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Muslim extremist speaks at the University of York

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An event organised by the Islamic society at the University of York last night has sparked controversy amongst York students as Muslim extremist Yusuf Chambers was invited to speak.

The event was called ‘Patience, perseverance and the final exam’, however, some students are outraged that such a man would be allowed to speak in an academic setting.

Chambers is a founder and member of the Islamic Research and Education Academy; a group of Muslim fundamentalist preachers who believe that there should be a death penalty for homosexual acts in order to keep society pure. The group has also been known to be against the Jewish religion and openly support the stoning of women who commit adultery.

Leon Morris, LGBT officer at the University of York, says: "I feel this an attack on my very nature and believe it indecent, impertinent and wrong of a student society to invite an openly extreme preacher onto the very campus that I feel included and accepted."

However Morris does accept that nobody should restrict anyone’s right to see a speaker they want to see. Instead of picketing Morris suggested that LGBT students attend the event and ask ‘intellectual’ but ‘hostile’ questions to Chambers to challenge his views.

Hasan Afzal, director of Stand for Peace, takes a similarly opposing view: "A few years ago, University of York Islamic Society had an Islamist problem – it appears that problem has reappeared. There can be no other reason to invite Mr Chambers other than to proselytise young Muslim students to his twisted and intolerant teachings."

Many people believe that the issue is not one of freedom of speech but one of decency. The LGBT officers feel that the organisation of such an event is indecent.

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: "Homophobia and Islamophobia have no place in a civilised society. The university should not be giving a platform to hate preachers. It violates the university’s equal opportunities and non-discrimination policy. I am sure the authorities would not allow an avowedly racist speaker. Why the double standards?"

This returns to the ‘no platform policy’ argument. Tim Ellis, president of the University’s Union, says that the University "does not have a no platform policy" and it doesn’t need one. He believes that "students are intelligent people who are capable of hearing different views and evaluating them." Surely it is better to allow such an extremist to speak in order for him to be seen being publically challenged about his views?

Ellis continues to say that he does not believe that it is the "Union’s responsibility to ‘vet’ who students can and cannot hear speak."

This shouldn’t be an issue of ‘protecting’ students from extremist views, it should be an issue of educating students that these views are extreme and in no way represent a majority in society. The views should be challenged. Anyone can find information about hate speech on the internet and across other platforms where those views go unchallenged, here it seems to be much more about questioning these views on campus.

Of course we must also remember, as Ellis reminds us, that Chambers has not been invited onto campus to talk about homosexuality. The University put measures in place to ensure that hate speech didn’t take place. Further to this the Islamic society has invited all students, regardless of religion or sexuality; to attend the event thus this should work as a platform for students to query Chambers after his speech.

As yet, nobody has spoken openly about last night’s event, however the group made to invite people on Facebook shows that 296 people were invited, just 30 confirmed over the social networking site and 6 people were categorised as ‘maybe’. 

Although I believe that extremists should be allowed a platform so long as this is followed by ample opportunity for their views to be publically challenged, perhaps Tatchell is right when he says that "The university should, at the very least, insist that Yusuf Chambers sign an undertaking that he supports equality and non-discrimination, including for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people."

Whether or not Chambers would have signed that piece of paper is perhaps the reason that it was never approached in such a way. Where do you stand on the platform debate?




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