As university lecturers in the UK warn of the threat posed to academic freedom by government guidelines on dealing with extremism on campus, university lecturers and students in North-Rhine Westphalia are campaigning against the targeting of foreign students and academics from Muslim countries.
It was recently exposed by the Frankfurter Rundschau that the interior ministry of North Rhine-Westphalia had subjected all foreign students and academics from Muslim countries (as well as North Korea), who needed a visa or an extension of their residence permit, to ‘security related questioning’ about their beliefs. Those who refused to answer the questions in a way the Aliens Office deemed appropriate have had to return to their country of origin. Now, Mourad Qortas, a Moroccan studying in Münster is challenging the legality of the test in the courts.
Up till June, nobody knew what was actually in the ‘test’ because the interior ministry refused to publish it. Qortas told the Frankfurter Rundschau that he was asked whether he was a member of al-Qaida, whether he was trained in manufacturing explosives or in martial arts, whether he knew people who maintained contacts with organisations classified as terrorist and whether he would be willing to work with the German security services. It was only when Qortas went to renew his residence permit that he was told he would have to sit the security questionnaire. ‘I have never done anything illegal and suddenly had to prove my innocence,’ said Qortas ‘These questions give rise to a terrible inferiority mentality’, he said. Everyone who is subjected to the test will ‘afterwards reflect intensively on whether his neighbour hasn’t at some time said something odd’.
Universities and the Conference of College and University Rectors had no idea that this ‘security related questioning’ was taking place, The University of Münster was the first university to openly oppose the ‘test’. Vice-chancellor Marianne Ravenstein, said the questioning was not only discriminatory but that ‘students and academics go to this decisive test completely unsuspecting’ and ‘deprived of any legal advice’. Regina Weber, a member of the executive of the Voluntary Association of Student Bodies believes the questionnaire is a ‘racist test of fundamental beliefs’, and is possibly unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, Mourad Qortas has been given the go ahead by the Aliens’ Office to complete his studies. Nevertheless, he says that if his legal action in the Münster administrative court should fail, he will return to Morocco voluntarily. ‘I don’t want to live here under perpetual suspicion.’