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Written by Student Rights on 27 February 2013 at 8pm

Reading University cancels events after violent threats

Following today's statement on an event featuring Abu Usamah At-Thahabi at the University of Reading, we were glad to see that the university had taken our recommendations on board, reviewing the event invite and ensuring a staff presence at the event.

Whilst the university refused to cancel the event, it did allow the planning of a peaceful demonstration outside of the building where the event was due to take place, which had over 130 registered attendees by 6pm today.

Unfortunately a third statement has since been released which has announced the cancellation of both tonight's event featuring Uthman Lateef, and tomorrows' event with Abu Usamah, citing an "increasing threat of violent protest" from off-campus groups as the reason.

The statement reads:

"Reading University Muslim Society, Reading University Students Union (RUSU) and the University of Reading are in agreement that the laudable aims of the Muslim Society's Discover Islam Week are undermined by the increasing threat of violent protest from extremist groups outside the University community. 

A careful assessment of the threat to the events on Wednesday and Thursday evening have led all three organisations to reluctantly agree to the cancelation of these talks.

Our priority is to the safety of all those who had planned to attend or to peacefully protest outside the talk and we are very disappointed that we have had to take this course of action. However, the safety of our students, members, staff and visitors is of paramount importance.

Both the University and RUSU are committed to supporting the Muslim Society in its aims of raising awareness of Islam and building mutual understanding. We are delighted that other events in the week's programme will be going ahead as planned.

As part of the review of these events, the University has agreed to work with RUSU to ensure its policies reflect the need to protect the principles of freedom of speech in balance with the rights of all constituent parts of the student community.

The University is committed to upholding both the right to free speech and the right to lawful protest within an environment that guarantees the safety of all users of our campuses".

A post on the EDL-linked Casual's United blog states that "local activists will be turing up to disrupt" the event, and also posts a telephone number readers can call to "tell them [the university] what you think of them for hosting this rodent".

This may be partly responsible for the cancellation of the event, though a university spokesperson did not want to elaborate further for fear of giving publicity to extremist groups.

Here at Student Rights we condemn utterly any violent threats made towards the university, the Student Union or the Muslim Society, and are saddened that positive activism by students to oppose the event has been undermined by the cowardly actions of a minority of extremists.

However, we would highlight that the invitation of Lateef and Thahabi is anything but 'laudable', and that questions will need to be asked about the process by which speakers were chosen for these events.