Written by Student Rights on 12 June 2012 at 1pm

University of York Islamic Society invites Yusuf Chambers (Update: Statement from University of York LGBT Officer and Islamic Society)

UPDATE: See a statement from the University of York Islamic Society here

UPDATE: The LGBT officer at the University of York has released a statement saying in response to the booking of Yusuf Chambers that:

"One of the biggest issues, however, that restricts any possibility of mine to stage a protest is that of free speech.

I believe that the freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental rights that allows and permits us the capacity to be rational human beings and by the very nature of free speech, people will be offended some of the time. In developing a level of tolerance to others, we can manage those that which offend us.

I do not feel that this is an argument or an issue of free speech and liberty, more of safety and decency, but I do believe that we must tread carefully so as not to restrict anyone’s right to seeing a speaker that they wish to see.

Regardless, I feel this an attack on my very nature and believe it indecent, impertinent and wrong of a student society to invite an openly extreme preacher onto the very campus that I feel included and accepted.

Yet, where do we go from here? The answer is not to picket or lobby the event unfortunately. We must collectively respect the Society’s wishes to call upon an extremist speaker for an event. Instead, we must all attend and have our voices heard.

I wish for the society to cancel the event but in openly protesting, we endanger those students who may feel vulnerable as a minority student. I do not denounce any student who wishes to make their voice heard but I do not accept that an open attack on the event will be of any success.

I instead implore each and every one of you to turn up with a hostile question in mind and to pounce at him intellectually and not practically. I condemn the actions of a minority group of students and I advise the Islamic Society to be more aware of how their speakers will impact upon other students in the future".

Extremism on campuses takes many forms, from political Islamism to anti-Semitism, yet one of the most consistent issues is the invitation of homophobic speakers to either address students or utilise university facilities.

During this academic year Student Rights has successfully challenged invitations from a number of student Islamic Societies to the virulent homophobe Assim Al-Hakeem, as well as highlighting the use of Exeter College Oxford by the intolerant organisation Christian Concern.  

Tomorrow, the Islamic Society at the University of York will continue this trend by inviting Yusuf Chambers, a senior member of the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA), to address students at an event called ‘Patience, Perseverance and Final Exam’.

Highlighted in the recent Student Rights report ‘Challenging extremists: practical frameworks for our universities’, IERA speakers are frequently invited onto campuses and members have regularly espoused Islamist ideas.

These have included advocating the return of an Islamic Caliphate and the brutal punishments such as amputation that the most extreme interpretation of Sharia Law calls for. In another case, Student Rights found that an IERA fundraiser and activist had shared numerous links to videos featuring the Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki in October and November 2011.

Chambers himself has stated that homosexuality is something that “is bad for you” and in a discussion with Dr Zakir Naik, a cleric previously listed as an IERA adviser  who is banned from entering the UK, said JazakAllah Khair (May Allah grant you goodness) for clearing that issue up” when told that “homosexuality is forbidden in Islam and the punishment for homosexuality is death”.

The fact that he is being invited on to campus has angered some students, who have organised a meeting today to discuss potential protests against his presence.

This is similar to those planned at Sheffield Hallam University before an event featuring Assim Al-Hakeem was moved off of campus, as well as those experienced by Al-Hakeem when he arrived to speak at Edinburgh Napier University in March 2012.

However, this invite also provides the University of York with an opportunity to apply the recommendations contained within the new Student Rights report, particularly with regards to the risk register proposed.

This includes recording the speakers name and organisational affiliations, noting any complaints and protests from students as well as detailing an individual’s past record, in this case Chamber’s history of homophobia.

They should also take into account their requirements to comply with civil discrimination law and consider ensuring that a member of staff is present to record any potential breaches of this law, as well as gathering information on the proposed topic of the lecture.  

By compiling a risk register and record of the event in this way, and by collaboratively sharing information with other institutions, they could provide an invaluable resource to other universities who are concerned about speaker invites.