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Written by Student Rights on 16 February 2012 at 9pm

Westminster SU criticises decision to cancel event

The news that an event organised by the Westminster University Global Ideas Society which was due to feature the Hizb-ut-Tahrir speaker Jamal Harwood had been cancelled was met with relief by a number of students yesterday. Several students had been in touch with Student Rights to ask why it was that a group banned by the National Union of Student’s No Platform Policy were being allowed to speak on their campus.

However, this is clearly not a view shared by the Student Union at Westminster, who released a strongly worded joint statement with the Global Ideas Society that has been passed to Student Rights by a concerned student. In this they have said that:

We regret to inform you that the ‘Economic Future: What’s the real solution’ event which was due to take place today, Thursday February 16, 2012 at 5.30pm is now cancelled.The Students’ Union is completely opposed to this decision made by the University as the Global Ideas society (a registered Student’ Union society) has complied with the procedures set out by the SU and University when organising the event.

Several students, a lecturer and Peter Tatchell, according to the University, who opposed the appearance of a Hizb-ut-Tahrir member, posed a violent threat to the event. They had planned to disrupt the event, though all were unsure whether it would escalate to violence or not. The University was unable to ensure the safety of both speakers and attendees; therefore the university decided to cancel the event. However, it is the view of the Students’ Union, that the University has a responsibility to ensure that there is  adequate safety for students and guests on University premises, in accordance with the Universities UK ‘Freedom of speech on campus: rights and responsibilities in UK universities’ document.

The decision to cancel the event had nothing to do, whatsoever with the scheduled appearance of Jamal Harwood (the Media Representative of Hizb-ut-Tahrir). The no-platform policy is not an adopted policy at Westminster University and is not binding on the Univeristy[sic] of Westminster Students’ Union. Therefore, the NUS have no authority to dictate Westminster SU policy.

If you wish to complain about the cancellation, please email Carole Mainstone, the Registrar & Secretary on c.mainstone@westminster.ac.uk.The Global Ideas Society plans to reschedule the event for March 8th at 5.30pm in Fyvie Hall. Which I hope you will be able to attend, we will update about this shortly.Please share this statement widely."

Having spoken to a student who was planning on attending the event to challenge Harwood on his politics, the accusation that they posed a violent threat is simply not credible. As well as this, Student Rights have received a statement from Peter Tatchell who has told us:

"I had no knowledge of this event at all. I did not seek its cancellation or threaten to disrupt it. If I had known about the Hizb-ut-Tahrir speaker, I would have protested peacefully against him (as I have done in the past). I have a long history of non-violent direct action. I have never in my 45 years of human rights campaigning committed any violent acts, even when violently assaulted myself. 

In 1994, I was subjected to death threats from members of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. They explicitly threatened to track me down and kill me...Hizb-ut-Tahrir is a far right organisation that seeks to impose a theocratic dictatorship worldwide. It is more fascistic than even the vile BNP. It should be opposed at every opportunity. The rights and freedoms of ordinary Muslims should be defended against these fanatics who are, first and foremost, a threat to fellow Muslims.

What is worrying is the manner in which the Student Union dismisses the NUS No Platform Policy and the legitimate concerns of students about Jamal Harwood to focus on an entirely invented threat from peaceful protesters. The problem here is not that students were worried enough about this event to plan a demonstration against it, but that the Student Union and the Global Ideas Society are disappointed a speaker from a group like this was not allowed to speak. 

The inability of the Student Union to accept that Hizb-ut-Tahrir is not an organisation that should be given free rein to visit university campuses is disappointing, yet is perhaps unsurprising given their President’s political views. The Global Ideas Society, which describes itself as an “open platform for new thoughts to be presented to members of our society” has also shown itself to be sympathetic to these ideas in the past.

They have linked to New Civilisation, a website which is edited by Reza Pankhurst, a senior Hizb-ut-Tahrir figure, and one individual who appears to be involved in promoting events has stated on Facebook that “it is haraam [forbidden]” for Muslims to integrate into British society and that he would like an “Islamic Khilafah” both to live under and for the Muslim world. These views, which chime with those of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, show the influence that their ideas have on campuses and suggest that those running the Global Ideas Society may have an agenda behind inviting Harwood to speak.

Ultimately, Jamal Harwood’s invitation was something which had left a lot of students at Westminster unhappy at the way their union and one of their societies were acting and had encouraged them to protest against this. For them to be described by their Student Union as a “violent threat” is ridiculous, and we would suggest that the Union and the Global Ideas Society read this story of intimidation at Queen Mary University to see what a real violent threat looks like.