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KU Muslims face Paris backlash

By Harriet King Nov 28, 2015

Muslim students at Kingston University claim they have suffered increased abuse and discrimination since the Paris massacre.

KU students say they have suffered an Islamophobic backlash following terror group Islamic State’s attack on the French capital, killing 130 people.

Second year biomedicine student Habon Yussuf said: “I never really noticed Islamophobia until recently, after the Paris shootings. On the way to Kingston University, on the train, people just stare with those awkward long glances.

“One time I went to reach into my pocket to get a tissue and the woman next to me flinched. Most of the time people just don’t really want to sit next to me – a pregnant mother would not even sit down, on the seat next to me. I do not feel safe travelling to Uni after Paris.

Yussuf strongly believes there is a stigma attached to Muslim women’s traditional clothing, and that those dressed in a headscarf are automatically associated with extremism.

“I understand why people are reacting the way they are because of what’s in the media, but I am not an evil person. It got to the point where I was contemplating whether to dress the way I do, in my headscarf, to Uni. I would not have had to think twice about that before the Paris shootings. I thought ‘maybe I should wear something colourful?’ – It’s like I have to make an effort just to make people feel safe to stand around me. No one should have to feel like that.”

The number of Islamophobic attacks in Kingston has increased by 26 in the last year, a rise of 46.3 per cent, according to a recent report by the MET police.

Kingston University’s Islamic society recently held a talk discussing Islamophobia and the effect it has on students, which revealed a study claiming 36 per cent of Muslims said they have experienced discrimination whilst in education.

Ms Yussuf added: “I think the fact Kingston has societies and holds events is great. It not only provides a link between Muslim students but also a link with the University. As long as everybody is communicating then you don’t really feel isolated. It is really nice to see people who are not Muslim go to Islamophobia talks – it’s really important to take an interest.”

Yousef Shah, a member of KU Islamic Society, suggests that Paris is not the only factor influencing Islamophobia in Kingston.

Shah said: “David Cameron’s claim suggests the government has a distorted idea of Islam. They think orthodox Islam equals extremism or terrorism – that isn’t the case. We can still be good human beings and have a beard and still have a hijab.”

In May 2015 the government introduced an updated version of it’s counter-terrorism policy, to avoid UK citizens becoming radicalised and supporting jihadist terror groups such as ISIS. The policy is now a legal obligation carried out by public sectors.

The exact number of Britons that have travelled to Iraq and Syria to join the radical Islamist group is unclear. The Foreign Office put it at around 500, but MP’s have claimed that the true figure is closer to 2,000.

A Report from the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism said: “We will not tolerate extremist activity of any sort, which creates an environment for radicalising individuals and could lead them on a pathway towards terrorism.”

Kingston University was recently named by the Prime Minister as one of the leading universities to give a platform to extremist speakers, which the KU vice chancellor claimed was ‘wrong on a number of grounds.’

Many have faulted the prevent strategy, which is implemented at Kingston University, arguing it creates a stigma for the Muslim community and the rules are too strict.

Dr Andrew Higginbottom, KU Associate Professor in economics, politics and history, said: “We have set up a working group on this in UCU, and will be liaising closely with the students union.

“Personally I think the Prevent agenda is racist. In practice it has been used to target a certain section. I was pleased to attend the Islam student society event on Islamophobia last Thursday which attracted 100 students. Some 17% or more of our students hold the Islamic faith. We hope that all students will feel included and supported in pursuing their studies free from interference.  The role of academic staff is to be educators, not informants.

The UCU Kingston prevent strategy states:

“As a university and union we are proud of our commitment to, and record of, challenging any expression of prejudice or discrimination directed against any group or individual. Where any safeguarding or more general duty of care concern is raised that may put a student or other persons at risk of harm, there are established procedures of prompt referral which every member of staff should be aware of and should be able to act on accordingly. It is essential that in order to explore views and opinions and where necessary, challenge them, we actively promote a climate of free discussion and debate. It is essential that legitimate political opinions expressed by staff or students are not in any way regarded as ‘extreme’ or legitimising ‘extremism’.”

A Kingston University spokesperson said:

“Kingston University is proud of the positive atmosphere on its campuses and encourages good relations throughout the whole community. There are more than 20,000 students at the University, encompassing a wide range of political views and religious beliefs. Kingston routinely monitors discrimination, harassment and bullying and there have been no reported cases of Islamophobia.

“The University celebrates the diversity of its students and staff – along with other universities we believe we have an important role to play in building a strong, diverse and democratic society and work closely with the Students’ Union to achieve this. For example, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit are encouraging staff and the Union of Kingston Students to raise awareness of the University’s Harassment Contact scheme.

“As a centre of learning and education, the University upholds freedom of speech and the rights of students to express their opinions. However the University takes responsibility for the safety and well-being of staff and students very seriously and does not tolerate any behaviour that might be construed as incitement to any form of hatred.

Many KU Muslim students refused to comment on the issue of Islamophobia after the Paris shootings, worried it would jeopardize their safety.

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