Don’t go to the doctor

by Karma Nabulsi (2017)

A colleague of mine at Oxford was asked to see an undergraduate who was falling behind in her work. The student – a Muslim – explained that she had been suffering from depression and was being treated for it by her GP. My colleague believed the student’s explanation placed her under an obligation to ask the student whether she was being radicalised.

A young colleague, an Arab, told me that when he tried to book a room for a seminar, he was informed that this was no longer permitted on security grounds: he had to get a ‘senior’ academic to confirm the real purpose of the meeting.

Another young colleague was told that she had to carry out a security ‘risk assessment’ for a feminist seminar she was convening; she refused, and was repeatedly pressured to comply.

A librarian was asked for a reference by another university: ‘Are you completely satisfied,’ they wanted to know, ‘that the applicant is not involved in “extremism” (being vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs)?’

Out of the blue, a college head refused the usual joint arrangements with a university centre for a lecture by a very distinguished European academic, whose work is on the politics of Islam. Special Branch had informed the college that a great deal of extra security would be required.

An undergraduate who wears the hijab went to book a room at her college for someone who was coming to speak as part of Islam Awareness Week. She had booked rooms many times before without any problem. This time she was sent to the college dean, who asked a number of questions, including one about the kind of Islam the event would be promoting. ‘It made me feel like an outsider in my own university,’ she said.

A Sikh student was apparently overheard by cleaning staff reading prayers in her room in Punjabi. When she went out her room was searched. ‘I was told that the scouts were given specific instructions on “signs to look out for”, in relation solely to my room,’ she wrote to the college authorities, ‘and that you did not enter any of the other rooms of the flat.’ Later, she wrote that she felt ‘unsafe in college but I am unable to speak up about what is happening’.

A student asked the domestic bursar to sign off on a screening of a Palestinian film about refugees returning home. The domestic bursar said that because of legislation concerning ‘extremism’, they would need to get the dean’s approval.


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