Maryam Namazie barred from Warwick University (Update: Warwick SU reverse decision)

UPDATE 28/09/2015: Following widespread coverage of this story the Student Union at the University of Warwick has changed its decision and allowed Namazie to speak. In a statement released over the weekend, the union has said that:

“Warwick SU has a process for assessing any potential risks or legal issues associated with any external speaker, and it is now very clear to us that in this case that process has not been followed.

Neither the SU President, nor senior SU staff, were consulted as they should have been. This is a significant error for which there can be no excuse.

The proper process has now been followed, as it should have been in the first place. The application by the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society for Warwick Students’ Union to host Maryam Namazie as an external speaker has now been considered and approved.”

They have also stated that “Warwick SU will issue an unequivocal apology to Maryam Namazie for this egregious and highly regrettable error”, and Namazie has confirmed that she received “a very gracious apology”.

That the decision to prevent Namazie from speaking has been reversed should be welcomed, and highlights the importance of speaking out against attempts to silence anti-racist activists who take on religious intolerance.

The human rights activist Maryam Namazie has been refused permission to speak at the University of Warwick by the student union.

In an email published by Namazie, the union has claimed: “a number of articles written both by the speaker and by others…indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus”.

Namazie’s frequent criticism of both far-right and Islamist extremism, as well as her outspoken opposition to gender segregation, make it incredible that she should be seen as a threat.

However, it appears that the student union has decided that speaking out against religious totalitarianism is a risk, something Namazie highlights when she says:

“If we dissent, if we demand equality, if we demand to live our lives without the labels of “kafir” or “immoral” – and all that which they imply, then we are inciting hatred”.

This decision is all the more absurd given that the Student Union gave permission for Ken O’Keefe to speak on-campus in March this year.

Even the most cursory online search reveals that O’Keefe is an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, who was condemned by a number of student Palestine Societies in 2012 after he claimed that “Israel and Mossad were directly involved in 9/11”.

In response to this criticism, he suggested he was being attacked for standing against “the Jewish supremacism that is of dire consequence to our world” and claimed:

“Israeli Mossad worked with high treason traitors in the US government to set explosives in the twin towers and building 7 on 9/11”.

He has claimed that “for all of its problems, Hamas has done a good job of getting rid of the collaborators” – with this report into the murder of Palestinian civilians by Hamas demonstrating what that means in practice.

O’Keefe has also appeared at events run by the far-right London Forum, and is an associate of David Duke, founder of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

Meanwhile, in January, Warwick hosted Ismail Patel of Friends of Al-Aqsa, which has published a number of anti-Semitic writers including Khalid Amayreh, Paul Eisen, Gilad Atzmon, and Israel Shamir.

Patel was closely linked through the British Muslim Initiative to the Hamas figure Mohammed Sawalha, described by the BBC to have “masterminded much of Hamas’s political and military strategy”.

He has also argued that “Hamas is no terrorist organization…we salute Hamas for standing up to Israel”.

That a principled anti-racist campaigner with a history of opposing extremism should be barred from campus, but the above speakers were waved through is astonishing.

If universities are serious about their claims to be places where extremism is challenged they must allow speakers like Namazie to “defend the rights of ex-Muslims, Muslims and others to dissent” against religious intolerance.

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