Halimah Manan reports on how the Maryam Namazie decision affected Muslims on campus.
Ex-Muslim Maryam Namazie will speak at Warwick, the SU announced on 27 September after allegedly banning her. The decision came after days of deliberation and outrage over an alleged ban of Maryam Namazie.
Namazie was asked to speak at an event for Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists’ (WASH) society, in October. Their request was allegedly denied by an SU spokesperson in an email to WASH president, Benjamin David.
Outrage at the ‘ban’ was aired on ‘Overheard at Warwick’, a Facebook page, and Twitter.
This decision was the result of an “internal miscommunication” and Ms Namazie was “never ‘banned,’” Warwick SU’s communication coordinator, Chris Carter, told Kettle.
Even so, the premature decision was made in “deference to the rights of Muslim students not to feel intimidated or discriminated against” on campus, Isaac Leigh, president of Warwick SU, told the Independent.
Responses to the decision
Safrina Ahmed, Muslim co-president of Warwick Anti-Racism society (WARSoc), said she appreciated Leigh’s reasoning despite claims that it was ‘patronising.’
I deplore Warwick University Students Union barring Maryam Namazie speaking there. It patronises Muslim students. http://t.co/TBHsLM1Yjs
— Mohammed Amin (@Mohammed_Amin) September 26, 2015
“I feel like, as Muslims, we’re not protected enough in this society at all.” Ahmed said. “But, at the same time, I feel like you cannot speak for Muslim voices … because … what comes across is Muslims can never speak for themselves. Let us speak for ourselves and then protect us.”
However, Ahmed continued to add that the action was “paternalistic” but also that “[the SU are] making Muslims looks like a monolithic group that have not got any opinions themselves.”
Muslims were not consulted
Despite Mr Leigh’s explanation, Warwick Islamic Society (ISOC) “were not consulted” by either WASH or the SU regarding the Maryam Namazie talk, they announced on Facebook. They were also not “involved in the SU’s final decision,” the statement added.
This contradicts Warwick SU’s aim to “collaborate with others to reach sound, evidenced judgements about proposed external speakers”, in their policy.
In an email to Kettle, Leigh explained that “had the external speaker process been followed properly,” Warwick SU would have had “proper conversations with [ISOC] and Muslim students” about the event, from “the very beginning.”
Even so, “[ISOC were] dragged into quite a lot of stuff on the ‘Overheard at Warwick’ page”, Ahmed noted, explaining that she felt bad for them.
When asked, Leigh told Kettle he is “particularly regretful that they mistakenly received criticism and abuse, since they were not involved.”
“It’s incredibly important that all voices on campus are heard and included, including those of the Muslim community,” Leigh said.
“I do understand why they did it because they do have a strict procedure,” Ahmed said, when asked about the initial decision. “I’ve had some speakers which have not been allowed. I know ISOC have had some. And we’ve had events that haven’t been allowed to go ahead.”
Ms Ahmed gave the example of a WARSoc event which was cancelled because it “didn’t fit the electoral law.”
Rather than having speakers rejected, Isma’il Mustafa, co-president of ISOC, explained, “we take the onus not to invite anyone with a controversial incident in their history.”
This is “in order to ensure that our events are constructive and to avoid unsettling our members or the wider Warwick university community”, he added, when asked about finding speakers.
The ‘problem’ of ‘safe spaces’?
The ‘ban’ “is part of a worrying wave of censorship … under the guise of ‘safe spaces’”, Stephen Evans, WASH’s campaigns manager, told the Independent before Warwick SU made their final decision.
‘Safe spaces’ have “a chilling effect on freedom of speech”, he explained.
Mikka Park, second-year History and Sociology student, disagreed.
“I really don’t think that’s the case,” Park said. “It’s not so simple. ‘Safe spaces’ are equally as important as the freedom to voice our opinions. I think it’s worth noting hateful views are often espoused under the guise of freedom of speech.”
Park said she wasn’t “suggesting this is the case” in this circumstance.
As well as this, Ahmed pointed out that an attempt to get a “Black Power speaker” could lead to “plenty of upset people.”
If ISOC accidentally invited someone ‘inflammatory’, Mustafa said, “The repercussions would be damning” as per PREVENT. This is because it is “aimed at countering radicalisation by the management of Muslim speakers.”
Even so, “the decision to allow this event to go ahead, despite its potentially inflammatory nature” was not condemned by Warwick ISOC, in a Facebook post.
They expressed confidence that the decision will mean the “same courtesy is extended to all societies on campus, and the important values of free speech [are] upheld in all cases.”
Ultimately, Leigh said: “The SU has always had an excellent relationship with the [Islamic] Society and they have been extremely reasonable and helpful.”
Leigh added that the SU looks forward to “working closely” with them over the year.