A postgraduate student in the U.K. accused of being a terrorist for reading a course textbook has said he is waiting for his university to encourage him back.
Mohammed Umar Farooq, 33, was questioned by officials in Staffordshire University’s library in March when he was seen reading a book on terrorism studies.
Officials at U.K. universities are required to monitor signs of extremism among their student body as part of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, called Prevent.
But the textbook Farooq was reading – entitled Terrorism Studies: A Reader, by John Horgan and Kurt Braddock – was prescribed by his course.
He was questioned by an unnamed official about his views on al-Qaida and Daesh, and the conversation was subsequently reported to university security officials.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Farooq said university officials had since apologized, citing a lack of training, but there were still questions to answer.
“They have apologized to me. But I'm the sort of person [who] when I apologize to somebody, I like to tell them why I'm apologizing. That shows that I'm apologizing,” he said.
“They've apologized to me but they still haven't given me an answer as to why I was put up to this in the first place.
"So now I've got people who don't even understand the concept of terrorism and they're accusing me under [Prevent] but they don't even understand terrorism themselves.”
Farooq said he had thought he was talking to a peer in the library and that the incident had caused him to abandon his studies.
It is now up to the university, he said, to persuade him to come back.
Asked if he would feel nervous about returning, he said: “The suspicion will always be there. What I think is most important is the university can use their powers in order to make me feel as comfortable as possible.
“The university has to find a way to reintegrate me back into their social system which is something that they need to do because they owe it to me, they got it wrong.”
A letter of apology to Farooq from the unnamed official, published by the advocacy group Cage, admitted he had “only attended a short training session on how to identify students who might be at risk of being radicalised”.
“As a result, I did not know if I should have been concerned about elements of the conversation that took place and I wanted to talk it through with my senior manager,” the official wrote.
Noel Morrison, a Staffordshire University academic registrar, told The Guardian newspaper that the university had “the right policies and procedures in place and are confident that the situation was investigated and concluded appropriately”.
He added that the university was "in dialogue" with Farooq on how to continue his studies.
The U.K. government’s Prevent strategy is designed to work with a wide range of sectors, from universities and charities to faith-based organizations and local councils, to spot signs of radicalization in the community.
The strategy aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism, according to the Home Office, which is responsible for counter-terrorism measures in Britain.
But Cage communications officer Ibrahim Mohamoud said Farooq’s case showed how Prevent “tramples on academic freedom”.
“Ambiguous definitions and a loose understanding of Islamic political causes means Muslims are being referred through Prevent simply due to their religious or political views that pose no danger to society”, he said.