On Monday, Goldsmiths College hosted the latest event in the National Union of Student’s (NUS) ‘Students Not Suspects’ tour, which aims to undermine the government’s counter-radicalisation strategy, Prevent.
Once again, NUS Black Student’s Officer Malia Bouattia used the event to defend CAGE and shared a platform with the group’s Director of Outreach Moazzam Begg, despite NUS President Megan Dunn’s attempts to cut ties with the organisation.
It was also disappointing to see Goldsmiths fail to balance the panel, particularly given that universities are now expected to ensure individuals like Begg do not go unchallenged.
The best way to challenge extremist narratives or intolerant speakers is through debate, yet at this event all five panellists spoke against Prevent, meaning their misinformation and false claims were not scrutinised.
The ‘Students not Suspects’ campaign has seen students fed false or exaggerated stories about Prevent all too often, and this risks scaring students into believing they are being targeted by the state.
The event at Goldsmiths on Monday was no exception, with Rahmaan Mohammadi speaking on to the panel.
Mohammadi’s case is frequently cited by opponents of Prevent, describing him as the schoolboy who was “questioned by Prevent for wearing a Palestine badge.”
However, there appears to be more to the story than this.
In his speech, Mohammadi outlined a series of activities which he believes led to his referral including wearing pro-Palestinian wristbands and scarves in school, as well as asking staff if canteen food was made in Israel.
Most worryingly, he revealed that on two occasions he had been found with Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA) literature in school, an organisation which he regards as “mainstream”.
The group’s founder, Ismail Patel, has also claimed that: “Hamas is no terrorist organization…we salute Hamas for standing up to Israel”
Teachers are responsible for their pupil’s welfare and were right to raise concerns about a student reading FOA material in class.
Other disciplinary actions against Mohammadi, such as being asked to remove badges and scarves, seem to have been taken to enforce school uniform policy rather than as part of Prevent.
Like so many critical stories about Prevent, there appears to be more to Mohammadi’s case than opponents of the strategy acknowledge, suggesting events like Monday’s aim to undermine Prevent rather than inform students.
This must be challenged, and universities have a role to play in ensuring that this happens, including seeking to balance platforms and create healthy environments for debate, particularly if extreme speakers are going to continue to be invited onto campuses.