This is a guest post by James Donnelly
As someone involved with student politics in Sheffield, I read about the anti-Semitic vandalism of the UJS stall at the NUS Conference in Sheffield with disgust but not much surprise. The Left’s stance in Sheffield is not atypical of the way in which the Left operates nationally, a disproportionate amount of attention is paid to Israel and occasionally you will hear leftists use the term Zionist interchangeably with Jew or Israeli.
What might be more exceptional in Sheffield is the extent of Islamist extremism on campus and the response of the Left to it. In 2010 the Guardian reported that Sheffield Hallam Islamic Society was being controlled by Hizb ut-Tahrir entryists. After the recent implosion of the organisation we cannot be certain whether Hizb ut-Tahrir continue to control Hallam Islamic Society. Nevertheless, on the 14th of February this year the society invited former Hizb ut-Tahrir member Hamza Tzortzis on to campus, and he characteristically told Sheffield students that homosexuality was a sexual perversion comparable to paedophilia. A week later Hamza Tzortzis told members of the University of Sheffield Islamic Circle that he was not homophobic because he only believed in punishment for practicing homosexuals.
Astonishingly, Sheffield Hallam Islamic Society then managed to invite a man who made Hamza Tzortzis look like the cuddly liberal he likes to portray himself as. The society invited Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem on to campus to speak unopposed to Sheffield students. This is a man who prescribes execution as a punishment for homosexuality, recommends female genital mutilation, speaks out against mixed gender classrooms, believes that women should not run for political office anywhere, supports marital rape and states that “staying at home is one of the best things that a woman can do”. Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem’s lecture was on the role of women in society.
With the support of the Students Rights group, a coalition of secularists, LGBT activists and feminist students from the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University and local residents soon formed in opposition to the grossly offensive lecture. In the event of the lecture going ahead, a protest was planned to demonstrate our disapproval of Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem’s hateful message. The University of Sheffield Student Union passed a motion condemning the talk, urging Sheffield Hallam student representatives not to support the talk. At the last minute, Sheffield Hallam called off the talk citing room booking issues and it was moved to a Sheffield community centre.
What was the response of the Left, with the notable exception of some individuals who were involved in the campaign against Al-Hakeem, to Sheffield Hallam keeping Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem off campus? Two events by two different left-wing sects that denounced the protest against Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem as Islamophobic. One of the talks, organised by the Socialist Worker Student Society, was advertised to Sheffield Hallam Islamic Society members explicitly out of solidarity with the talk by Sheikh Assim Al-Hakeem talk being banned. One Socialist Worker party member posted “This should be a good meeting especially considering what’s happened here at Hallam. Hope you can make it, sorry if it clashes with the rearranged meeting” on the Sheffield Hallam Islamic Society facebook. The leaflet used to promote the meeting featured an image of an EDL member, an intentional conflation of opposition to clerical fascism with racism.
This week Sheffield Hallam Islamic Society invited hate preacher Murtaza Khan on to Sheffield Hallam campus. This time though, on the same day that the UJS stall was vandalised, the university was quick to cancel the talk despite the fact that the event was announced at short notice. Murtaza Khan has a history of making homophobic and anti-Semitic comments and is well known enough that it seems unlikely that the Sheffield Hallam Islamic Society leadership is unaware of his extremism, or that of Hamza Tzortzis or Assim Al-Hakeem.
In fact, the Sheffield Hallam Islamic Society leadership itself has been involving in propagating hate speech directly. The society’s heavily moderated Facebook group has multiple videos promoting violent Al-Qaeda jihadist Anwar al-Awlaki, one of which was posted by a committee member. In a tweet, another committee member called for LGBT people to be thrown out of their jobs in schools.
Given what has been going on in Sheffield over the past two months, and what happened to the UJS stall on Tuesday you would expect addressing clerical fascist bigotry to be foremost amongst the priorities at the NUS conference in Sheffield. So when I went to a fringe conference entitled ‘Challenging racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and the far right fringe’ I was astonished that, even in the wake of the vandalism of the UJS stall, the talk did not even attempt to address Islamist anti-Semitism. The speakers addressed any action that was a result of clerical fascism by using the passive tense, “homophobic posters were put up”, “the UJS stall was vandalised” leaving the impression that these were the actions of the EDL or the BNP rather than a separate problem that also needed to be addressed.
So, in response to the student from the UJS, I don’t know why it is always you, but I think I know why it was you in Sheffield.