Warwick Students’ Union Backs Down from Denying Free Speech to Maryam Namazie.
Posted: Mon, 28 Sep 2015 09:40
The National Secular Society has welcomed Warwick Student Union’s decision to host secular campaigner Maryam Namazie. The Union reversed their ban on her speaking following huge public pressure.
Ms Namazie had been blocked from speaking at a Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society event after the Student Union said the ex-Muslim campaigner could ‘insult’ religion. The SU were also concerned that Namazie, an NSS honorary associate who campaigns for human rights and equality, could ‘incite hatred’.
Informing Ms Namazie of their initial decision to block her, the SU wrote: “There a number of articles written both by the speaker and by others about the speaker that indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus. This is in contravention of our external speaker policy”.
In a frank apology on their website, the SU admitted they had “failed, and failed badly in this case” and promised to “act immediately to examine how that happened, and to it put it right”.
NSS executive director Keith Porteous Wood commented: “We welcome the Student Union’s change of heart and hope their ‘continued commitment to free speech’ is reflected in actions as well as words. Freedom of expression is under growing threat, particularly when it involves discussions surrounding Islam. Every act of appeasement to those intent on closing down debate encourages self-censorship and depletes this freedom further.
“Freedom of expression is not only a pre-requisite for resolving challenging problems but for the functioning of democracy itself.
“The Student Union’s decision has saved it and the University from an escalation of this unfortunate situation and potentially even a legal challenge further down the line.
“While this case has ended in the right outcome, we still have grave concerns about an external speaker policy which says guests on campus must ‘avoid insulting other faiths’. This is extremely broad and open to a wide variety of interpretations, and therefore extremely restrictive to freedom of speech.
“Universities have a legal duty to defend freedom of expression and in our view certain Student Union policies may be working in direct conflict with that duty. This is an issue we hope to discuss with the NUS in the coming weeks.”
Statement from the Students’ Union:
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. Speaker invitations that may involve such issues are routinely considered by the SU President, who will also take advice from senior SU staff. This did not happen on this occasion. 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. There is a great deal that we now must put right, and these are the first steps that we are putting into place:
1) 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.
2) The SU is now seeking to meet promptly with the leadership of the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society to make the necessary arrangements for the event to take place in the format they have requested.
3) Warwick SU will issue an unequivocal apology to Maryam Namazie for this egregious and highly regrettable error.
4) Our process as to how we assess requests to host external speakers is very clear. However, it is also equally clear that how this process is communicated and understood by everyone in the SU who needs to be aware of it has failed, and failed badly in this case. We need to act immediately to examine how that happened, and to it put it right, and we will.
We want to assure everyone of Warwick Students’ Union’s continued commitment to free speech. We also want to take this opportunity to apologise to everyone who has expressed concern, or disappointment, or who has been hurt by this significant error and, as we said above, we will be issuing a full and unequivocal apology to Maryam Namazie.
This is welcome news.
That there remains a difficulty that will continue in other venues can be seen from the reaction of some ‘leftists’ who tried to cast doubt on Maryam Namazie’s politics – as if that were the criterion to give or to deny people free speech.
There is little doubt that the malevolent legacy of the kind of approach advocated by the former site Islamophobia Watch and its Master, Bob Pitt, who took it upon himself to wage war on left-wing opponents of Islamism, can be felt at work here.
To this way of thinking strong criticism of Islam, and above all, attacks on the politics based on the Qu’ran, are intrinsically Islamophobic.
Whether we agree with the Hekmartists’ (Mansoor Hekmat (منصور حکمت; June 4, 1951 – July 4, 2002) political practice, or their detailed ideas, or not, there is little doubt that Islamism is a major problem.
The views of people who have direct experience of it as a tyrannical ideology of states like Iran (Namazie’s country of origin), are of great importance.
In this respect secularism is just a matter of defending free-speech and the freedom of the state from rule by one faith: it is a call for material liberty.
Furthermore this is not just something happening far away: The ex-Muslim Britons who are persecuted for being atheists 28 September 2015 BBC.
An investigation for the BBC has found evidence of young people suffering threats, intimidation, being ostracised by their communities and, in some cases, encountering serious physical abuse when they told their families they were no longer Muslims.
There are also local councils that seem to have little awareness of the issue or any policy on how to protect these vulnerable young people.
There are no official statistics on apostasy in British Islam, and only a few academic studies based on a tiny handful of individual cases.
But growing numbers of ex-Muslims are sharing their experiences on online forums. Coming out as a non-believer at an age when young people of all backgrounds can rebel over relationships and cultural expectations means it’s often hard to identify religion as a factor.