‘Students not Suspects’ at Queen Mary

A new year has only just begun on university campuses, and the National Union of Students’ (NUS) anti-Prevent agenda has been quick off the block to pick up where it left off last year.

This has taken the form of the ‘Students Not Suspects’ campaign, which hosted an event in association with Queen Mary University Students’ Union (QMSU) on Thursday 23rd September.

The event featured Shelly Asquith, NUS VP for Welfare and Rahmaan Mohammadi, a student who has falsely claimed to have been questioned by Prevent simply for wearing a pro-Palestine badge, as well as several students from Queen Mary.

Asquith outlined what the NUS is doing to fight the government’s Prevent Strategy, and criticised the fact Prevent seeks to counter “so-called Islamic extremism”.

Her advice to students was that students’ unions such as QMSU are not obliged to engage with Prevent delivery, and that union members can refuse to attend university Prevent training in order to ensure institutions are unable to comply with their legal duties.

Alongside Asquith, a representative from QMSU, Adam Sparkes, claimed Prevent made students feel watched or scared, and criticised the university for employing someone to ‘myth-bust’ about Prevent, saying he will disrupt any events held by this individual.

Another speaker, Queen Mary University Islamic Society President Akiqul Hoque, conflated Prevent with anti-Muslim abuse in the UK and claimed it left Muslim students living in fear, saying:

“If someone wanted to wear the hijab, if someone wanted to even grow a beard, do you not think they would fear what would come next?…The circle of fear that would surround them, the fear that there would be someone trying to intrude into their lives…scrutinising every aspect, this is what the Prevent Duty does.”

While it is deeply frustrating to see the same false claims and scaremongering spread by the NUS and its allies on campus as during the 2015-16 academic year, it was encouraging to see some push-back from students.

One person from the audience challenged Asquith on whether the NUS had an alternative strategy, only to be told the NUS had no ideas for a new strategy and instead the priority should be changing UK foreign policy.

This failure to provide an alternative echoes Asquith’s comments at the University of Exeter earlier this year, when she said “what should we do instead? Don’t ask me, I’m not an expert on counter-terrorism policy”.

This inability to address the issue is why it is so important for students who disagree with the NUS’ efforts to undermine Prevent to come to such events, voice their concerns, and speak up against the misinformation.

The NUS team are planning significant campaigns against Prevent this year, including during a national demonstration in London on the 19th November, and it is vital those who support efforts to counter radicalisation on our campuses work together to challenge the group’s plans.

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