A British student from the University of Staffordshire was questioned by anti-terror police after being caught reading an academic book entitled Terrorism Studies, in the college library.
Mohammed Umar Farooq, a postgraduate student enrolled in a counter-terrorism course, was falsely accused of being a terrorist and was questioned about his attitudes towards homosexuality, ISIS, and al-Qaida during questioning.
“I could not believe it. I was reading an academic textbook and minding my own business. At first I thought I’d just laugh it off as a joke,” said Farooq, who then instructed a lawyer to help him challenge and rebut the claims.
The university, based in Stoke-on-Trent, subsequently apologised to Farooq, and admitted that the accusation had exposed the difficulties in implementing the government’s new anti-radicalisation policy. Groups representing universities and students said the episode represented infringements on academic freedom.
When the incident occurred in March, Farooq assumed he was being quizzed by a fellow student but in fact it was the complaints officer. He says he was questioned about his views on Islam, al-Qaida and the news that Isis fighters were throwing homosexuals out of tall buildings.
Farooq said he had been “looking over his shoulder” ever since, and 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 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 episode sheds light on how universities are coping with the demands of the government’s new anti-extremism Prevent initiatives, which came into effect this week in response to concerns that campus hate speech was radicalising young people. Some schools are also struggling with the implementation of Prevent. It emerged this week that a 14-year-old boy was questioned about Islamic extremism following a classroom discussion about environmental activism at his north London school.
After three months of investigation into Farooq’s case, Staffordshire University admitted fault and apologised to the 33-year-old, saying it was responding to a “very broad duty … to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.