At the end of last term the news broke nationally that a student of Royal Holloway, Zubair Nur, had gone missing, prompting Scotland Yard to launch an official investigation, fearing he may be en route to Syria to join extremist fighters. At the Orbital we were unsure of whether to publish the article detailing the little facts we had gleaned from limited media coverage, over Zubair’s disappearance. Other student and national publications have since received negative feedback online, with people accusing their writers of allowing racial and religious prejudiced views to permeate their articles, and of not conveying a fair story of what ultimately amounts to a desperately sad and confusing time for students who were friends of Zubair during his first term at Royal Holloway.
In light of this, we wish to attempt to tell the story behind the headlines, with the help of those who knew Zubair well, and have experienced frustration at the limited reporting of the press over his disappearance. Zubair, Zubs to those that knew him well, was studying Petroleum Geology in his first year, and in the short term he attended Royal Holloway, had built up a strong group of friends. Dom, a course mate of Zubair explains that ‘he was very relaxed and never took life too seriously, which was very refreshing in a degree that you definitely have to work hard for. He was a gentlemen too, he’d often pick up my coat for me and he had a great sense of humour, a brilliant laugh, an infectious smile, and a warm and calming voice.’ The geology student also went on field trips with his friends, and participated in a team for a sporting event organized by New Lyell society. Not living on campus, instead commuting from home to University each day, Zubair made a real effort to feel part of the university and the friendship group he had established, friends have commented that ‘he got on with anyone he spoke to.’
It was reported in the national media that Zubair’s behaviour had changed in the weeks before his disappearance, with his social media accounts displaying a greater interest in fundamentalist ideology. However, when asked if his behaviour had at all changed his course mate explained that ‘If we ever asked Zubair about his religion, then he was always happy to explain we wanted to know about, but it wasn’t something he constantly talked about. From a mutual friend, he sometimes would talk about extremist groups, but they didn’t think anything of it at the time, however I never heard him speak about an interest in them myself. He was very open about his ethnicity and his religion and openly joked about them sometimes.’
The media coverage of Zubair’s disappearance has upset many students at Royal Holloway. With headlines such as ‘Islamic State: student feared to have joined group’ depicting a fall from grace of a student who was once deputy head boy, the general consensus amongst his university friends is that the press have ‘dehumanised’ a hard-working and caring student. Dom comments that the coverage, as with the coverage of similar cases, has been ‘accusatory and incriminating with insufficient evidence. The minute they go ‘missing’ they are treated like objects, they suddenly lose their identity, their history, their friends, their achievements and their qualities as a person.’ Another friend felt like ‘he was used as a scapegoat by the media for being a young Muslim.’ They further commented that ‘The media had no proof that he went to Syria, just a hunch. I feel that he and his family deserve better than that. If it does come out that the media were correct then it is a warning that anybody can be brainwashed into warfare; a larger issue.’
Zubair’s friends at Royal Holloway hope he is safe and that the reason for his suspected disappearance is entirely false. Whether this turns out to be the case or not, they will remember him ‘not as an object to speculate about, nor a traitor, but a young student and a friend’, that they hope will return unlike the media have suggested. They hope also that future media coverage will remember this and that he is treated and portrayed fairly, for his own sake, his family’s sake and for all those that remember his time at Royal Holloway fondly.