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Written by Student Rights on 16 April 2010 at 3pm

Appeasement or taking opportunities?

This week, the National Union of Students held its conference in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.  One of the more exciting debates to be had was the radicalisation discussion taking place between the Union of Jewish Students' Adam Pike, the NUS head Wes Streeting, Centre for Social Cohesion's Douglas Murray, Rashad Ali from the Counter Extremism Consultancy for Training Research & Interventions (CENTRI) and Jamie Bartlett of DEMOS.

Last week, Mr. Murray was informed that FOSIS (Federation of Student Islamic Societies) would also be sitting on the panel, a move by the event organisers to bring one of the more highly criticised organisations to the table.  FOSIS have been accused of bringing radical Islamists to campus in the form of Azaam Al-Tamimi and hosting Anwar al-Awlaki (now on the run in Yemen) as 'distinguished guests'.  None the less the decision was made to invite them, one which Student Rights is in favour of, were it not for the caveat enforced by the event organisers - namely, removing Douglas Murray from the panel.

It's noted by Mr. Murray in an article for the Telegraph today that he was informed by UJS that FOSIS would only attend if he did not speak.  Given Murray's expertise and the Centre for Social Cohesion's record of work on the subject area, Student Rights views this as an unfavourable option and probably did great favours to FOSIS, an organisation that has had speakers state of Jews “They’re all the same. They’ve monopolised everything: the Holocaust, God, money, interest, usury, the world economy, the media, political institutions… they monopolised tyranny and oppression as well. And injustice. A Jew is generally allowed to kill a non-Jew without fear of punishment."

But that's not the only point.  Director of Student Rights Raheem Kassam has said, "I feel sorry that an expert like Douglas Murray was not present at this otherwise great and packed out discussion.   All people at this table have had attacks on them from somewhere regarding their views, but for Murray not to be there in favour of FOSIS is an indictment of FOSIS' commitment to the 'freedom of speech' code that is so readily bandied about when people critique their 'special guest' speakers on campuses."

Progress was made at this discussion, with a 'conclusion among the speakers that radical persons should only be allowed to speak on campuses if there can be an opposing voice. Jamie Bartlett insisted that one of the best ways to counter extremism was to aspire to truth through balanced and rational debate.' [Source: http://www.instmed.org/standforpeace/2010/04/douglas-murray-fosis-and-the-nus.html]

The UJS have said it was not appeasement, nor a ban on Mr. Murray but rather that it was more beneficial to have FOSIS on the panel than Douglas Murray.  Their website reads "Let us be clear: The decision to cancel Douglas Murray was not taken to appease FOSIS, nor did we cancel him under the illusion that FOSIS would do the same in times to come. He was cancelled with our membership in mind; when given the option for our students to challenge FOSIS on the issues that are affecting them most, the decision was clear. The refusal of FOSIS to share a platform with Douglas Murray was conspicuous and showed that their commitment to freedom of expression stretches only to those who preach hatred."

Let's hope this means that the debates and discussions that occur here on out are not blocked to people because of their previous encounters with each other.  This goes wholly against the campus culture of peace and tolerance that is trying to be (re)created on UK campuses.  I've no doubt the decisions were taken for good reason and with due consideration - but we have to be very careful in using appeasement tactics - and that's a fact.