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Written by Student Rights on 9 March 2012 at 4pm

Hizb-ut-Tahrir Member at University of Westminster: Report

UPDATE: Student Rights has been informed that the students who were denied entry to this debate were not eventually allowed in, further exposing the true nature of the Global Ideas Society's commitment to freedom of expression.   

Last night saw the Global Ideas Society at Westminster University finally host their debate ‘Economic Future: The Real Solutions’ which featured Jamal Harwood, a senior member of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir Executive Committee, as a speaker. Student Rights, along with a number of students, had raised concerns about this due to the fact that the National Union of Students lists Hizb-ut-Tahrir as a fascist organisation under their ‘No Platform Policy’. We had planned to attend on the original date before the event was cancelled after false accusations that some of the students who opposed Harwood posed a violent threat, so we were keen to see if they would have the opportunity to put their views before him.

Unfortunately, the stifling of free expression was also in evidence last night, with Student Rights originally being denied entry. Despite registering last week and asking for confirmation we were not on the list of guests, and when a genuinely helpful member of the Global Ideas Society asked Society President Gulam Alamgir if he could help, he unsubtly gestured at the student to cut off his attempts to aid us.

Luckily Dr Jaafar El-Murad, the event chair, was kind enough to sign us in as a guest. However, we were also informed by students that a number of their colleagues who had also registered an interest in attending had been denied entry by the Global Ideas Society, although we believe they were able to get in eventually.

Prior to the event, Student Rights had raised our concerns about being able to challenge Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s views in a meeting with Dr El-Murad, along with a Student Union officer. However, this established that Dr El-Murad would only allow questions with an economic basis and would ask the panel to disregard any questions on other issues.

Whilst this came from an understandable wish of Dr El-Murad’s to avoid possible confrontation, it did provide a representative from Hizb-ut-Tahrir with legitimacy, effectively silencing any criticism of the group’s anti-Semitism and homophobia. This certainly gives the lie to Harwood’s claims that it was the “liberal extremists” who were the ones suppressing freedom of expression.

Instead an environment was provided for Harwood to rail against the greed and corruption of the capitalist system, stating that he didn’t believe what the government or the mainstream media were saying about the state of the economy and that the situation would be getting worse. He also outlined his organisation's Islamist financial policies, copies of which had been handed around at the beginning of the event.

These included an interest free economy, a return to the gold standard, true financial, land, and welfare reform and a radical new approach to taxation. However, there was very little detail on how this would be achieved or how the problems that such policies might cause would be dealt with.

His opponent Dr Ola Sholarin, whom the audience was not prompted to applaud after his introduction before Dr El-Murad complained, highlighted that the current system is flawed but that it has provided greater progress and wealth than any other system that has been tried before. He also pointed out to students the problems in an economy where interest was banned, highlighting that were it not for their loans many students in the room would not have the opportunity to attend university.

As well as this he challenged and explained a number of financial issues that Harwood had mentioned, and described the progress through scientific advancement and developments that capital creation and lending had enabled.

This period of the event, and much of the question and answer session that followed was uneventful, with many students clearly bored by long winded answers from both panellists which often went into great detail without saying a great deal. Harwood showed his flair as orator, appearing much more like the politician he is than an academic, whilst one student told us that he felt Sholarin had been too simplistic in explaining how banks work and why they are necessary.

The main flashpoint of the evening came when a Jewish student asked Mr Harwood if he would condemn a statement that he had printed from a Hizb-ut-Tahrir website which declared “O Muslim Armies! Teach the Jews a lesson after which they will need no further lessons. March forth to fight them, eradicate their entity and purify the earth of their filth”.

This exposed the true nature of Harwood and his group as he refused to do so, stating that “you have to distinguish between a war and a non-war” and that “Palestine is occupied land and there is a war going on”. He continued by saying that “in the same way that politicians talk about war, whether that is Iraq or Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world, a war is a war”.

The student’s admission that he was Jewish was met with groans and shouting from supporters of Harwood, to the extent that Dr El-Murad stated that he was going to stop the question as it was causing disruption. This is itself is an issue, that lecturers feel they have to avoid challenges to a group’s anti-Semitism as it will upset the anti-Semites in the audience who support that group.

On Facebook today one attendee has stated that “it was a shame that this Zionist had to ruin the event with all that heckling” despite the student actually saying on several occasions that this wasn’t about Palestine, showing how any admission of Jewish heritage is often conflated with holding Zionist views.

The student then decided to leave, to loud applause from those audience members supporting Harwood, and the debate continued. One student asked an excellent question about equality for women under an Islamic system, which Harwood responded to by saying that traditionally the differences between men and women meant that the woman should be at home raising children, but that they would have a choice. He also asked the Muslim women in the audience to raise their hands if they felt they had a bad deal from Islam, although predictably there were no takers.

Dr Sholarin also took questions, answering one which asked what would stop this happening again with assurances that regulation had been tightened and another which stated that education should be free for all by saying that it was a commodity whose demand had increased so clearly the price would rise. The event was then ended half an hour early due to a late start, and students applauded both guests and the moderator.

Student Rights feels that the focus on purely economic issues dodged the wider problem of a society at Westminster both presenting Hizb-ut-Tahrir as a legitimate political party, and being aided in this by the university.  This is despite calls for universities to foster a civic intolerance of their views similar to the way in which the British National Party is excluded from debate due to their racist ideology.

 Students should be able to challenge speakers who come on to their campus with any question they wish, particularly when the speaker represents an organisation as controversial as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Whilst we appreciate that the university are trying to avoid confrontation, this is just not a good enough reason to deprive students of their rights. We will be continuing to work with students at Westminster University to ensure that this is rectified and hope to hold an event there in the not too distant future discussing this very issue. 

 

All photographs property of Global Ideas Society