On Wednesday evening, Student Rights travelled to Warwick University to hear human rights campaigner Maryam Namazie address students.
The event, entitled ‘Apostasy, Blasphemy and Free Expression in the age of ISIS’, discussed how the rise of extreme Islamist movements has suppressed human rights in the Middle East, and also focused on attempts to silence criticism of Islamism in the West.
Namazie’s visit to Warwick first gained media attention last month when the Student Union attempted to bar her from speaking on campus.
Thanks to a vocal campaign by Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists (WASH), which saw widespread media coverage, the ban was overturned.
The president of WASH, Benjamin David, welcomed a packed lecture hall to the event on Wednesday, before Namazie spoke about the need to challenge Islamist groups – stressing that too often these movements are wrongly conflated with Islam and Muslims.
After the talk an hour was set aside for a Q&A session in which students engaged in a critical debate with the speaker.
Namazie was questioned on her views on the hijab, Islam and Feminism, defining Islamism and the methods she uses to challenge Islamists.
Student Rights asked her thoughts on how to change a culture at universities which quashes criticism of religion while turning a blind eye to religious speakers who spread homophobia or anti-Semitism.
Namazie stated that she favoured grassroots opposition to extremist speakers on campuses, and went on to say it was the role of students to oppose fascist views on campuses.
She urged those present to challenge intolerant speakers with facts, telling the audience: “If an idea is bad let it be challenged by better ideas”.
Student Rights also spoke to David, who said that:
“Maryam’s talk sets an extraordinary precedent for freedom of speech. No idea is beyond question, no belief is beyond reproach and no non-violent narrative should be barred”.
Student Rights welcomes the fact that the student union at Warwick reversed their decision and that Namazie was able to speak on campus in an environment which promoted free expression and debate.