas to generate integrated campaign plans to move forward with.

A key question addressed during this conference by all speakers and many audience members was why we oppose Prevent. This included the key arguments of limitation on free speech and academic discussion, and the fact that this act has been proven to disproportionately target minority ethnic students, in particular, Muslims.

Universities are designed to encourage critical thought, debate and the exercising of free speech. Due to the introduction of this act, students have become suspects of various forms of ‘radicalisation’, including anti-capitalist agendas. On most campuses, mixed political communities often form the basis for social action; this intellectual environment is under threat from Prevent due to left wing students especially, feeling unable to express dissent in this way for fear of being vulnerable to suspicion. This stifles our democratic right to dissent on government actions in particular, as well as international issues. I can attest personally to this, as a student of the Arab-Israeli conflict, myself and other students felt the need to discuss safe space policy with our lecturer before feeling comfortable expressing our pro-Palestinian views. This issue was something addressed by Jim Wolfreys followed by a statement calling for non-compliance.

Mohammed Al Faruq shared his experience being targeted by Prevent, ‘suspicion’ was raised when he was seen reading a book on Terrorism Studies for his postgraduate course. He was then intrusively questioned about his stance on terrorism, about his personal beliefs, including his faith, and was compelled to ‘prove’ his innocence. He ended on the question: "Is it because my name is Mohammed?"

Islamophobia has been on the rise since the ‘war on terror’ began and this act has been commented on as one of the more extreme cases of institutionalised Islamophobia in our country. What Prevent does is allow those who hold Islamophobic views to express them in a manner encouraged and approved of by the government, without risk of consequence to themselves. This means day-to-day Islamophobia will increase exponentially, carrying the label of ‘patriotism’. What this act does, by placing it under the heading ‘anti-terrorism’, is cause a large proportion of society to feel unable to question people’s motivations in reporting certain individuals, for fear of accusations against their own characters and agendas. This, therefore, has been seen as a call to the people of Britain to act on unsubstantiated prejudices, institutionalised by the government, to protect ‘British values’, of which there is no particular definition.

What we as a country (and global community) need to do is actively tackle Islamophobia in our communities by educating our children and young people not to be suspicious based on prejudice. We need to teach that Muslim does not equal ‘radical’, ‘non-British’, or ‘terrorist’. Part of this process is standing against blatantly Islamophobic actions by our own Government, including the Prevent legislation.

If Prevent is something you would like to know more about, or take action on, VP CBASS Yousef Mohamed is working alongside our BME officer Wangu Mureithi, to host a month of events to raise awareness for Islamophobia during this term. This will be part of a year-long campaign to tackle Prevent and Islamophobia as part of an ongoing project at UBS. For more information please contact Union President Ali Milani at su.president@brunel.ac.uk