English Defence League on campus at the University of Reading
On Wednesday an event planned by the University of Reading Muslim Society that was due to feature Abu Usamah At-Thahabi was cancelled after the university claimed that it had seen an "increasing threat of violent protest" from off-campus groups.
Despite the cancellation, last night students at the University of Reading informed Student Rights that members of the EDL had arrived on the campus and were handing out leaflets outside the university sports park.
Several students attempted a counter-protest, and have now organised an anti-fascist campaign due to run from the 4th to 15th March, including events and demonstrations.
The organisers, the Reading University Societies Coalition (RUSC), have released a statement saying:
“The violent far-right now have control of our campus, able to stop any event they choose, while peaceful protest by students is silenced. In the coming weeks we must show our commitment to stopping the far-right and reclaim our campus.
We call on all members of the university community to join us in saying “no to fascism”, and to keep saying “no” even when faced with threats and intimidation."
Instead of being able to peacefully confront the hateful Imam's lecture, the English Defence League were allowed to scare the Muslim society out of hosting their event. Rather than explaining the falsehood of their position to them, or getting ISoc to renounce Abu Usamah, something as brutish as the threat of violence was allowed to win the day.
The use of far-right actions by the EDL to stop a far-event is barely a victory at all, which is why now more than ever we have to emphasise our separation from the EDL, and declare that in order to oppose fascism one must subdue all its manifestations.
Unlike the EDL, Abu Usamah, and other parties complicit in these events, those who planned to peacefully protest Islamic Awareness Week's talk on justice will realise that fascism is just as intolerable when it comes in the guise of someone who discriminates against non-heterosexuals as it is when we see it in the actions of violent xenophobes/racists.
We call on all students at the University of Reading to join RUSC, RAHS, the Buddhists, and others who are planning counter-speech over the next couple of weeks against the recent fascist incursion onto our campus”.
The presence of EDL members on a UK campus is deeply concerning, and Student Rights fully support the work of RUSC in organising counter-protests to far-right activism.
Stopping events from taking place through threats of violence is not victory.
It simply deepens divisions and undoes any positive developments that dialogue between anti-extremist groups, university authorities and student societies can drive.
Despite our wish to see speaker invitations to men like Abu Usamah cease, this should be as a result of changing attitudes amongst university staff and Islamic Society members driven by peaceful campaigning, not because of intimidation and threats.