In the latest instalment of our series, The Human Voices of the War on Terror, a college student, Yousaf Farooq, tells us how he was pulled aside and questioned by staff implementing PREVENT, who were completely ignorant about the Islamic figures and concepts they were questioning him about in the first place.
“The incident happened due to a classroom discussion we were having about Jihad; the teacher had said that Jihad is about creating a ‘pan-nationalistic state’. I had corrected her.”
When I first heard that Prevent was being used on me, I felt quite upset, disrespected and violated. You are really made to feel victimised and isolated.
Initially, I didn’t tell my parents – I thought in the beginning that if my mum found out she would have had a heart attack. But I told my friends what had happened, and we spoke through it. We decided on the best course of action to take, which would ensure that I didn’t dig myself in any deeper.
I took my friends with me to the meeting with the teaching staff who were initiating Prevent against me. They came to take notes and to make sure that what I was saying covered everything. They were also there for support.
Students themselves don’t know about Prevent, but now almost every student knows what happened to me personally and they all think what’s happened is ridiculous.
The incident happened due to a classroom discussion we were having about Jihad; the teacher had said that Jihad is about creating a ‘pan-nationalistic state’.
I had corrected her and said that “jihad” meant “to strive”, so it also referred to an internal state, struggling against yourself to do things for the sake of Allah. I said it could be associated with war and violence especially the way the media and education presents it, and that it had at times manifest itself as a physical struggle at the time of the Prophet (pbuh), but that “jihad” had a much wider and deeper meaning than the way it is currently portrayed.
I was also voicing my political views during discussions in class. Other students also expressed similar sentiments to me – for example around questions of identity and Britishness – but I guess for some my views may be deemed as “radical” or “extreme”. Perhaps how you look, has a bearing on it.
A couple of weeks later, I found myself in the position where my teacher pulled me aside and said she had to have a word with me. This caused confusion among the students as I am not normally the type of student that is pulled aside.
Teaching staff’s ignorance of Islamic and cultural figures
In the meeting with the staff implementing Prevent, the head of learner entitlement who takes the lead on issues relating to Prevent mentioned a book I had written about in my personal statement for Islamic Studies and Arabic: “Kulliyet-e-Iqbal”.
When they referred to Allama Iqbal in the interview, it really felt ridiculous.
Iqbal was a poet, philosopher, and politician, as well as an academic, barrister and scholar, widely acclaimed as a modern Muslim philosophical thinker and “father of Pakistan”. His work is in Urdu and Persian, and even many native Urdu speakers find difficulty in understanding some of his works as he mixes the Farsi into his Urdu poetry.
This book hasn’t been translated into English. They questioned me over the fact that I was reading his work and making claims on it despite them not being able to understand the book.
Anyway, their panic around Iqbal, and their panic around my view of him, was really based on complete ignorance.
I was questioned by senior members of staff, and the referral was made by a member of the learning support staff who is present in my lessons to make notes for me as I have a learning difficulty.
The people questioning me came across as ignorant as they were trying to make me justify my beliefs and the content of my university personal statement without understanding the concepts around which they were questioning me in the first place.
I suppose they also tried to recruit me into their programme. The head of learner entitlement then suggested I become a channel ambassador, but did not explain the role.
A censoring effect on education
After the interview, I told my father. He found it quite ridiculous but he saw that it was positive they hadn’t taken any further action.
The next day I felt I couldn’t voice my political views in class. This was especially caused by the fact that the person making notes for me had been the one to refer me.
There was a kind of censoring effect on me. I explained to the teacher I had to be careful about what I said from now on and that there’s not a lot of understanding about certain Islamic figures and their role in history.
It’s a pity because this is a politics classroom setting. It should be a place for discussion and debate, not censorship.
The teacher was sympathetic to an extent, though she doesn’t agree with my political views. I think she was actually quite scared to talk to me any further about it.
After this, I would describe Prevent as a kind of 1984 exercise where people’s beliefs are questioned and where the government is making assumptions about “radicalisation” and “extremism” based on a flawed interpretation. A lot of people are talking about it. It’s made a lot of students angry. Some people have found it funny and generally the vibe is that it’s quite ridiculous.
If I had a say in policy, I’d tell them to start fresh and have a thoughtful and meaningful dialogue with organisations and individuals that represent real Muslim-led thought, led by the main body of Muslims, the ones that get support from the community.
This is the only way forward. Unfortunately, at the moment we just feel like we’re being talked at not talked with. That’s just counter-productive.
This article was originally posted here on CAGE.