The article published on this website yesterday by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) spokesman Amandla Thomas-Johnson has attempted to suggest that there is a concerted attempt by groups like Student Rights to smear Muslim students as extremists. This is itself a smear on the work of groups which have been investigating this issue, and not only misrepresents the conclusions of the Home Affairs Select Committee Report he has based his article on, but also the situation on university campuses themselves.
The report states that "we are not convinced that extremists on campus are always subject to equal and robust challenge", and has called for more help to be provided to universities in order to enable them to make informed decisions about extremist speakers yet Mr Thomas-Johnson suggests that by focusing on the issue we are perverting reality.
This is simply untrue, and is belied by, amongst other things, the high levels of activity involving the Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir, who are banned from many universities under the National Union of Students' (NUS) No Platform Policy. Over the past few months, Dr Abdul Wahid and Reza Pankhurst, both advertised by students as prominent members of the organisation, have been invited onto campus by societies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and Queen Mary University to address students. Indeed, the fact that his article has appeared the day before Jamal Harwood, another senior member of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, is due to appear at Westminster University only serves to highlight the extent of the issue.
These talks have been characterised by partisan crowds and intimidation being meted out to opposing speakers. At SOAS, an audience member shouted that a speaker who disagreed with Dr Wahid was a "kafir", and at Queen Mary the opposing speaker was told that he should "follow him [Tunisian fruit vendor Mohamed Bouazizi] by burning yourself". Intimidation of opponents at City University is also reported in the HASC report, something which Mr Thomas-Johnson has missed, as well as at a recent event at Queen Mary when students were filmed and violently threatened.
Compounding this, research by Student Rights has documented students at several London universities disseminating articles from websites like New Civilisation, edited by Reza Pankhurst, as well as links to the Hizb-ut-Tahrir website, and to Islamist websites like Khilafah.com. A recent Student Rights report also discovered that London South Bank University Islamic Society (ISoc) were sharing speeches given by jihadist cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki on Facebook, though these videos have since been removed.
This is only the tip of the iceberg though, and the suggestion that the focus on speakers is an "absurd concoction" either shows that FOSIS is completely out of touch with reality or are complicit in obscuring the extent of the problem. In the past three months, Student Rights has documented over 40 instances of speakers being invited onto campuses who have caused concern in the past, including individuals who have declared support for terrorist organisations, have expressed homophobic or misogynistic views or have encouraged communal division.
Some of these men spoke on topics including Israel and Palestine, the Arab Spring, the War on Terror and Guantanamo Bay. Others addressed issues such the falsity of evolutionary theory and the failures of Liberalism. Despite this, Mr Thomas-Johnson would have us believe that they were all discussing topics such as Jesus's life or the Islamic contribution to science.
The fact that FOSIS themselves have organised some of these events, promoting preachers like Haitham al-Haddad and Zahir Mahmood, does not help their cause. Mahmood is most famous for declaring that "Hamas are not terrorists", despite the UK government designating them as such. This is a statement which jars with Mr Thomas-Johnson's claim that both he and FOSIS "reject that any of our speakers condone violent extremism". At least he is still a fairly rare sight on campus though. Haitham al-Haddad is frequently invited to speak across the country, and in fact spoke at Roehampton University on Monday. He was also due to speak at the London School of Economics on Tuesday 7 February, but was cancelled after a number of students complained about his alleged anti-semitism.
Perhaps the fact that FOSIS represent only the tenth of Muslim students at British universities who, a YouGov poll published in 2008 discovered, regularly attend their ISoc meetings is where the key to this lies. A quick examination of the organisation's most recent press releases demonstrates their true nature, with three of the four released this year dealing with political rather than campus issues. The same was true last year, with the organisation calling publicly for the release of Raed Salah, expressing dismay that hate preacher Yusuf Qaradawi had been banned from entering Ireland, and publicising the work of CagePrisoners, a campaign group set up by former Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Meanwhile, whilst Mr Thomas-Johnson states that "sincere efforts... exist in raising female participation in student societies", this ignores the fact that large numbers of events organised by ISocs are either fully segregated or discriminate over who is allowed in on the basis of gender. Some ISOCs do not even allow women to stand for their presidency role either, which surely undermines the "democratic integrity of Muslim students" he is so keen to point out.
Accusing your opponents of demagoguery and scaremongering is one of the oldest political tricks in the book, yet the facts simply do not add up here. FOSIS claim that the community they represent is being unfairly demonised yet they organise events with extremists and refuse to engage with organisations like ourselves when we contact them. Student Rights would appreciate FOSIS going on the record to denounce and openly criticise the speakers we have mentioned in this piece, as well as Islamist organisations like Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Until they're willing to do so, their cries of 'Islamophobia' will likely fall on the deaf ears of anyone willing to do research in this area and not simply accept a blog post at face value. We invite readers to do just this.