Written by Student Rights on 8 February 2012 at 3pm

Haitham al-Haddad Event Cancelled at LSE

An event at the London School of Economics (LSE) which was due to feature Haitham al-Haddad yesterday was cancelled by the LSE Students Union after complaints from students. Here at Student Rights we have reported on al-Haddad before, most recently on November 17th when he was booked to speak at Queen Mary University. We had informed a number of students at the LSE about Haddad’s presence on their campus, though we believe that it was an independent effort from the Jewish Society that eventually resulted in the events cancellation.

The President of the LSE Jewish Society Jay Stoll praised the union for calling off the event, but did state that “there is something deeply flawed in the LSE’s procedures on speaker events when someone like Al-Haddad is approved without due consideration.” This was supported by the Union of Jewish Students, who said that “it is our firm belief that freedom of speech within our universities is vital, but not at the expense of student welfare. We should have no truck with those who seek to spread hate on our campuses.

The problem of extremist speakers being cleared to visit campuses by Student Unions and university authorities is an issue which Student Rights have raised in the past at LSE, for example when the university hosted the anti-Semitic Palestinian Abdel Bari Atwan. The Islamic Society at LSE has also invited Muhammad Bin Adam al-Kawthari to speak, a man who has declared that “it is unlawful for the wife to refuse her husband for sexual intimacy”.

This issue is widespread across the UK however, and should not simply be an accusation laid at the LSE’s door alone.  Unfortunately it is often the case that the people tasked with vetting speakers simply do not have enough specialist knowledge on the subject, allowing speakers onto campus without fully checking their background.

This may well have been the case here, and was almost certainly true of an event cancelled at Warwick University on January 19th at which the homophobic hate preacher Abu Usamah at-Thahabi was due to speak. In this case Student Rights was able to inform both the Islamic Society and the Student Union of Thahabi’s past statements and as a result the event was called off.

It is vital then that those working at universities and Student Unions are supported in their efforts to challenge the spread of radical speakers at universities. At Student Rights we are firm advocates of this, and have campaigned to better inform university stake-holders since 2009. Recently this appears to have taken hold in policy making circles, something which can be seen in Monday's Home Affairs Select Committee ‘Roots of Violent Radicalisation’ Report.

This recommended that “a designated contact point with relevant expertise within Government is provided to student unions and university administrators to assist them in making difficult decisions about speakers on campus.” The attempt to find some way of tackling the issue was also highlighted in last year’s Caldicott Report which recommended that “the UCL Union’s process for monitoring invitations to visiting speakers be further reviewed and strengthened” and that “the UCL Union, in consultation with the UCL authorities, review its criteria for defining the acceptability of prospective visiting speakers.

This is a step in the right direction, and the cancellation of Haitham Al-Haddad’s talk today is further proof that universities are beginning to accept that just because a speaker does not break the law does not necessarily mean they should be invited onto campus. Student Rights will continue to work to provide university authorities with the information necessary to make the informed decisions required to make British campuses a safer and more inclusive place for all.