| ||The BBC website yesterday reported that Hizb ut-Tahrir has been denied the opportunity to participate in a student society debate at Queen Mary, University of London on ‘Shariah law – compatible in the modern world?’. |
Members of the group, Jamal Harwood and Reza Pankhurst, were to take part in the debate with Brendan O’Neill, editor of Spiked!, when the university’s student union cancelled the event following an intervention by a group called Student Rights.
Student Rights asked the university’s student union to declare the HT members persona non grata on campus claiming:
"Hizb ut-Tahrir speakers have been known to condone suicide bombings and support Islamist movements which undertake terrorist acts such as Islamic Jihad.
"This can be frightening and intimidating for the student body."
Amid the controversy sparked by the Government's banning Geert Wilders from entering the country when invited by Lord Pearson to the House of Lords earlier this year, there was no shortage of indignant commentary from those insistent that Muslims respect the right to freedom of expression in a democracy, no matter how incendiary or offensive the speech. Will these same individuals, many of them prominent columnists for national dailies, now defend the right of Hizb ut-Tahrir to similarly exercise their right to free speech and partake of debates on campus? The curiously deafening silence would suggest not. Hard to see how these individuals could escape the charge of hypocrisy if they defend the right for some, like Wilders, but not all, including Hizb ut-Tahrir.
And it is a discredit to all students at Queen Mary for Student Rights to suggest that they’re somehow incapable of standing up for themselves and rejecting the ideas propounded by HT. If Student Rights truly thinks that the best way of helping students counter ideas that are disdainful is by banishing those that hold them, one wonders how university campuses will serve to educate students in the skills of rhetoric, argument and persuasion?
But there’s a much greater folly here – the complete contempt shown for freedom of speech. It would seem that while the Centre for Social Cohesion will proudly push for the rights of those critical of Islam to be upheld, it is unwilling or incapable of extending the right to freedom of speech to all others.
It’s worth remembering that HT is not a proscribed organization in the UK, although the National Union of Students did take a decision to ban it on campuses in 1996. To ban it from debates on university campuses on the pretext that students can’t muster the brains to snub their ideas is an insult not just to the quality of education offered in British universities, but to the rigour of our democratic society and the right of individuals and groups to hold and express whatever notions they choose within the bounds of the law.
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