The School of Oriental and African Studies, Queen Mary, Kings College and Kingston Universities have strongly denied accusations by the Prime Minister’s office that they have hosted radical and extremist speakers. Laura Gibbs, registrar at SOAS stated that “we were disappointed to see that the announcement made today by the Prime Minister’s Office includes some inaccuracies. We have not hosted any extremist speakers in the last year, or indeed the recent past”, whilst Professor Simon Gaskell, principal of Queen Mary, said: “We find it difficult to respond to these assertions when the extremism analysis unit has not requested any information”, adding that the university would “welcome sight of their definitions for ‘hate or extremist speakers”.
The list of speakers believed to be extremists who had been invited to speak at these universities included:
- Haitham Al-Haddad
- Dr Uthman Lateef
- Alomgir Ali
- Imran Ibn Mansur, also known as Dawah Man
- Hamza Tzortis
- Dr Salman Butt
SOAS responded to this list by highlighting that some, such as Haitham Al-Haddad, had been invited to discuss the prohibition of interest rates by the Islamic Finance Society. Other universities stressed that all the necessary due diligence had been conducted and that they had complied with all the necessary government guidelines concerning the hosting of these speakers.
The criticism from the Prime Minister comes as the government steps up its efforts to counter ‘extremism’. However the rhetoric has been to deflect criticism of foreign policy and stifling debate which has alienated large sections of the Muslim community within the UK, portraying such critics as ‘sympathisers’ or ‘justifying’ terrorism. Indeed government policy has been heavily influenced by a select minority group including the Quillam foundation, a group on the extreme side of the Islamic spectrum calling for change within the Islamic texts which amounts to a challenge to the fundamental tenets for Muslims worldwide and deemed by the majority as unacceptable. Such reliance on these groups has resulted in criticism that the government is out of touch with the Muslim community and therefore the current drive towards a policy on countering extremism appears to be headed for increased arbitrary discrimination.
The National Union of Students has strongly resisted the Prevent program which seeks to restrict freedom of speech within university campuses, which it believes compromises the welfare of students.