Freedom & Liberty

Campaign attacks Quilliam Foundation speaker’s campus event

This is a cross-post from Student Rights

Tomorrow Usama Hasan, the Senior Researcher in Islamic Affairs at the Quilliam Foundation, is due to speak at the University of Plymouth on the wider implications of the Arab Spring.

However, in the past few days a campaign has developed to pressure the university into cancelling the event, with a letter sent to the Vice Chancellor of the University declaring that:

The Quilliam Foundation developed a track record of instigating Islamophobia through false narratives that stir anti-Muslim sentiment”.This has been accompanied by aspurious accusationthat Hasan has posted cartoons offensive to women, and has trivialiseddomestic violence.

However, the main grievance the organisers have is that “through social media, the QuilliamFoundation members have recently posted derogatory cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad”.

They go on to claim that “such deliberate insulting behaviour would be seen as provocative, lead to Islamophobia, restlessness and potential student disharmony”.

The letter then calls for the university to “consider the withdrawal of the invitation of Usama Hasanof the Quilliam Foundation and cancel the event”.

Since the submission of the letter, the university has quite rightly refused to bow to intimidation and ban a speaker whose only crime has been to support a colleague under attack by religious bigots.

This has resulted in a demonstration being planned, with the university Islamic Society declaring that the cartoon tweet “is as offensive, if not more than the Denmark cartoons which caused a worldwide response in 2005” and calling on all students to attend.

In calling for a moderate Muslim speaker to be banned from campus because of his association with a supposedly blasphemous individual, these students have shown the depth to which religious intolerance can sink on our campuses.

They have also shown incredible hypocrisy given the regular claims from many Islamic Societies that even criticism of invited speakers with extreme views demonises Muslim students and harms their freedom of expression.

Worse though is the fact that the campaign has attracted individuals like Yusuf Chambers, of the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA), and Sharif Abu Laith, who have interacted with students on the Facebook event page.

Chambers, who claims he will be attending the protest, has been criticised for saying “may Allah allow us to bring back that punishment to protect all humanity” when told that the punishment for sex outside of marriage is flogging and then execution.

He has also been accused of supporting the death penalty for homosexuality, sayingJazakAllah Khair [May Allah grant you goodness] for clearing that issue up” when told that “homosexuality is forbidden in Islam and the punishment for homosexuality is death.

His involvement in this protest also shows intense hypocrisy given his complaints that UCL banning his organisation from campus was an “extremist Islamophobic action” and that “Britain was once a place of freedom”.

Sharif Abu Laith meanwhile is a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir who has shown religious intolerance, using a derogatory term for non-Muslims when he declared of a debate rival earlier this month “the above opponent was the only kuff we could get”.

The involvement of these individuals, and the heavy focus by protestors on the cartoon issue, makes it is clear that this campaign is not about Usama Hasan or Quilliam, but about silencing moderate Muslims and attacking the freedom to criticise religion.

Here at Student Rights we are glad to see that the University of Plymouth has not caved in to the demands of those students who wish to impose their religious sensibilities on others, and hope that they will ensure the safety of Usama Hasan and event attendees tomorrow.

Sarah adds: Most of those complaining about Maajid Nawaz’s decision to retweet ‘Jesus and Mo’ did not call for those cartoons to be banned. Instead they framed their objections in terms of what was appropriate for a PPC. Here one opponent of Nawaz seeks to reassure those concerned about freedom of speech.

The case of the UKIP councillor conveniently provides a bridge to the next argument in the #TeamNawaz arsenal and one which is frequently employed in right wing circles namely that Muslims are attempting to impose and enforce their values and religious laws upon Britain. The reality is that even if this were the case there would still be nothing to worry about as it is not just British law that provides for freedom of speech and expression but also European human rights legislation. These rights are regarded as sacrosanct and non-negotiable by every Member of Parliament across the entire political spectrum as well as by the overwhelming majority of British society.

But now the goalposts have shifted.  It is being suggested that Usama Hasan, because of his association with Quilliam (and thus with the cartoon) should not be allowed to speak at Plymouth University.  This is not just about defending what we may legally write or say – after all there is no law against denying the Holocaust –  but about defending what is acceptable  discourse in the public sphere.

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