It has been revealed that Jamal Harwood, a spokesman for the British branch of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, was invited to give a talk earlier this year at the London headquarters of Universities UK.His talk, entitled “Is the Caliphate a viable alternative for the Middle East?”, took place in April 2017 at the Woburn House Conference Centre, a building that they own. Some university authorities, such as Queen Mary and Westminster, have previously cancelled events featuring him.
During another event held at Westminster in 2012, a Jewish student challenged Jamal Harwood to condemn a statement that he had printed from a Hizb-ut-Tahrir website which declared “O Muslim Armies! Teach the Jews a lesson after which they will need no further lessons. March forth to fight them, eradicate their entity and purify the earth of their filth”. He replied to him that “you have to distinguish between a war and a non-war” and that “Palestine is occupied land and there is a war going on”. Student Rights also reported that when the student admitted he was Jewish, he was met with groans and shouting from supporters of Harwood. These extreme views and affiliations should have warranted special attention from Universities UK as well as the host venue.
Initially founded in 1953, Hizb ut-Tahrir is an international revolutionary Islamist group that campaigns for the restoration of the Caliphate and the replacement of democracy by Sharia law. The group is legal in the UK but banned in many European and Middle Eastern countries. Their British branch was established in 1986 by the radical preacher Omar Bakri Muhammed, who later set up the banned group al-Muhajiroun. Before leaving the UK in 2005, Omar Bakri Muhammed is believed to have also helped radicalise the killer of soldier Lee Rigby as well as four British Muslims who travelled to Syria to fight for ISIS.
Hizb ut-Tahrir has been threatened twice with proscription as a terrorist group in the UK – by the Labour Government in the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, and by the Conservative Party during the 2010 General Election. The Home Office has described them in an internal briefing note as a “radical, but to date non-violent Islamist group” that “holds anti-semitic, anti-western and homophobic views”. They have also been no-platformed by the National Union of Students (NUS), which argues that they have been “responsible for supporting terrorism and publishing material that incites racial hatred”.
Universities UK has previously issued special guidance to its members on hosting external speakers in line with the government’s Prevent counter-extremism strategy. They have said that “universities must ensure that they have effective procedures in place to consider each external speaker request”. It is highly unfortunate that this speaker and organisation managed to escape their attention.
A spokesperson from Universities UK has claimed that the event was booked at their headquarters by an external organisation and that if “they been made aware that a Hizb ut-Tahrir representative was involved, the event would not have been allowed to take place”. Universities UK have clarified that they “will not allow the organiser to book any future events at the venue”.
It is especially concerning that this took place at the headquarters of a body that prides itself on its work challenging extremism. This is clearly an episode where due diligence could have mitigated risks associated with outside speakers and avoided wider embarrassment.
At Student Rights we believe that higher education institutions need to comply with the Prevent duty guidance in practice as well as in theory. As a major umbrella organisation representing the higher education sector, Universities UK must ensure that it continues to fulfil the best possible practice in its adherence to the Prevent duty. We hope that they will not make this mistake again.