Peter Tatchell writes about last week’s decision of Reading University’s Student Union to cancel an event where the anti-gay Islamic preacher Abu Usamah at-Thahabi was due to attend.
Reading University and its 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?
This article was first published in the Huffington Post.
Peter Tatchell is a human rights activist who campaigns with OutRage! He is a regular contributor to PinkNews.co.uk and The Guardian. To help the work of his foundation please visit petertatchellfoundation.org
As with all comment pieces the views expressed do not necessary reflect those of PinkNews.co.uk