student life

Are radical Islamic speakers being invited into universities?

Extremist Islamic speakers were invited into London universities just weeks before the Prime Minister was briefed by MI5 about terrorist threats during the Olympics.

Extremist Islamic speakers were invited into London universities just weeks before the Prime Minister was briefed by MI5 about terrorist threats during the Olympics.

This appearance has come to light at the same time as a suspected Islamic militant in Toulouse, France, killed seven people and threw himself out of a window.

This appearance went ahead despite Home Office fears that the group could be attempting to radicialise students.

Jamal Harwood of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a group specifically mentioned as dangerous by the government’s anti-terrorism strategy as attempting to radicalise students, was invited to speak at Westminster University despite strong opposition from student rights groups.

The University of Westminster is one of several institutions previously accused by the government of complacency in tackling radicalisation and Islamic extremism on campus.

The Global Ideas Society at Westminster hosted a debate on Wednesday 8 March, which featured Harwood, an executive member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist group which calls for Islamic Khilafah State law to be implemented globally.

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘Universities have a responsibility to help protect vulnerable young people from radicalisation and the government expects them to fulfill that responsibility, in line with our Prevent strategy. The vast majority of them recognise this and take part.’

At the event, Harwood argued for a new ‘Gold Standard’, which would include banking reform, zero interest rates and an economic system answerable exclusively to Islamic law.

Under the Prevent strategy, rewritten by the coalition government in June 2011, Hizb ut-Tahrir is linked to terrorist activity and is specifically noted as a group which targets universities with large Muslim populations, aiming to radicalise student bodies.

The Prevent Strategy reads: ‘We are completely committed to protecting freedom of speech in this country. But universities and colleges also have a legal and moral obligation to staff and students to ensure that the place of work and study is a tolerant, welcoming and safe environment.

‘Although it is vital that universities and colleges must protect academic freedom, it is a long-established principle that universities also have a duty of care to their students. 

‘Universities and colleges – and, to some extent, university societies and student groups – have a clear and unambiguous role to play in helping to safeguard vulnerable young people from radicalisation and recruitment by terrorist organisations.’

The debate was originally scheduled for 16 February this year, but was cancelled. A joint statement from the Global Ideas Society and Westminster Students’ Union email said:

‘Several students, a lecturer and Peter Tatchell, according to the University, who opposed the appearance of a Hizb ut-Tahrir member, posed a violent threat to the event.

‘The decision to cancel the event had nothing to do, whatsoever with the scheduled appearance of Jamal Harwood.’

Peter Tatchell has since said he had no knowledge that the event was taking place, and the students opposed to the policies of Hizb ut-Tahrir have said that they only ever intended to peacefully protest Harwood’s appearance at the debate.

Despite a poster for the event reading ‘All students welcome’, members of the group, Student Rights, said that they were denied entry despite contacting organisers ahead of the event requesting an invitation. 

It has been suggested that these events are exploited by groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir to recruit new student  members.

Amy Wilkes, 21, attended the event and said that any question seen to be criticising Harwood’s views was, ‘either avoided altogether or silenced swiftly by the chair and intimidating reactions from Harwood’s supporters.’

The Global Ideas Society have been banned from speaking by the University in the past for links to Hizb ut-Tahrir.

At the same time as the debate over whether these groups should be given a platform in UK universities, Westminster lists itself as a Stonewall Diversity Champion.

A Westminster University spokesperson commented: ‘As a leading London university, we support the democratic right to freedom of speech but we are also committed to promoting an academic environment based on equality and respect.’ They were not able to provide further comment.

Not the first time the University has been caught in controversy, as both the president and vice president of the Students’ Union at Westminster, Tarik Mahri and Jamal Achchi, were also linked to the radical group.

A debate on extremism in universities will take place in April, to which members of Hizb ut-Tahrir have allegedly been invited to speak.