Haitham al-Haddad, Islamic scholar and guest speaker at University of Westminster
(photo credit: EJPress)
Islamist scholar Haitham Al-Haddad has a history of homophobia, misogyny, religious intolerance and rhetorical support for violent groups. Nevertheless, University of Westminster granted him a stage last Monday to speak to the Islamic Society student group (ISoc).
On November 3rd, ISoc organized a fundraising dinner with a guest speaker who, originally, was supposed to be Imam Wasim Kempson, a moderate scholar that would have delivered a speech on Syria and Palestine.
Twenty-four hours before the event, on the ISoc Facebook page appeared a new post, highlighting that the guest speaker had change. The replacement was Dr. Al-Haddad.
It needs a basic internet search to find out who Al-Haddad is and what his main ideas are on topics like homosexuality, “a criminal act”, the role of women in society, “a man should not be questioned why he hit his wife, because this is something between them” and Jews, “descendants of apes and pigs”.
The person who oversees and approves guest speakers at University of Westminster, in particular those who deal with religious topic, is Mr. Yusuf Kaplan, the Interfaith Advisor of college. We phoned him yesterday afternoon and he said he granted authorization for Mr. Al-Haddad as guest speaker on University premises but he did not want to comment furthermore.
As we learned during the afternoon, an emergency meeting of the Students’ Union was held behind closed doors to discuss this very topic and, since we were around, we popped in the Regent street campus where we met vice president of the SU, Muaz Mahmoud.
He was having an early dinner in the cafeteria with some senior member of the Islamic society and, as we approached him, he politely told us he was “instructed not to talk” to the press. Funny, since he’s paid something around £23.000 each year by the University and he’s expected, at least, to explain this to whom signs his paycheck: his fellow students.
Then again, we turned to the ISoc member and he replied “everyone is entitled to their own opinion”.
And we are pretty sure Al-Haddad has a bunch of opinions that don’t need further clarification.
So the Students’ Union bounced us saying that this is a matter the University has to deal with but, as we were walking back to the newsroom, we received the University’s official statement:
“The Islamic Society is an organization under the administration of the Students’ Union which does not fall directly under the governance of the university and concerned students should approach the Students’ Union in the first instance. Providing a safe environment for our students is a top priority. All speakers on University premises are required to give their agreement to abide by our code of practice on tolerance of other religions and beliefs. Those speakers that do not comply with this policy would not be permitted to speak at the University. The University will always speak to the Students’ Union if there are concerns.”
In other words, the University is denying any responsibility for the invitation of a guest that defended the anti-Semitic militant group of Hamas, proscribed as a terrorist organization in the UK.
University of Westminster doesn’t seem to be new to controversy involving radical Islamic movements. No later than last September, Muslim students at the University of Westminster have been found to be disseminating literature and propaganda on behalf of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) group that is banned from campuses by the National Union of Students.
Identified as a fascist organization, Hizb-ut-Tahrir (party of liberation) has been halted from appearing at university campuses across the United Kingdom. Westminster itself has had numerous altercations with Hizb-ut-Tahrir speakers and their sympathizers, some of which took over the student union in 2011.
Even the Telegraph decided to cover the disputed Students’ Union election at Westminster in 2011 when Tarik Mahri, 23 was elected as president of the union despite his links to the group Hizb ut-Tahrir which advocates the establishment of an Islamic state.
So if this is not the University’s responsibility nor the Students’ Union’s, who oversees the process? And on which basis guests are invited to speak on the University premises?
Even though the speaker abides by the University’s code of conduct, isn’t it reasonable to think that students being exposed to someone with such views reflects badly on the University?