University of Westminster diversity report released

In June, Student Rights spoke to the Sunday Times about a leaked report commissioned by the University of Westminster which had found serious concerns about the university Islamic Society.

With the report being released this month, the story has now been covered in the Guardian, focusing on the society’s “ultra-conservative” views, as well as the effect these views have had on the campus.

A damning indictment of both the student society and those tasked with regulating it, the report found that: “action over concerns about the conduct of the Islamic Society had not been taken for fear of appearing Islamophobic.”

It uncovered evidence of a “hostile or intimidatory” attitude towards female students and student union officers, and one “officer spoke of this behaviour being ‘tolerated thus far’.”

There was also “evidence that committee members of the Islamic Society would not engage with Muslim female employees, or even listen to them.”

Some students claimed they had been “threatened by religious groups who objected to their society being in existence”, something highlighted by the university LGBT Society in March 2014.

It was also found that the Islamic Society did “not appear to subscribe fully to the university’s very proper guidelines on tolerance and respect”.

Despite all this however, the report claims it found: “no evidence at all to support journalistic claims that the University of Westminster was a breeding-ground for extremism.”

Given the regular invitation onto campus of members of the extreme Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and the sharing of its propaganda with students, as well as the physical and verbal harassment faced by LGBT students, this is likely to come as a surprise to some.

The report fails to mention the videos of violent extremists shared with the Islamic Society in 2012, which saw a student who later became Islamic Society President posting “may Allah honour us by meeting them Inshallah” under a video featuring images of terrorist gunmen.

In addition, the one event mentioned in a positive light by the report – “a most interesting ‘Golden Age of Islam’ event” – featured Adnan Rashid as the speaker.

Affiliated with the Islamic Education and Research Academy (IERA), and a senior member of the Hittin Institute, Rashid supports the implementation of religious governance and claims “any Muslim who rejects Sharia Law apostatises from Islam”.

While this inability to recognise the extent of the problem at the university is worrying, the university has attempted to challenge such events and behaviour both through this report and new speaker guidelines.

To see concerns that have been raised with Student Rights for a number of years finally accepted by the university is very encouraging, as is the declaration that:

“…any speaker deemed lawful but contentious…will in future only attend on the basis of them being part of a panel debate or a discussion”.

Dealing with extremism is a difficult challenge for universities, and while it is frustrating to see this report fall short of fully acknowledging the problem, it is a promising step in the right direction.

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