The University of Kent follows Westminster University’s footsteps by banning talk with ‘anti-gay’ preacher Haitham Al-Haddad
The University of Westminster, once attended by Mohammed Emwazi, otherwise known as “Jihadi John” the ISIS militant, has recently suspended a speech by Dr Haitham Al-Haddad. The University of Kent has similarly banned a scheduled speech with the scholar. Dr Haitham Al-Haddad, chair operations advisor and trustee for the Muslim Research and Development Foundation (MRDF) has previously made statements that have been deemed anti-Semitic and homophobic, calling Jews “enemies of God” and condemning the LGBT community as consorting in “criminal acts”.
The speech at the University of Westminster, originally scheduled to take place days before a national festival for the LGBT community, drew widespread attention and was deterred by over two thousand petitioners. Whilst the speech was not set to be focused on LGBT topics, and instead a discussion on “Who is Muhammad”, many still deemed his appearance as inappropriate considering his radical views, and feared his presence would create an “unsafe” environment for those attending the LGBT event.
Similarly, the Islamic Society at the University of Kent had scheduled a speech with Dr Haitham Al-Haddad on Sharia law for its “Discover Islam Week”. The University of Kent however, banned the speech based on their “no platform” policy which prohibits: “any individual who is known to hold racist or fascist views from distributing any written or recorded material in the union which expresses those views… [these include] a member of racist or fascist organisations such as British National Party, Combat 18, Hizbut-Tahrir, MPAC UK, or National Front”.
Due to these recent events, controversial questions concerning freedom of speech have arisen. Such questions include: Should unconventional and extremist views be disabled from expression, and is eradicating him and others like him from the podium a step in the direction of censorship? These questions are currently being pondered upon by the coalition government, who hold contrasting policy views in relation to freedom of speech. The Conservatives have outlined that their default position is to ban all extremist speakers, whilst the Liberal Democrats defend the right for universities to make their own judgement on who attends speeches given on their grounds.
Others have suggested that instead of banning labelled “extremist” speakers, they should be invited to compete in more democratic debates, which allows a fair evaluation of both arguments, and would thus deter radicalisation of students. Many have argued that this does however, undermine the stature of the student body itself, to infer that students would adopt extremist views after one speech by a controversial speaker.
The University of Westminster have responded to petitioners by saying that they are “working to implement the Government’s Prevent strategy to tackle extremism” and aim to “provide advice and support” to students, whilst the University of Kent issued response of apology for the speech’s cancelation and said “hopefully we will be able to benefit from the expertise of the speaker in future.”