Reports yesterday claimed that the extremist cleric Anjem Choudary had been invited to take part in a debate at the Oxford Union entitled ‘This house believes that radicalism is born at home’.
The co-founder of the proscribed organisation Al-Muhajiroun, Choudary is currently on police bail after being arrested for membership of a banned group in September 2014.
He has a history of deeply inflammatory comments, while his organisation has been connected to perpetrators in more than 20 terrorist attacks or plots since 2000.
These have included a foiled attack on the Ministry of Sound nightclub, the 7/7 attacks on the London transport system, and the brutal murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013.
Last week Brusthom Ziamani, who had been “groomed” by Al-Muhajiroun members, was sentenced to 22 years in prison after being convicted of preparing to kill a soldier in a copy-cat attack.
Al-Muhajiroun-linked individuals were found to have targeted universities campuses on a number of occasions last year as ‘Need4Khilafah’ – which has since been added to the UK list of banned groups.
However, while these men were reduced to loitering on campus hoping to snare students, in this case Choudary will be given a prestigious platform from which to preach his extreme views
When Marine Le Pen spoke at the union in February we wrote that inviting such speakers risked legitimising prejudices – and that institutions have a duty of care to maintain student safety.
In Choudary’s case, the success his group has had in radicalising and recruiting young people demonstrates the threat he poses, and as such we would urge the union to reconsider the invitation.
This risk will also be compounded by the likelihood of demonstrations against Choudary’s presence by far-right groups like Britain First – as well as any attendant counter-demonstrations.
If this event does go ahead therefore, the University of Oxford must ensure two things.
Firstly, it will need to be prepared for the risk of violent disorder between Choudary’s supporters and those demonstrating against him – as a recent disturbance in North London showed.
Secondly, it must also guarantee the event will not provide Choudary with an unchallenged platform, and that it will feature a vocal opposition willing to take him to task for the violence and hatred he has unleashed on society.