Maryam Namazie, an atheist and outspoken critic of extremist Islam, was scheduled to speak at the end of October at Warwick University (England) on behalf of the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists’ Society. She was going to talk about “apostasy, blasphemy and nudity in the age of ISIS.”
But the school’s students’ union declined the request (essentially denying the atheist group the resources it needed to bring Namazie there) because:
… after researching both her and her organisation, a number of flags have been raised. We have a duty of care to conduct a risk assessment for each speaker who wishes to come to campus.
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.
Specifically, they listed four reasons for their rejection, saying speakers:
– must not incite hatred, violence or call for the breaking of the law
– are not permitted to encourage, glorify or promote any acts of terrorism including individuals, groups or organisations that support such acts
– must not spread hatred and intolerance in the community and thus aid in disrupting social and community harmony
– must seek to avoid insulting other faiths or groups, within a framework of positive debate and challenge
But Namazie doesn’t incite hatred or call for violence, she doesn’t praise terrorism (she speaks out against it), she doesn’t spread hate or intolerance, and the only way she insults faiths in by challenging extremists.
Regardless, the union is afraid she may upset Muslims on campus. It’s political correctness gone too far. If we can’t discuss the awful things some people do in the name of religion — and Namazie has been subject to numerous faith-based threats herself — then you have to wonder why this place calls itself an institution of higher learning at all. Just because the subject matter is controversial isn’t reason enough to avoid it, especially when a group of students wants to bring her in to hear her thoughts. If Namazie is wrong in her criticism, students will have a chance to challenge her.
This is the same sort of shitty reasoning that led to Brandeis University revoking an honorary degree from Ayaan Hirsi Ali last year after announcing that she would receive one. Even after you’ve been a victim of multiple death threats and seen friends die at the hands of extremist Muslims, I guess you’re supposed to still praise Islam. It’s the same fear that led to several student groups (including an atheist one) to protest Hirsi Ali’s invitation to speak at Yale. It took a courageous conservative group to stand up to the liberals and bring her in anyway.
Namazie explained that she was not going to conflate the extremists with all Muslims in her talk:
The Student Union seems to lack an understanding of the difference between criticising religion, an idea, or a far-Right political movement on the one hand and attacking and inciting hate against people on the other. Inciting hatred is what the Islamists do; I and my organisation challenge them and defend the rights of ex-Muslims, Muslims and others to dissent.
The Student Union position is of course nothing new. It is the predominant post-modernist “Left” point of view that conflates Islam, Muslims and Islamists, homogenises the “Muslim community”, thinks believers are one and the same as the religious-Right and sides with the Islamist narrative against its many dissenters.
She also told The Independent:
“If people like me who fled an Islamist regime can’t speak out about my opposition to the far-right Islamic movement, if I can’t criticise Islam… that leaves very [few] options for me as a dissenter because the only thing I have is my freedom of expression.
“If anyone is inciting hatred, it’s the Islamists who are threatening people like me just for deciding we want to be atheist, just because we don’t want to toe the line.”
So far, at least, it seems like everyone is standing in support of Namazie.
The National Secular Society condemned the rejection:
NSS campaigns manager Stephen Evans commented: “Universities have barely returned to a new academic term and we are already seeing attacks on free speech. It is absurd and sinister that an atheist speaker should be banned from campus for their views, and that ‘insulting other faiths’ is grounds for a speaker to be banned.
“The reasoning behind banning Maryam Namazie from speaking is the kind of muddled thinking that results in the capitulation to an Islamist agenda, which seeks to shut down all criticism of Islam.”
Keep in mind religious groups frequently bring in speakers that suggest atheism is a problem and that students ought to have faith. Michael Nugent points out that the same students’ union has brought in pro-Islamic groups to praise the Qur’an. Why are they so afraid of hearing the other side?
Benjamin David, the President of the student group that wanted to bring her in, is ashamed of his school:
Maryam has always campaigned against violence and discrimination and has done so passionately for many years — something that should have been taken on board when the SU’s assessment was made. Maryam often describes the true facts concerning her own experiences and those of people she works with in relation to radical forms of Islam — not all forms of Islam, just those pernicious, radical strands of the religion — things that most peaceful Muslims would also condemn. I must profess that if those facts are an incitement of hatred — which I most definitely believe they are not — then the solution is to change the way people are treated in certain faith communities, not to insist Maryam lie about her life through censorship.
The Warwick University Students’ Union would save everyone a lot of time and trouble by simply publishing a list of topics that cannot be discussed on campus. If criticizing how some extremists interpret Islam is off-limits, say so.
I find it insulting, really, that the union thinks all Muslim students are so oversensitive that they can’t handle any challenge to their faith. I would give them far more credit.
It’s no wonder that online magazine Spiked gave the school and the students’ union its worst rating regarding free speech issues.
Don’t blame the messenger.
Hear her message and then judge it.
***Update***: The Students’ Union has issued an official response saying they have not yet made a final decision on Namazie:
As previously stated, the SU has a process for assessing the risks associated with any external speaker in accordance with our legal responsibilities. Our policy aims to provide an environment where freedom of expression and speech are protected, balanced with the need to ensure that our community is free from harm and ensure that incitement to hatred is never acceptable.
However, our policy has a number of stages and — whilst risks have indeed been identified — contrary to what has been communicated in the public domain over the last 24 hours, no final decision has been taken. The responsibility for doing so is mine along with authorised senior staff members. To this point, neither I nor authorised senior staff members have had any involvement in the process — the next stage of which is that we review the request, determine what can be put in place to facilitate the event and then discuss this with the event organiser, whose role is integral to the process.
We have a record of facilitating over 200 speakers a year covering a wide range of topics, many of which are controversial in nature. This is part of our role in the development of our members. We do everything in our power to ensure that these events take place, safely and with any identified risks mitigated. Declining speaker requests is an absolute last resort.
I would reiterate that the process for reviewing this particular speaker event has not been completed and, once I and senior staff members have reviewed it, a further statement will be made.”
The atheist group bringing Namazie in has also responded to the statement:
We believe that WarwickSU’s statement is unpardonably misleading. To begin with, we do not believe that any article has said a FINAL decision has been made — numerous articles document the FACT that WASH are pursuing an appeal… What is more, we at WASH have not once claimed that a FINAL decision (that is to say, a response to our appeal) has been made. We have always stated honestly and openly that the application was declined and we have subsequently appealed.
In short, Namazie was rejected. The atheists appealed. They are still waiting for the Students’ Union to respond to the appeal.