Extremist speakers in conference at Cardiff University (Update: Event moved off campus)
UPDATE: Student Rights have discovered that the event was moved to the Student Union building at Cardiff University so still happened on university premises. We will be contacting Cardiff University to ask for a statement about this.
UPDATE: Student Rights have received an email from the Public Relations Office at Cardiff University which says: "Thank you for bringing this to our attention. This event is now no longer taking place on University premises. This has happened for operational reasons, as we do not have the staff to support an event of this scale at short notice on a Sunday".
The news we reported yesterday that Ken O’Keefe had not only been cancelled by the University of Kent Palestine Solidarity Group, but also declared unwelcome on a number of other campuses was a step forward in regaining the debate on Israel and Palestine from elements like him.
However, it appears that this has been matched by two steps backwards as Cardiff Islamic Society and the Palestinian Forum in Britain host a conference on Sunday 18th which provides a platform for several controversial figures.
Supported by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), this event called ‘Arab Spring: Destination Palestine?’ features the Palestinian academic Dr Azzam Tamimi and Dr Daud Abdullah of the Muslim Council of Britain at the top of the bill. The line up also includes Ibrahim Hewitt, the chairman of Interpal, who works as a Senior Editor alongside Abdullah at Middle East Monitor, the organisation which invited the radical Palestinian cleric Raed Salah to the UK before he was detained in June 2011.
Dr Tamimi is most famous for declaring in 2004 that he would “do it if he had the opportunity” when questioned over his support for suicide bombings and has recently reaffirmed his support for Hamas by saying that “I have a great honour to be close to Hamas” and that “all the leaders of Hamas are my friends”. He has also been filmed declaring his support for “the great jihad of Hezbollah” and “the great jihad of Hamas and Islamic Jihad”.
As well as this, he has frequently denied the legitimacy of the Israeli state, saying that “for the Palestinians it is impossible to recognise that what happened to them in 1948 was legitimate” and that “Israel has no right to exist”.
If these views were to be balanced then this may help matters but instead he will be sitting alongside Daud Abdullah, who also has a record of support for Hamas and for violence in the Middle East. In 2009 he was criticised by the British government for signing a declaration which praised “the victory that Allah accomplished by means of our brothers the mujahidin, our defiant and steadfast kinsfolk in Gaza” and stated of the Gaza Strip that “closure of the crossings or the prevention of the entry of weapons through them should be regarded as high treason in the Islamic Nation, and clear support for the Zionist enemy”.
It continued by stating that it is “the obligation of the Islamic Nation to regard the sending of foreign warships into Muslim waters...as a declaration of war, a new occupation, sinful aggression, and a clear violation of the sovereignty of the Nation”. Given that at the time there was a possibility of the Royal Navy being involved in a peacekeeping role in the area, the command that “this must be rejected and fought by all means and ways” worried many who believed that it could have been interpreted as a call to violence against British forces.
That FOSIS are supporting this event demonstrates once again their inability to effectively challenge the issue of extremist speakers being invited onto UK campuses. Indeed, just last month a spokesman for the organisation wrote that people “must be vigilant not to fall for an absurd concoction of 'speakers of hate' travelling around the country”, wilfully ignoring the reality of who his organisation is backing.
Here at Student Rights we have demonstrated that this is just the next event in a long line. We call for Cardiff University to investigate this matter and decide whether they feel that such an event should be allowed to go ahead unchallenged. If speakers like this are to be invited onto campuses to address students an effort must be made to provide balance to their views and we would hope that the University authorities will make that clear to their students.