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Written by Student Rights on 28 November 2012 at 1pm

Student Rights attend Brunel protest against Abu Usamah

Last night Student Rights attended a peaceful protest that had been organised at Brunel University in response to our article about Abu Usamah At-Thahabi’s presence on campus.

The protest itself was good-natured and mutually respectful, with students opposed to Abu Usamah’s views restrained, but firm in their disapproval.

When the speaker arrived a murmur of excitement went through the crowd and banners were held higher, yet there was no offensive chanting or disorder from those who had gathered.

The Islamic Society also made it clear that they were aware that this protest was not directed at its members, and individuals from the society handed out chocolates to the demonstrators, described later by a student as “a lovely touch”.

A number of students, who wished to remain anonymous, spoke to Student Rights about their reasons for attending the protest, with one saying that they felt that it had been a “naive decision by Brunel to allow him to speak”.

Another pointed out that “the fact that there are more people at the protest than in the event shows most people oppose his views” whilst another said that they “agree with fundamentals of freedom of speech and oppose the ‘No Platform’ policy”, yet felt that as it is the policy of the Union it should be applied consistently.

Students were keen to stress that this was a protest against Abu Usamah’s views rather than the Islamic Society, whilst others highlighted that the Islamic Society should have the right to invite speakers like Abu Usamah onto campus but that it was still not a good idea to do so.

Some students were willing to go on the record, despite attempts by the Student Union to tell students not to talk to any external groups.

Kate Taylor stated that Abu Usamah’s “right to freedom of speech is fine, but my university should not condone his views by allowing him to speak”.

Another student, Jerome Neil, told us that whilst he found Abu Usamah's views to be "reprehensible", he felt that he “should be allowed to come onto campus, he has every right to express his views, and students have every right to disagree with them in public”.

We also spoke to several members of staff who were taking part in the protest. One told us that the decision to book Abu Usamah was “a poor move by the Islamic Society” and asked “were there no equally learned scholars?” to discuss the issue.

Another stated that she was “not happy about Abu Usamah coming and talking on campus” and that in her opinion his views were “not conducive with freedom of speech and more like incitement of hatred”.

The demonstration was preceded by a meeting between representatives from the Union of Brunel Students, the Islamic Society and LGBT society, as well as other political societies.

Students told us that this had been extremely positive and emphasised how discussion rather than confrontation had brought students closer together.

One student later wrote on the Facebook page for the protest:

One of the most postive [sic] aspects of the meeting was a discussion about future events between the LGBT society, and Isoc [Islamic Society]. Hopefully these will come into realisation, and we can use this negative event, to start a very positive dialog [sic] between the two societies. We can resolve these issues, and show that, Brunel students are willing to work together, and respect each others [sic] individual differences, and beliefs.

This evening was a fantastic example of cooperation, and showed how well students respond to such challenges.

The good that has come from the debate surrounding this event shows the importance of highlighting the presence of these speakers when they come on to campus, and at Brunel it seems that inter-society relations have moved forward as a result.