Written by Student Rights on 27 June 2013 at 3pm

Azad Ali and Engage run workshops at FOSIS Conference

As the FOSIS Conference got underway yesterday amid controversy over a number of the advertised speakers, workshops beginning today also risk promoting an extremist narrative to students.

At 2pm Shenaz Banglawala of Engage began running the first of a series of workshops on Muslims in the media, and tomorrow will be joined by Head of Community Development Azad Ali.

Engage itself has a history of controversy, and was removed as the secretariat for the All Party Political Group on Islamophobia in July 2011 after concerns were raised about alleged links to extremism.

Significantly, the group also defended Daud Abdullah after he signed the Istanbul Declaration in March 2009, declaring that the government’s accusations were “ludicrous and incendiary”.

Of course, the declaration itself is the only incendiary aspect of this situation, lamenting the "international and local military and political conspiracy against the jihad and the mujahidin in Gaza" and calling the Arab Peace Initiative "a proven betrayal of the Islamic Nation and the Palestinian cause".

It also claimed that “the closure of the crossings [into Gaza] or the prevention of the entry of weapons through them should be regarded as high treason in the Islamic Nation”, amongst many other calls for support for terrorist groups in Gaza.

Ali himself has also expressed his support for Hamas, a group whose military wing is proscribed by the British government as a terrorist organisation.

In December 2008 and January 2009 he wrote that "Hamas is a true resistance movement that is standing up for the rights of the Palestinians" and declared "we should know that the aim is to defeat the resistance. So our priority is to ensure that this does not happen".

He praised the organisation’s "strength and courage and sheer determination", despite the fact that it had repeatedly targeted civilians in indiscriminate rocket attacks.

Ali also darkly suggested that in opposing Hamas the West was attempting "the complete eradication of the need of the Caliphate, which we know is a necessity in itself".

In January 2010 he also lost a libel case against a newspaper which reported that he had included a quote on his blog which justified the murder of British and American soldiers in Iraq.

Government policy which attempts to stop people being radicalised by extremists specifically addresses the need to challenge apologists for terrorist groups, so the provision of workshop space for Ali by FOSIS certainly raises eyebrows.

However, this is not the first time that FOSIS have promoted Ali, as in December 2012 he was one of the key speakers at the group’s Winter Conference.

Given that FOSIS regularly complains of being demonised over the issue of extremism, these sessions with Engage are unlikely to persuade critics of the organisation that these protests are justified.