Written by Student Rights on 14 March 2012 at 1pm

Senior Hizb-ut-Tahrir member speaks at Westminster University: A student's perspective

This article was written for Student Rights by Amy Wilkes, a student at Westminster University. All views are her own and do not necessarily represent the views of Student Rights.

Last month I offered my perspective on the cancellation of a debate at my University, The University of Westminster, which was to include a member of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir executive committee, Jamal Harwood, in a debate about economic solutions.

The event was said to have been cancelled due to a “violent threat” posed by students and staff, as well as others, wanting to oppose Harwood's extremist views. The University offered no evidence for this claim, and has still refused an apology to those it wrongly accused. This has left some students suspicious that negative press coverage, as well as all but one other speaker pulling out of the event due to Harwood's involvement, may have been more likely reasons for the cancellation.

On Thursday 8th March the rescheduled event took place, with Mr Harwood standing for the Gold Standard, which would be the economic system were the Islamic State he and his organisation call for to be in place, and Dr Ola Sholarin supporting Capitalism as our only economic option. Dr Sholarin's argument for capitalism was that it is greatly flawed, but is our only option.

This proved a weak argument, and Sholarin did not attempt to critique Harwood's view particularly fully. However, Sholarin's economic knowledge clearly outweighed that of Harwood's, so I feel that he could easily have shown the flaws of the Gold Standard argument; it is possible that he felt intimidated by the audience which seemed weighted towards Harwood's views.

Many students were disappointed with this final line-up as it suggested that Islam is the only alternative to Capitalism. Whilst the organisers had attempted to have a spokesman for a socialist alternative, it is nevertheless worth noting that the finished project was significantly restricted.

This left some students angry that the event was allowed to go ahead with Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s views being aired, and many believe that the University of Westminster Student Union should adopt the National Union of Students’ ‘No Platform Policy’ for the organisation. Others who opposed these views were hopeful that a debate would allow for the extreme reality of what Hizb-ut-Tahrir stand for to be revealed and flaws highlighted.

Those of us who attended the event for this purpose had planned questions to put to Harwood which focussed around economics, as we had been told that no questions other than these would be allowed, but which could also critique Harwood's misogynistic and homophobic views.

This intervention was not easy, we put forward one such question suggesting that excluding half of the population from economic decisions would be detrimental to a country as a whole, never mind those individuals oppressed by these laws, intending to highlight Hizb-ut-Tahrir's belief that women should not be allowed positions of power, or economic decisions either in the home or on a larger scale. This was met with the suggestion that we were stating that Islam itself oppresses women, which is not the case.

We planned to follow up Harwood's reply that in his version of Islam, women have the superior position as they have the choice as to whether to work or stay at home after children are able to care for themselves (failing to mention his belief that women must obey they husbands, thus taking away their autonomy), countering it with questions surrounding where this family model would leave families with same-sex parents or single parent families, but the debate was called suspiciously short after our first question.

Earlier in the debate, one member of the audience, identifying himself as a Jewish man bravely spoke up about the offence he takes at many of Harwood's views, quoting a section of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir website which called upon an army to “teach the Jews a lesson”. Shockingly, this man was shouted down and intimidated by those around him until he left.

He has also now been called a Zionist and dismissed as a racist by members of the Global Ideas Facebook page, highlighting the misguided view that anyone who admits to Jewish descent must be both a Zionist, and anti-Islamic, which is, again, not the case. This man was not an Islamophobe, he was merely standing up against dangerous homophobic and racist ideologies, which is what we intended to do.

Furthermore to this form of silencing opposition, certain externals who had registered in the way they were asked to were denied access to the event. Unsurprisingly, externals who seemed to be regulars of Global Ideas events had no difficulty getting in, but those associated with left-wing views were denied access despite being able to prove when they had registered.

I find it a great shame that Harwood was allowed a platform for his ideology, whilst views which criticised this were either avoided altogether and not allowed to be put forward, or silenced swiftly by the chair and intimidating reactions from Harwood's supporters. A debate was advertised, but questions barely started.