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Written by Student Rights on 26 November 2014 at 8am

Tommy Robinson's invite to Oxford causes controversy

With the issue of extremist speakers on university campuses in the news, tonight the former English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson will speak at the University of Oxford.

Originally due to address the Oxford Union on 23 October before being returned to prison, Robinson’s invite has caused controversy, with anti-fascist groups calling for him to be cancelled.

An open letter published by Searchlight states: “the Oxford Union is helping a vile fascist spread his poison by inviting Tommy Robinson”, and that “by inviting Tommy Robinson the Oxford Union is contributing to a climate of Islamophobia which only encourages fascists”.

Robinson left the EDL in October 2013, saying: “I want to lead the revolution against Islamist ideology, I don't want to lead the revolution against Muslims”.

However, he has been criticised by campaigners, who say Robinson “continues to incite racial hatred against Muslims” and “issue anti-Muslim statements via social media”.

Here at Student Rights we have highlighted the danger posed to campuses by the far-right and called for Robinson to be prevented from speaking at Oxford in July 2013 – yet this is a more complex case.

If counter-extremism work is to be successful there must be the prospect of redemption for former extremists which allows reintegration into civic spaces like universities.

Providing a platform for individuals to explain why they were attracted to extremism can in fact be extremely valuable – provided they have truly abandoned their views.

However, with Robinson there are serious concerns about whether this is the case.

Just a brief scan of his social media output over the past few months shows him sharing anti-Muslim sentiment including references to a Rotherham rape jihad”, claims “all groomers are Muslim”, and posts defending the EDL.

He has also shared a video attacking “the horrific Muslim infiltration of Britain”. 

That Robinson still expresses these views will leave many Muslim students feeling deeply alienated on-campus, and must be taken into account by the event organisers.

It should also ensure they reconsider whether to give Robinson a platform – and that if the event does go ahead that Robinson can be challenged by students on these and other comments.