Update: University of Warwick Students Union has now approved Maryam to speak at this event and has apologised to her.
Universities should be prepared to host events at which speakers cause offence to people who do not share their beliefs, as long as such events do not break the laws of the land or incite violence or crime. This is important because universities are not the same as private bodies with their own political agendas. Universities are public bodies that should foster freedom of expression, and encourage critical thinking and intellectual growth among students and staff.
Universities should resist pressure from groups within Trinity College Dublin and the University of Warwick, who this year have blocked speaking invitations by student societies to Maryam Namazie, and from shock-bloggers like PZ Myers, who this year welcomed the rescinding by US universities of speaking invitations to Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Condaleeza Rice.
The University of Warwick Islamic Society has hosted events that seem to breach the rules being used to prevent Maryam from speaking. This is not a reason to prevent the Islamic Society from hosting events that cause offence to some atheists and secularists. It is a reason to allow Maryam to speak on the campus, despite her comments causing offence to some Muslims.
Here is what Maryam wrote earlier this year about the revoking of a speaking invitation to her by the TCD Society for International Affairs:
“Though the SoFIA chair asserts that I withdrew from the event, it is in fact the Society, which cancelled the event after my request that it go ahead as initially planned without any of the last-minute restrictions imposed, namely that all attendants of the event must be 1) Trinity students and 2) members of the society hosting the talk, and that 3) a moderator be added for “balance”. The “article” is full of irrelevances and misinformation in order to muddy the waters so that the main issue at hand is forgotten as is usual in such cases. The main issue is that my right to speak was restricted by TCD whilst Islamist speakers like Kamal El Mekki who advocate the death penalty for apostates face no such restrictions.”
Here is what the University of Warwick Students Union has said this week about revoking a speaking invitation by the campus Atheist Society to Maryam:
“All speakers will be made aware of their responsibility to abide by the law, the University and the Union’s various policies, including that they:
- 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.”
The suggestion that Maryam engages in the first three of these activities is simply false, and to imply that these are valid reasons for banning her borders on defamation. In reality, Maryam actively campaigns against such activities, and she promotes one law for all with no violations of human rights by either religious or secular organisations.
The fourth of these policies is unacceptable in a secular democracy, and particularly on a university campus. Of course speakers should be allowed to insult other faiths or groups, as long as they do not incite violence or engage in defamation. All ideas and beliefs, including Islam and atheism, should be open to robust criticism, including ridicule.
You have rights, your beliefs do not. Insulting faiths and groups is not the same thing as inciting hatred towards individual members of those groups. Criticising the human rights violations caused by the ideology of Islam is not the same as insulting individual Muslims. Indeed, most of the victims of the many human rights violations by Islamists are Muslims.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Condaleeza Rice
The once-influential shock-blogger PZ Myers has also opposed invitations to speakers at universities. As a compromise, he accepted the right of student groups to invite such speakers, but he protested against universities themselves inviting certain speakers, particularly when they pay them high fees. Here is what PZ Myers wrote earlier this year about universities revoking speaking invitations to Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Condaleeza Rice:
“OMG! Condoleeza Rice and Ayaan Hirsi Ali were shot and killed? Then yes, we definitely should march in opposition to that criminal outrage…oh. They were just turned away from speaking engagements? Sorry, that isn’t the same thing at all. Wingnuts really do not understand the concept of free speech at all. Revoking those appearances was not a denial of the right to free speech: free speech does not mean you are owed a high profile platform and a bullhorn to declare your position; it does not mean you are given big bucks to speak. It means the government is not allowed to use its privilege and power to silence you. Both the Rice and Ali denials were by universities, not governments. I think they were in the right to boot them out.”
PZ Myers at the height of his notoriety was like a left-wing parody of Islamists’ desire to use offence to control how other people express themselves. He was perpetually outraged by everything from Matt Taylor wearing shirts and Richard Dawkins reminiscing on his childhood, to Tim Hunt telling jokes and Hemant Mehta allowing people to comment on his blog. Meanwhile, PZ wanted the right to offend other people in whatever way he chose to express himself. It is a relief he no longer has the influence he once had on atheist activism.
Why should universities resist such pressure?
Why should universities resist pressure from students unions and shock-bloggers to revoke speaking appearances on campus by people with whom they disagree? The most important reason is that universities should encourage freedom of expression and critical thinking. Another reason is that the same standards could be applied to the groups who are supposedly being protected from the offence caused by the banned speakers.
For example, the University of Warwick Islamic Society seems like a positive group of people. As well as hosting prayer sessions, they do charity work for orphans and needy children, and they host sports events and cinema nights as well as talks and debates. However, some of their events seem to breach the rules that are being used to prevent Maryam from speaking at Warwick University.
Events by University of Warwick Islamic Society
Here are some examples of University of Warwick Islamic Society hosting events that offend many atheists and secularists.
This year and last year Warwick University Islamic Society have hosted a weekly Brothers Taleem Class, where they would read and learn from Imam an-Nawawi’s 40 Hadith. This is a book in which the author gathered forty two of the sayings of prophet Muhammed. Most of them are morally good suggestions. However, two of them are as follows:
Hadith 8: Abdullah bin Omar narrated that the messenger of Allah said: “I have been ordered to fight against people until they testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammed is the messenger of Allah and until they perform the prayers and pay the zakat, and if they do so they will have gained protection from me for their lives and property, unless [they do acts that are punishable] in accordance with Islam, and their reckoning will be with Allah the Almighty.”
Hadith 14: Abdullah bin Masud narrated that the messenger of Allah said: “The blood of a Muslim may not be legally spilt other than in one of three [instances]: the married person who commits adultery; a life for a life; and one who forsakes his religion and abandons the community.”
The Warwick University Islamic Society has also hosted recital gatherings of the entire Quran. This presumably included reciting the many morally good passages that are in the Quran, such as the exhortations to not lie, to be good to your parents, to be good to the poor, to set slaves free, to not oppress people, and to not have compulsion in religion
It also presumably includes reciting the many morally bad passages that are in the Quran, such as that men are in charge of women because Allah made one excel the other, that men can beat their wives in certain circumstances, that a woman’s testimony is worth half that of a man, that a woman can inherit half what a man does, that you should flog adulterers and not let compassion prevent your from doing it, that you should kill people who leave Islam, and that you should fight non-muslims until they are in a state of subjection.
On the face of it, these events breach the rules that are being used to prevent Maryam Namazie from speaking at the University. Promoting such ideas can incite hatred and violence or call for the breaking of the law. It can spread hatred and intolerance in the community and thus aid in disrupting social and community harmony. It can and does insult other faiths or groups. So why the double standards that allow these ideas to be discussed but not Maryam’s?
To be clear, this is not a reason to prevent the Islamic Society from hosting events, despite some events causing offence to some atheists and secularists. But it is a reason to allow Maryam to speak at Warwick University, despite her comments causing offence to some Muslims.