Reading University and students union have praised the university's Muslim Society, despite its bid to host the "kill the gays" Islamist preacher, Abu Usamah at-Thahabi.
Thahabi had been invited to speak to the far right university Muslim Society as part of its Discover Islam Week.
He endorses the murder of gay people and of Muslims who give up their faith. He says women are intellectually deficient and he encourages the physical beating of young girls who refuse to wear the hijab.
A joint statement by the Reading University Muslim Society, Reading University Students Union and the University of Reading praised the "laudable aims" of the Muslim Society.
Laudable aims? Are the university authorities and student's union bonkers or bigots? Do they, too, justify murder?
I find it impossible to believe that the Muslim Society was not aware of Thahabi's extremist opinions. He is a well publicised hate preacher. How can an organisation be laudable if it hosts a person with such intolerant, murder-endorsing views?
By inviting Thahabi, the Muslim Society places itself at the far right extremist end of politics, alongside racist and fascist organisations that promote similar bigoted ideas.
The joint statement went on to say:
"Both the University and RUSU (Reading University Students Union) are committed to supporting the Muslim Society in its aims of raising awareness of Islam and building mutual understanding. We are delighted that other events in the week's programme will be going ahead as planned."
Building mutual understanding? Has Reading University taken leave of its senses? How is mutual understanding advanced by hosting a preacher who advocates murdering ex-Muslims and gay people? Who disrespects women as inferior, lesser human beings? And who calls for the beating of littler girls?
At the last minute, the university decided to cancel Thahabi's talk but not because of his sexism, homophobia and de facto incitement to murder. The reason the authorities cited for cancelling was, they said, "the increasing threat of violent protest by extremist groups." These groups were not named.
Some people interpreted this as a smear against the peaceful counter-protest planned by the anti-extremist group, Student Rights, and by the Reading Atheist, Humanist and Secularist Society (RAHS).
However, a post on the English Defence League-linked Casual's United blog stated that "local activists will be turning up to disrupt" the event. It also posted a telephone number that its readers can call to "tell them [the university] what you think of them for hosting this rodent."
Leaving aside the likelihood that this threat may have been just bluff and bragging, there was therefore a possibility that violent disruption may have ensued. But isn't that what university security staff - and the police - are employed to prevent?
Student Rights reacted commendably to the warning of disruption:
"We condemn utterly any violent threats made towards the university, the Student Union or the Muslim Society, and are saddened that positive activism by students to oppose the event has been undermined by the cowardly actions of a minority of extremists."
The university authorities say the event was cancelled due to threats of violent protests. They pointedly did not condemn the Muslim Society for inviting Thahabi.
Offering him a platform clearly violated the equal opportunities and non-discrimination policies of the university and the student's union. He should have never been invited in the first place.
Women, Muslim and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students have a right to go to university without being menaced and threatened by hate preachers.
As I wrote in a letter of protest to the Reading University Vice Chancellor, David Bell:
"If Mr Abu Usamah at-Thahabi's previous remarks had called for the murder of Jewish or black people I am sure he would not be permitted to speak at your university. I urge you to not collude with a man who incites murder, and to not adopt double standards on incitements to racist and homophobic violence. Equality for all. Hatred against none."
The reckless decision of the Muslim Society to invite Thahabi risks reinforcing the false notion that all Muslims are extremists. It fuels the anti-Muslim agenda of far right groups like the British National Party and the English Defence League. I do not believe that Thahabi's hateful, violent views are shared by most Muslims in Britain. Why, then, did the Muslim Society agree to host him? Are they extremist fanatics too?
The joint statement by the university, student's union and Muslim Society concluded:
"....the University has agreed to work with RUSU to ensure its policies reflect the need to protect the principles of freedom of speech in balance with the rights of all constituent parts of the student community. The University is committed to upholding both the right to free speech and the right to lawful protest within an environment that guarantees the safety of all users of our campuses."
What is this nonsense about supporting free speech? The Reading University Student's Union (RUSU) is a notorious opponent of free speech. At last October's Freshers' Fayre, they used security staff to force out the student Reading Atheist, Humanist, and Secularist Society (RAHS)after they included a pineapple labelled 'Mohammed' on their stall.
The pineapple was called 'Mohammed' by RAHS in order "to encourage discussion about blasphemy, religion, and liberty, as well as to celebrate the fact that we live in a country in which free speech is protected, and where it is lawful to call a pineapple by whatever name one chooses."
The student's union justified censoring, banning and ejecting RAHS from the Freshers' Fayre with the claim:
"Our Freshers' Fayre is an inclusive event for all students. As the society's actions were causing upset and distress to a number of individual students and other societies attending we took the decision to ask them to leave".
So much for defending free speech. If some sensitive souls get offended by a lawful display, RUSU is apparently quite happy to suppress free speech.
I defend free speech and would not seek to exclude Abu Usamah at-Thahabi if he was merely sexist, homophobic or otherwise intolerant. I would challenge and protest against his extremist views but not seek to ban him.
He certainly does profess appalling prejudice; denouncing all Christians and Jews as the "enemy" of Islam. He derides women as "deficient", inferior to men and intellectually "incomplete," stating:
"Allah has created the woman, even if she gets a PhD, deficient. Her intellect is incomplete, deficient. She may be suffering from hormones that will make her emotional. It takes two witnesses of a woman to equal the one witness of the man."
But his rants go beyond mere prejudice and ignorance. He crosses the red line and threatens free speech by endorsing violence and murder towards those with whom he disagrees. This is an abuse of free speech. In such an atmosphere of menace and intimidation, there can be no genuinely inclusive and open free speech because the people he says should be subjected to violence and death will, in many instances, be to too fearful to participate and speak out.
