Article
15 November 2017 at 6am

‘Students Not Suspects’ begin new tour with CAGE speaker convicted of terror offence

As part of ‘Islamophobia Awareness Month’, the NUS have announced that a new ‘Students Not Suspects’ tour will visit campuses across the UK. It is being sponsored and co-hosted with the NUS Black Students’ Campaign, the NUS Women’s Campaign, and the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), as well as local ‘Students Not Suspects’ and ‘Educators Not Informants’ activists.

The campaign claims that it aims to address anti-Muslim discrimination and threats to civil liberties, whether in the form of “state censorship under the guise of counter-terrorism” or “the verbal and physical harassment experienced by Muslims in public spaces”. It encourages student unions to pass motions boycotting the government’s Prevent policy.

These motions mandate student officers to “not engage with the Prevent strategy” and challenge its implementation on campus, to “educate” students on the “dangers” of the Prevent Strategy, and to “lobby the university to be more open and transparent about how they are engaging with Prevent”.

The first of these speaker events will be hosted by the UCL students’ union on 15 November 2017. The panel discussion will feature CAGE’s International Director Muhammad Rabbani.

Disturbingly, Rabbani was recently arrested and convicted of an offence under the Terrorism Act for withholding information on his phone and laptop from counter-terror police. He was convicted at Westminster Magistrates' Court of one count of wilfully obstructing a stop-and-search under Section 7 of the Terrorism Act.

Senior District Judge Emma Arbuthnot said at the time: "He took a calculated risk. At the time of the stop he was warned over and over he would be committing an offence if he didn't provide the information".

PC Tariq Chaudhry, the officer who was in charge of the search, said: "I asked him questions about his occupation and he said he was a director of a company but wouldn't go any further - he kept saying 'You don't need to and it won't help you in any way'".

Rabbani was handed a conditional discharge, ordered to pay £600 costs and a £20 victim surcharge.

Rabbani will be speaking alongside NUS Black Students’ Officer Ilyas Nagdee, FOSIS Vice-President Saffa Mir, and Alia Malak from the student Palestine Solidarity UK project. The event has received further endorsements from student unions at City University, Brunel, Royal Holloway, KCL, Goldsmiths, SOAS, Birkbeck, Kingston, Queen Mary, UAL, and the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama.

Future ‘Students Not Suspects’ events are due to take place in Manchester (20 November), Sussex (21 November), Bristol (22 November), and Leicester (27 November).

Besides Rabbani, CAGE is a controversial organisation that is mired in extremism. CAGE’s Outreach Director Moazzam Begg has suggested that Al-Qaeda associated clerics are the “most credible voices” against ISIS. Begg has a violent extremist past, having conceded that he travelled to Syria to train fighters in 2012-13. He has recently praised men convicted of fighting for an Al-Qaeda-linked group and has admitted to having visited militant training camps on the Afghan-Pakistan border and fighting in Bosnia in the 1990s.

CAGE’s Research Director Asim Qureshi infamously claimed ISIS executioner Mohammed Emwazi (otherwise known as Jihadi John) was “extremely gentle” before being radicalised as a result of interrogation by MI5. Qureshi has also refused to condemn stoning women for adultery as well as FGM (female genital mutilation) and was once filmed at a rally of the Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir declaring his support for jihad.

We have long written about ‘Students Not Suspects’ and its close links to CAGE and other extreme groups. Like previous tours, these workshops and panel events will most likely spread misinformation surrounding Prevent.

Their campaigners inaccurately characterise it as a policy that is racist and Islamophobic in both intent and outcome. They also claim that the policy has “limited the window for dissent”, “physically shut down spaces”, and exposed “politically active and vocal individuals – especially Muslims… to deeply damaging accusations and smears of “extremism”. They deliberately downplay the threat of terrorism and extremism, except when it comes from the far-right, which the NUS argues is emboldened by Prevent.

In doing so, they ignore the critical safeguarding aspect of the policy, its efforts at challenging far-right extremism, as well as its ability to prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism.

Recent Home Office figures show that 2,000 children and teenagers were referred to Channel in 2015-16, with nearly a third under the age of 15, and over a half under the age of 20. In one case, a nine-year-old boy stood up in class and announced his support for ISIS after viewing execution videos on the internet. 

Of all referral cases (7,631), 65% were Islamist in nature, while 10% related to the far-right. Only around 60 individuals pulled out of the voluntary programme.

This is not an indication that young and vulnerable people or Muslims are being deliberately targeted – it demonstrates the scale of the problem that exists. It also shows that the policy is clearly helping families and saving lives. This is an unsettling fact that ‘Students Not Suspects’ refuses to acknowledge or accept. All the while, they give a prominent platform to extremist groups such as CAGE, thereby fuelling the problem rather than becoming part of the solution.