‘Ten years of HHUGS’ highlight off-campus concerns

This weekend the charity Helping Households under Great Stress (HHUGS) will celebrate its tenth anniversary with a gender segregated event at an unannounced London venue.

Promoted on Facebook by the Islamic Societies at Kingston University and the University of Westminster, this shows how online networks can expose students to extreme groups and individuals.

HHUGS encouraged people to write to Osama Bin Laden’s former UK spokesman Khalid Al-Fawwaz in 2011, and has published material claiming:

“…until Osama Bin Ladens [sic] death he was not charged with any crime related to 9/11 nor was any evidence produced”.

It also criticises Manchester-based extremist Munir Farooqi’s conviction for soliciting to murder, claiming “there was no forensic evidence against him”.

The support for Munir Farooqi expressed by HHUGS is underlined by the presence of his son, Haris Farooqi, at this Sunday’s event.

Acquitted of terrorism charges himself, Haris Farooqi claims his father Munir and fellow conspirators Israr Malik and Matthew Newton are “three totally innocent people that have been framed”.

Farooqi will speak alongside former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, who has admitted to “small arms and mountain tactics” training in militant camps and funding the Al-Qaeda-affiliated camp at Khalden.

Begg was recently released from prison after the collapse of a terrorism case against him, but accepted he had been in Syria training fighters – and was recorded criticising his recruits, saying:“…they want to call it martyrdom but I said we have to be physically prepared. If you don’t prepare this just becomes suicide, not martyrdom”.

Meanwhile, Shakeel Begg, recorded in 2006 telling students: “You want to make jihad? Very good […] Take some money and go to Palestine and fight, fight the terrorists, fight the Zionists”, will also appear at the event.

He will be joined by representatives of the Hittin Institute, which hosted the Al-Qaeda cleric Anwar Al-Awlaki in 2009, with Uthman Lateef and Adnan Rashid appearing at the event.

If any of these speakers were booked to appear on a UK campus, there would be significant oversight required by university staff, yet in this case no such oversight will exist.

While universities cannot control events which take place off-campus, the speakers advertised suggest the use of student society social media to promote this event should be of concern.

With institutions slated to have a statutory duty to challenge extremism, how to address the promotion of extreme events via official social media will have to be considered if they are to meet this duty.

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