Thahabi's bigoted views - including his approval of violence and murder - were caught on camera when he addressed worshippers at the Green Lane Mosque in Birmingham. It was broadcast on Channel Four's Dispatches programme.
He advocates violence against little girls who don't wear the hijab: "She should start hijab from the age of seven, by the age of ten it becomes an obligation on us to force her to wear hijab and if she doesn't wear hijab, we hit her."
Thahabi says that gay people should be punished with death: "Do you practice homosexuality with men? Take that homosexual man and throw him off the mountain...If I were to call homosexuals perverted, dirty, filthy dogs who should be murdered, that's my freedom of speech, isn't it?"
On Muslims who leave the faith he said: "Kill him in the Islamic state...If the Imam wants to crucify him, he should crucify him. The person is put up on the wood and he's left there to bleed to death for three days."
When he was later interviewed by Channel 4 News, Thahabi refused to withdraw or apologise for his murderous comments.
All this information about his extreme views has been widely publicised and is easily accessible. Despite this, Thahabi was invited to give a speech by the Muslim Society, with the support of the university authorities and the student's union.
This is not an isolated incident. Similar promotion of hate preachers is happening at universities in many parts of the country. Some of these fanatics endorse violence and murder, with the collusion of university authorities and student unions. The victims of their bigoted rants are mostly women, LGBT people, Jews and fellow Muslims who do not share their hardline stance.
These preachers are radicalising a new generation of young Muslims to embrace fundamentalist Islam. The acceptance of hateful, bigoted ideas is the first step towards a dangerous Islamist extremism that can, in some instances, lead ultimately to religious-inspired fanaticism and terrorism.
What happened to the university tradition of openness, tolerance, understanding and humanitarianism?
Within British media and the Westminster Village, the recent release of the latest census data has sparked considerable debate. Much of this has focused on the extent to which some areas of London have experienced 'white flight', or whether we should be anxious about the fact that less than 8% of the population do not use English as their main language. But underneath the headlines, debate has also focused on the rising number of Muslims in Britain, and the growing presence of Islam within our society.
Behind a large Christian majority, and excluding the non-religious, the census reveals that Muslims are the second largest religious group, and are also the fastest growing. There are now more than 2.7million Muslims in England and Wales, an increase of over one million since 2001. British Muslims now comprise at least 4.8% of the population in England and Wales, which is up from 3% in 2001. In fact, since the heady days of 2001 that saw urban disturbances in northern towns, the number of Muslims in England and Wales has risen by 75%.
Unsurprisingly, these statistics have been met with alarm on the right-wing. Commentators such as Douglas Murray point to the growing Muslim population as indicative of Britain's "troubling future". This follows similar concerns voiced by figures such as former leader of the UK Independence Party, Lord Pearson, who stated in one video: "The fact is that Muslims are breeding ten times faster than us... I do not know at what point they reach such a number that we are no longer able to resist the rest of their demands, but if we do not do something now, within the next year or two, we have, in effect, lost".
These pessimists take comfort from doom-and-gloom prophecies about 'Muslim takeovers', and apocalyptic-style scenarios in which Britain and Europe are being 'Islamified'. They also benefit from a wider circle of anti-Muslim prejudice within sections of British media, which was recently criticized by the Leveson Inquiry for blatantly falsifying stories about Muslims or framing them consistently as problematic or threatening. To date, only a few voices -such as Ian Birrell, Mehdi Hasan, Peter Oborne, Jonathan Freedland and Owen Jones - have taken a stand.
The pessimists (or, more bluntly, Islamophobes) are especially adept at ignoring research that undermines their dreary narratives. We now know, for example, that British Muslims are more likely than other groups in British society to feel satisfied with British democracy. Or that they are just as likely as other groups to feel a duty to vote. Or that they are just as likely as other groups to align themselves with 'British' identity. Or that Muslims of Pakistani heritage are no more likely than other groups to have a strong minority identification.
This kind of work, undertaken among others by the Online Centre for Ethnicity in Politics, is an inconvenient distraction to pessimists, who claim that Islam and its followers are posing a fundamentally threatening the British way of life. Only, the simple reality is that these voices are not only disconnected from actual evidence, but they are also on the wrong side of history.
As my new project with Chatham House reveals, Britain is in the midst of a silent and generational revolution in terms of our attitudes toward Islam. This divide across the generations is deep and significant. Working with YouGov, we surveyed 1,666 British adults, probing their attitudes toward a range of different issues, including Islam and the growth of British Muslim communities.
Consistent with the claims of Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who has suggested that anti-Muslim prejudice is relatively widespread, we did find striking levels of public anxiety over the growing presence of Islam and Muslims in Britain.
Consider this: 48% of our overall sample rejected the suggestion that Muslims are compatible with the British way of life; 51% rejected the suggestion that the growth of Muslim communities in Britain does not threaten the survival of the white British majority; and 57% rejected the suggestion that Islam does not pose a serious danger to Western civilization. Strikingly, only 7% felt strongly that Islam does threaten the West, and only 5% felt strongly that Muslims are compatible with the national way of life. Furthermore, almost half of our sample (49%) agreed with the statement 'there will be a clash of civilizations' between Muslims and native white Britons'.
"Killing Jews is worship that draws us closer to Allah," reads one of the ads, which has people debating the line between free speech and hate speech (Controversial anti-Muslim ad campaign being rolled out on San Francisco busses
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