Written by Student Rights on 23 February 2015 at 6am

Student anger at Haitham Al-Haddad invite (Update: Event cancelled)

UPDATE: Following revelations that the Islamic State militant known as ‘Jihadi John’ may be a former student of the University of Westminster called Mohammed Emwazi, the university announced that the event had been postponed "due to increased sensitivity and security concerns".

A petition calling for the University of Westminster to prevent the extremist cleric Haitham Al-Haddad from speaking on campus has reached more than 2,250 signatures.

Started by the university LGBTI Society, the petition criticises the invitation of Haddad to an event on 26th February – just a day before Student Pride is due to start at Westminster.

It also asks:

How is it possible to create a safe space for thousands of LGBT students if an Anti-gay preacher is allowed on campus a day before?”    

Among his other extreme views, Haddad is deeply homophobic, having written that “the scourge of homosexuality” is a “criminal act”.

He has also claimed that “defending a law that criminalises homosexual acts” is a “brave stance” which is “determinedly standing for higher moral standards”.

That Haddad has been invited to address students at Westminster yet again will leave LGBT students feeling deeply frustrated and marginalised.    

This was highlighted last year, when the LGBTI Society released a study which found that one third of Westminster students that participated had witnessed and/or experienced homophobia.

Meanwhile, 50% of the respondents claimed they did not feel safe all of the time they were on campus, with 3% of these participants claiming that they never felt safe.

At the time, students claimed the situation had been exacerbated by the presence of homophobic preachers on campus.

They also stated that the University and Students Union “should be actively preventing speakers with homophobic views from having a platform”.

With these issues once again affecting the campus, the University of Westminster has released a statement in response to the petition, saying:

The University is committed to maintaining freedom of speech and a diversity of views as set out in the Education Act 1986.

As a diverse community of local and international students of many faiths, respect and tolerance is our foremost concern and we will be monitoring the event carefully and any student concerns”.

As such, it does not appear that there is any plan to cancel the event despite the calls to do so from students.

If this is the case, the university must ensure students wishing to challenge Haddad are given opportunity to do so – and we hope this will lead the Islamic Society to consider future speakers more carefully.