The debate that surrounds the issue of extremism on university campuses is one which is frequently framed in political language, examining the dangers of Islamist radicalisation or the influence of the Far-Right. Challenging the spread of homophobia by religious speakers is something which often receives less attention, yet is an equally prevalent problem.
This was highlighted yesterday when, following an email from Student Rights, an event at the University of Hertfordshire featuring Saudi Arabian preacher Assim Al-Hakeem was cancelled due to his virulently homophobic views.
These can be seen in a 'Q&A' section on his website in which Al-Hakeem has responded to a number of enquiries about homosexuality. When asked "how can I deal with this problem homosexual? I can't stop or control it" he replies that "homosexuality is an illness and something that Allah despises" and that the individual should "try and stay away from whatever reminds you of this filth". He also responds to another question by saying that homosexuality turns LGBT people into "animals that seek only their sexual satisfaction through their weird ways".
In this video he can be heard stating that homosexuality is "not something that is natural" and is "an abnormality which must be treated". He also mentions that if you read the Old Testament you would see that the punishment for it was death by stoning.
That an individual who holds such views should be invited onto campus to address students is deeply worrying, yet Al-Hakeem has also been booked to address students at Sheffield Hallam University next Tuesday, as well as at Edinburgh Napier University on 31 March.
In the past months there have also been a number of other events at UK universities featuring individuals who hold such views. These have included Haitham al Haddad, who recently published an article in which he lamented "the scourge of homosexuality", and Murtaza Khan, who has declared that homosexuality is an "abominable action which goes against humanity" and that the correct punishment for such acts is death.
However, this is by no means a problem that is limited to Muslim speakers. Exeter College at Oxford University has recently provoked a storm of controversy by allowing the evangelical organisation Christian Concern to host a conference on their grounds over the Easter holidays.
In August 2011 the group's website conflated homosexuality and paedophilia when reporting on lobbying efforts to classify paedophilia as a psychological condition, declaring that "homosexuality was declassified as a mental disorder in 1973 after similar lobbying efforts. As a result, academic discussion of the adverse effects associated with a homosexual lifestyle has virtually ceased amongst psychologists".
The group's CEO, Andrea Williams, has also written of how she believes that homosexuality can be cured. In an article in June 2011 she wrote that "homosexuals can change... let's speak the truth in love", and that there were attempts to silence those such as herself who suggested that "we need to turn away from sin or that sexual orientation can be changed".
There is no doubt that students are suffering homophobic abuse on campus either. A report published by the National Union of Students in June 2011 found that 43% of gay and 40% of lesbian respondents reported at least one homophobic hate incident.
As well as this, research by Student Rights has found homophobic comments on university Facebook groups, including one student saying "who isn't against homosexuals...that needs to be removed dirty filthy men". Whilst it is difficult to quantify any connection between speaker events and these incidents they are certainly not helpful.
Fortunately, there are many students and institutions that stand up against such bigotry, and the cancellation of the Assim Al-Hakeem event is one indication of that. Students that we have spoken to at Sheffield Hallam are planning a protest against his presence there, and in January Warwick University Islamic Society cancelled an event featuring the homophobic preacher Abu Usamah at-Thahabi, telling Student Rights that if they had been aware of his views they "would have not invited him to talk at the University of Warwick at all".
Whilst the sacred place which freedom of expression has on university campuses should be protected, this does not give speakers the right to spread divisive and hateful views. Student Rights run a campaign called Free Speech, Not Hate Speech highlighting this, and you can sign up here. Homophobia is repugnant and has no place in our society, so why should we have to accept it on our campuses?Suggest a correction