Muslim students under surveillance

Varsity staff asked to furnish info on depressed or isolated Muslim students
1st September 2011: The elation amidst the UK’s Muslim community of being wished on Eid by Prime Minister David Cameron and other political figureheads seems to have been marred by a disturbing piece of information — the varsity staff has been asked to furnish information to the police on Muslim students depressed or isolated.
The directions to the staff, including lecturers, chaplains and porters, is a part of new guidance for countering Islamist radicalism.

Inquiries by the Guardian show the local authority workers and police officers have been introducing the new strategy over the last month. Colleges in Lancashire and London have been approached by police and local authorities.

It has already culminated into in great uneasiness amidst the varsity lecturers and student union officials.

Although in favour of combating terrorism, they say the new strategy is nothing less than an infringement of students’ civil liberties.

As a part of the government’s revamped `Prevent strategy’, officials are imparting training to the frontline university employees. They are being taught how to identity students susceptible to extremism.

The documents, distributed amidst staff, claims seemingly depressed students, or the ones estranged from their families, who bear political grievances, or who use extremist websites or have poor access to mainstream religious instruction, could be at risk of radicalisation.

A panel including a detective from Scotland Yard then monitors the student, who assess potential terror threat. The students are not made aware at any stage that they are under surveillance.

Reacting to the development, the National Union of Students has made it clear to its officers they do not have to furnish details about students to the police, unless they are presented with a warrant.

President of Goldsmiths college students’ union in south-east London, James Haywood, interacted with two Prevent officials last week. He said the officials started by inquiring about Muslim students and whether the college had problems with its Islamic Society.

He said they were appalled to have Prevent officers asking them to effectively spy on their Muslim students. To pass on details of a student who the police consider ‘vulnerable’ was not only morally repugnant, but against the confidential nature of pastoral support.

After the rise of hate groups such as the English Defence League, and the recent massacre in Norway, why were Prevent not also telling them to refer on students who have an irrational hatred of Islam? he questioned.

Initially, the strategy was first launched in 2007 to prevent people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. The strategy was re-launched in June and with focused on varsities after it came out that "underpants bomber" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had studied at University College, London.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies, providing support to Muslim students in the UK and Ireland, said: "Spying on a completely innocent group of people is an affront to our human rights. Islamic Societies and Muslim students make a positive contribution to British civic life – and they must be supported.

"We have continued in our dialogue with the government to say that engaging with Muslim students, not spying on them, is what will make our country safer and more cohesive. Prevent is long-discredited now in civic society. We need an intelligent approach to security policy rather than one driven by political motives."

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