Kings College to investigate harassment of Muslim academic

27th Nov 2020
Kings College to investigate harassment of Muslim academic

Peter Neumann, Professor of Security Studies at King’s College London is accused of harassing Dr Tarek Younis, a psychology lecturer at Middlesex University. (Credit:WikiCommons)

Elham Asaad Buaras

King’s College London has confirmed to The Muslim News that it has opened an investigation into allegations of online abuse and harassment by one of its counter-terrorism professors against a Muslim academic from another university.

Over 335 academics, researchers and activists have signed an open letter calling for an investigation into “the bullying tactics” used by Peter Neumann, Professor of Security Studies, against Dr Tarek Younis, a psychology lecturer at Middlesex University.

Neumann, a Founding Director of KCL radicalization, and political violence think-tank, is accused of exploiting ‘his position to intimidate and harass a junior scholar’ during a now deleted Twitter exchange on terrorism last month.

The interaction began on October 24 when Neumann tweeted, ‘Terrorism works particularly well when it sharpens or brings out divisions that already exist’, to which Younis, asked if the divisions in France can all be attributed to terrorism, or if French history and politics should also be accounted for?

Neumann replied, ‘Nothing justifies the killing of innocent people. I hope we can at least agree on that. Or do we not?’

Taken aback by the line of questioning Younis posted a Twitter thread which included a screenshot of Neumann replies. ‘The discussion had nothing to with the morality of terrorism—it was about the causes of France’s supposed implosion. Do all conversations between white counter-terrorism researchers begin, “hey we agree killing innocents is unjustifiable, right? Now let’s begin”’ asked Younis.

‘It’s astounding that a counter-terrorism professor can air this trite, Islamophobic garbage, fully and without shame on social media, as if this is a totally normal way to converse. It really signals how hegemonic Islamophobia is, so deeply rooted in the “field” of counterterrorism.’

Continuing, ‘I will never engage with anyone who engages me with this Islamophobic frame. Especially not with such academic, when he was engaged with such a banal, intellectual query. I absolutely refuse to condemn terrorism out of the blue, esp. not as some sacred doorway into intellectual discussions, if people can’t understand the Islamophobia in this interaction with Neumann that is a worrying reality indeed.’
Neumann did not reply to Younis’s objection.

It was not until the Nice terror attack occurred a week later that he re-engaged with him . ‘I’d love to share your views on yesterday’s events, Tarek. @MiddlesexUni’, tweeted Neumann on October 30.

When asked by Younis ‘why are you tagging my employer?’ Neumann responded, ‘Aren’t you working there? So why be afraid? Plenty of people responding to your thread last week tagged my employer too. So what’s your answer?’ Five minutes later he probed again, ‘No Answer? As a fellow academic, I’m keen to hear your take…’

Neumann followed that with another tweet ‘The Question is if @MiddlesexUni and @Tarek_Younis_ will stand with France’s view on freedom of expression or not. It’s a simple question. Yes or no’ another tweet soon followed, ‘suddenly gone quiet’ and then ‘Hello?’ And ‘Am I being racist to ask for your view, @Tarek_Younis_’

Neumann then posted screenshot of his own tweets telling his over 33,000 Twitter followers: ‘Here’s my fellow academic, @Tarek_Younis_, who essentially accused me of being Islamophobic just a few days ago refusing to respond to my question about yesterday’s events in Nice. He’s usually very opinionated.’
The following day Younis tweeted a lengthy response to Neumann’s ‘barrage of tweets’ displaying ‘power play and threat.’

‘This is absolutely wild. I ask him why he tagged my employer; he answers “Why be afraid?” This is clear bullying, given fear was his unprompted expectation. But given he’s a counterterrorism professor questioning me (a Muslim) on a terrorist attack while tagging my employer, this is not ‘simply’ abuse. But consider what it means for a counterterrorism professor to tag your employer in a successive number of tweets, randomly asking for random “thoughts” on a highly sensitive topic,’ wrote Younis.

Adding, ‘What can this be, other than a power play and a threat? The implication is clear: with your employer involved you better (A) engage me on the subject of my choosing (coercion) and (B) consider your answer very wisely given the political climate surrounding Muslims. I am astounded he would do this after our racist interaction last week. The message is clear: racialised Muslims asking for nuance is taboo, the request to recognise ALL forms of violence, not just those committed by heinous killers, merits questioning and employer tagging.’

To this Neumann tweeted an apology recognising the ‘tone of my questions’ was wrong. ‘For this, I apologise and am very sorry. I have deleted the offending tweets. Accusing me of being an Islamophobe, racist, or even white supremacist is just wrong and deeply offensive, especially as I have dedicated my whole professional life to fighting extremism of any kind.’

However, Younis, who has since confirmed to The Muslim News he has made an official complaint to KCL, rejected the apology insisting the matter ‘isn’t about “tone.” Tone is saying “gimme apples” instead of “may I have apples, please.” This is a serious and unequivocal display of Islamophobia. Your “tone” isn’t off—you’ve displayed several serious acts of discrimination and harassment.’

‘You knew—wittingly or not—that I’m under additional scrutiny as a Muslim critical on matters of terrorism. You know about the field of eggshells Muslims must navigate on this subject and, with your power and privilege, you attempted to use this field against me.’

A Spokesman for KCL told The Muslim News, “We are aware of a complaint regarding the conduct of a member of our staff. We do not condone inappropriate or abusive behaviour. This is being taken very seriously, and we will be carrying out an investigation.”

In a statement to The Muslim News MEND, a media monitoring and Muslim advocacy NGO, said it “welcomes the investigation by King’s College into Professor Neumann’s intimidatory and Islamophobic behaviour in a Twitter exchange with a fellow Muslim academic, Dr Tarek Younis, and in particular the tagging of Dr Younis’ employer, Middlesex University. It is important that all staff and students in our academic institutions are protected from harassment and bullying from senior staff.”

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