Students Not Suspects Conference: Myths and Scaremongering

As well as hosting extreme groups at its conference last week, the NUS-led ‘Students Not Suspects‘ campaign also continued to spread inflammatory misinformation about Prevent.

These myths include the notion that Prevent is racist and Islamophobic, that is being used to spy on service users, and that it is aimed at shutting down anti-government activism.

Such claims were repeatedly spread during the conference’s panel sessions, which hosted activists from groups including Prevent Watch, the National Union of Teachers (NUT), the University College Union (UCU), Stop the War Coalition and Spinwatch.

Prevent was repeatedly called racist by speakers including Rizwaan Sabir, who also stated that the strategy was part of a “top-down state-led campaign of Islamophobia”.

One speaker likened Prevent to “McCarthyism”, while anti-Prevent academic Arun Kundnani told the audience that Prevent officers had “been located in universities and colleges to monitor Muslim student associations”.

These claims were embellished with sensational stories about supposed ‘victims’ of Prevent, which often exaggerated the involvement of local authorities or connection to Prevent.

Audience members were told of:

“Ridiculous cases we’ve seen from schools since Prevent became a statutory duty. [Someone] mispronounces cucumber or misspells terraced house…ends up being reported to or questioned by Prevent officers and police.”

Saturday’s national conference also gave a platform to some of these ‘victims’, including the Prevent Watch activist Ifhat Smith.

The ‘Students Not Suspects’ campaign has repeatedly cited her son’s case as the “14 yr old schoolchild interrogated on his views on ISIS after using the word eco-terrorism in a French class”.

However, Ms Smith legally challenged the government and her son’s school, but was ordered to a pay a significant amount in costs for wasting court time after they found that “the school acted properly”.

Another speaker whose experiences of Prevent don’t line up with official accounts was Rahmaan Mohammadi, the schoolboy who was “questioned by Prevent for wearing a Palestine badge.”

Mohammadi told the audience:

“I can confidently say that being Muslim was one of the reasons I was targeted and my ethnicity of Afghanistan made sure all the criteria was checked”

“The issue wasn’t wholly about Palestine the issue was that a Muslim person was supporting Palestine.”

However, when Mohammadi went public with his allegations his former school told a local paper:

“Teachers were not concerned about the nature of the badges and wristbands or because he asked to raise money for Palestinian children.”

His referral is in fact most likely related to his distribution of Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA) material in class.

FOA has a record of publishing writers with a history of antisemitic views, such as Israel Shamir and the Holocaust denier Paul Eisen, while the group’s founder, Ismail Patel, has said: “Hamas is no terrorist organization…we salute Hamas for standing up to Israel”.

The ‘Students Not Suspects’ campaign’s loose use of facts and scare tactics is further evidence that the group cannot be taken seriously on counter-extremism issues.

Their narrative is deeply divisive, and risks alienating Muslim students who may believe they are be targeted by the government because of their religion.

Such rhetoric could have dire consequences for wider community relations and must be challenged.

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