The Lawyers’ Secular Society is appalled at the decision of the University of West London (UWL) to cancel an event which was to highlight the problem of Islamic radicalisation.
The event was planned for Wednesday 12 November and UWL decided to cancel it today, with just over 24 hours to go.
At the event, Anne Marie Waters of Sharia Watch UK (SWUK) was due to present the findings of a forthcoming SWUK report about radicalisation in universities called “Learning Jihad”, and LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian was also due to speak.
The event had kindly been organised by UWL’s Law Society, whose President Jay Marshall was also scheduled to talk.
The report, which is due to be published on Thursday 13 November, covers:
• Jihadist speakers
• Gender segregation
• The role of student unions
• Funding of British universities
• The Prevent Strategy
The LSS understands that UWL cancelled the event for the following reasons:
1. The university was worried about bad PR.
2. The university thought the event wasn’t balanced enough. However, it was always clear from the start that the purpose of the event was the presentation of a report and not a debate between two opposing sides arguing a motion. In addition, the event was to be two hours long with one hour devoted to questions, comments and challenges from the audience. Also, the university’s Islamic Society had specifically been invited.
UWL’s Interim University Secretary, Hugh Jones, has since outlined some further reasons for the event’s cancellation and has sent this to UWL Law Society President Jay Marshall by email, which the LSS is reproducing below. (Note that the email mentions an incorrect event date of Thursday 13 November – it was Wednesday 12 November.)
I am writing with regard to the Sharia Watch public meeting which has been scheduled to take place at UWL on Thursday 13 November, and advertised on the Sharia Watch website. I have discussed this with various colleagues, including Professor Kath Mitchell (DVC), Professor Nick Braisby (PVC), Professor Julia Fionda (Head of the School of Law), Josh Goddard and Ben Whittaker of the Students’ Union; Gurvir Dhillon (Lettings Manager) and Leann Lavery (Media Relations Manager).
The meeting was booked on behalf of the Student Law Society. This society is not affiliated to the Students’ Union and therefore does not have the right to book rooms within the University. The booking was not made through the normal and approved channels for a student society meeting – that is, via the Students’ Union.
The University has a duty under the Education (No. 2) Act 1986 s43(1) to promote freedom of speech within the law on campus for members, students, and employees and visiting speakers. In particular (s42(2) of the Act) we have a duty to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the use of any premises of the establishment is not denied to any individual or body of persons on any ground connected with the beliefs or views of that individual or any member of that body or the policy or objectives of that body.
We also have a duty of care to ensure the safety and wellbeing of people on the campus. A considerable interest has been generated by the meeting, giving me cause for concern that attendance will be considerably larger than has been allowed for; that stewarding arrangements will not be sufficient; and generally that we can safely host the meeting.
For these reasons
(i) That the meeting was not properly booked through the University’s agreed procedures, giving us the opportunity to properly consider the issues involved in hosting the meeting; and
(ii) That I have real cause for concern about the safety of people using the campus because of the meeting
I have decided that the room booking should be cancelled, and that the meeting cannot therefore take place at UWL.
I have sought to contact David Barling-Gasson, the Law School tutor responsible for liaison with the Student Law Society, to discuss this, but have been unable to do so. I have discussed this with Julia Fionda, Head of the School of Law. I will separately be emailing David Barling-Gasson and Jay Marshall, President of the Student Law Society, to let them know.
Leann Lavery, Media Relations Manager, will be drafting a standard response which can be sent to enquirers. As discussed, Leann, it would be great if you could liaise with the Students’ Union in this regard. Leann will share a standard response tomorrow.
This email is sent to all of those involved at UWL in the correspondence on this topic.
Interim University Secretary
University of West London
Jay Marshall has told the LSS that his Law Society is indeed affiliated to the Students’ Union, that it does have room-booking rights, and that it did follow the process for booking rooms. The LSS also understands from Jay that many Muslims were excited about the event as they thought it was very important.
Jay told the LSS: “If booking the event has taught me one thing, it is how to draw out a university’s inner coward. Frankly, I don’t know what’s more offensive – the hypocrisy or the wasting of my time and that of the team.”
Commenting, LSS Secretary Charlie Klendjian said:
“The LSS is very grateful to Jay Marshall and his team at the UWL Law Society for their valiant efforts. Sadly, they simply weren’t to know that a discussion of Islam in a British university in the 21st century is forbidden.
“The irony meter appears to be firmly within the red section of the dial. The forthcoming SWUK report lays out some disturbing examples of censorship that have taken place on campus, but rather than give SWUK and the LSS the opportunity to present these findings about censorship – not to mention all the other concerns in the report – the University of West London has chosen to apply more censorship. In terms of intelligence levels, this is like attempting to extinguish a fire with a gigantic bucket of petrol.
“The report also highlights some of the extremist speakers who have spoken on British campuses, but unfortunately it is not possible to come to a British university to talk about that.
“UWL’s hyper-sensitive approach is symptomatic of a highly dysfunctional relationship between Islam and British universities. No matter what people’s concerns are about Islam, universities seem intent on pressing a self-destruct button. They will stop at nothing to avoid an open discussion about Islam. If we can’t discuss ideas in a place of learning, where can we discuss them?
“What is particularly disturbing about this instance of censorship is that the report specifically talks about the problem of censorship on campus and how those who wish to criticise Islam or merely have an open discussion about it are being increasingly side-lined.
“The task of holding Islam to account is becoming all but impossible, just when it is becoming absolutely essential. The timing of this report, and UWL’s decision to cancel the event, could not be more salient. British Muslims, including university students, are travelling abroad to fight for ISIS, an organisation of the utmost barbarism even by the standards of jihadist groups. It is imperative that we be allowed to have these discussions otherwise we will sink deeper and deeper into an abyss.
“We hope as many people as possible will join the LSS in loudly condemning UWL’s disgraceful decision, calling on them to apologise for this cancellation, and calling on them to allow UWL’s Law Society to reschedule this event without delay. When people read the SWUK report they will see just how serious the situation on campus is, and therefore just how shameful it is to place any barriers whatsoever to discussion.”
Image credit above: Sharia Watch UK
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