Called ‘Brothers Behind Bars’, the event was organised by the SOAS Muslim Students Association and sought to focus on “the Plight of Muslim Prisoners in the ‘War on Terror’”.
The panel assembled for the event included Harris Farooqi and Asif Uddin, both present as representatives of campaigns supporting men imprisoned for terror offences.
Harris Farooqi is the son of Munir Farooqi, convicted of preparation for terrorist acts, soliciting to murder, and disseminating terrorist publications in September 2011.
Meanwhile, a banner on the speaker’s table declared “Free Munir Farooqi, Framed by Undercover Police”.
Asif Uddin appeared as a representative of the ‘Justice for Anis Sardar’ campaign – and also works at ‘Sabeel’ and ‘Islam21C’; campaigns of Haitham Al-Haddad’s Muslim Research and Development Foundation (MRDF).
Sardar was convicted of murder earlier this year after a jury was convinced bombs he admitted to assembling had been used to target a US patrol near Baghdad in 2007.
Despite this, Uddin allegedly told the audience at the event that the “prosecution could not prove the crime” but that Sardar was still given a 38 year sentence.
The event also featured a speech from Moazzam Begg, the director of outreach at CAGE, who conceded he had travelled to Syria to train fighters while contesting terrorism charges which collapsed in 2014.
Begg has also admitted to visiting militant training camps on the Afghan-Pakistan border, as well as to fighting in Bosnia in the 1990s.
While it is important that our universities remain places where critical voices can be aired, events such as this risk inflaming the grievances which can drive radicalisation.
Claiming there are “fabricated accounts of terrorist acts produced through forced…confessions” and that those convicted in open courts are “wrongly imprisoned Muslim prisoners” is extremely damaging, and feeds a dangerous narrative of victimhood.
Worse still, there appears to have been no effort made to provide any form of balance or opposition at the event, giving Begg, Farooqi, Uddin, and others free rein to spread these deeply divisive views.
This should concern anyone worried about those students who may be vulnerable to radicalisation, and must face challenge in the future.