Isis killer’s former university tops list for ‘extremist’ preachers on campus
- Credit: Polly Hancock
A new report has warned that a “culture conducive” to non-violent extremism has emerged at the former university of Isis killer Mohammed Emwazi - as it tops a list of “worst offenders” for hosting radical preachers.
Among those invited onto campus at the University of Westminster were members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which presses for restoration of the caliphate and is banned by the National Union of Students.
The research has led to renewed fears that students are at risk of radicalisation on campus.
Yet our investigation has shown while very real concerns remain, the situation has changed significantly since the time when Isis terrorist Emwazi was a student in 2009.
The research shows:
* Westminster held 25 events involving “extreme or intolerant speakers” from 2012 to 2014, the highest of any university in the country.
* But the number of red-flagged events has fallen significantly in the last 18 months.
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* Speakers often appeared unopposed at single platform events and were not exposed “to the oxygen of publicity”.
* The students’ union has launched a ‘Speak Out On Speakers’ survey and is cooperating with an independent panel to improve processes.
The University of Westminster told the Wood&Vale it has a “robust and transparent” external speaker policy.
A spokeswoman said: “We condemn the promotion of radicalisation, terrorism and violence or threats against any member of our community.”
The findings of a new report by Student Rights, a group dedicated to monitoring extremism on university campuses, logged 25 events at the University of Westminster from 2012 to 2014 where “extreme or intolerant speakers” were invited to give lectures - including some who advocate virulent homophobia.
This was the highest number of any university from data gathered across the UK, but the number fell significantly in 2014.
Rupert Sutton, director of Student Rights and author of the report Preventing Prevent? Challenges to Counter-Radicalisation Policy on Campus, said: “There were a significant number of events at Westminster, particularly from the 2012-2013 period, when we believe there was a network of students on campus who were connected to Hizb ut-Tahrir and were inviting speakers on who were promoting themselves to students.”
He said the epicentre of activity was around a group called the Global Ideas Society, which ran a programme of events with speakers “usually from Hizb ut-Tahrir” invited to speak unopposed.
The Global Ideas Society’s Facebook page has not been active since November 2013.
The Islamic Society, an official University of Westminster Students Union (UWSU) society, is also known to have shared violent jihadist videos featuring terrorists on its Facebook page in 2012.
“University’s often say they are the best place for these extreme ideas to be challenged, to be exposed to the oxygen of publicity,” said Mr Sutton. “But the problem is in this case these speakers weren’t being exposed or challenged.”
Westminster found itself at the centre of intense scrutiny in February this year when it was revealed that Isis beheader Emwazi was a former student.
Another ex-student, Omar Abdur Rehman, was convicted in 2007 of conspiracy to cause explosions in an al-Qaeda linked plot and at the time of his arrest was studying at the University of Westminster.
However the number of events involving speakers with extremist views has fallen significantly in the last 18 months. There were nine events in 2012, 13 in 2013 but only three in 2014.
“Either these students have moved on or the university has become better at challenging extremism,” said Mr Sutton. “But there are still extremist events taking place.”
The University of Westminster says it has been working hard to implement the government’s Prevent strategy to counter radicalisation.
It says it has a “robust and transparent” external speaker policy which event organisers must adhere to.
A spokeswoman said: “We condemn the promotion of radicalisation, terrorism and violence or threats against any member of our community.
“We have strict policies to promote tolerance among our 20,000 student community, who come to study from over 150 nations.”
The students’ union is also publicly engaging with the issue.
A statement on the UWSU website on June 30 about “challenges around external speakers” said the union had a “zero tolerance policy against people or groups found to be engaging in intolerant or discriminatory behaviour”.
The union has also launched a ‘Speak Out On Speakers’ survey to identify how students would like “to handle the sometimes thorny question of where freedom of speech should end” and is cooperating with an independent panel to examine how to improve processes.
The issue is a pressing one as from July 1 this year public bodies, including universities, have a new legal duty to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act.
Student Rights’ has called on universities and student unions to make Prevent training compulsory for elected student union officials and to ensure radical preachers do not speak unopposed at single platform events.
“A lot of university heads understand that this is an issue that they need to deal with, not only in the sense that there are vulnerable students but universities also see this as almost a reputational issue,” said Mr Sutton.
“Nobody wants to be the next university that has a Mohammed Emwazi essentially.”
Who were the speakers invited onto campus at the University of Westminster?
The Palestinian scholar, who is a judge and treasurer for Islamic Sharia Council UK, spoke four times from 2012 to 2014. He has expressed virulent homophobia referring to “the scourge of homosexuality” which he calls a “criminal act”. In February, a talk by al-Haddad was postponed when it became known Mohammed Emwazi was an ex-student. 3,000 students signed a petition calling for al-Haddad to be banned from campus.
The historian and lecturer has worked with the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA), which is currently barred from operating at University College London. He is also a senior member of The Hittin Institute, an Islamist organisation ideologically close to the revolutionary Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. He spoke in April 2013 unopposed by other speakers.
The British Islamist preacher was advertised as speaking alongside al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in 2009 and is a director of The Hittin Institute. He preaches homophobia and has said “We don’t accept homosexuality... we hate it because Allah hates it”. He spoke in March 2012 and March 2014 on both occasions unopposed by other speakers.
The Hizb ut-Tahrir women’s representative spoke at three events from 2013 to 2014 and was most recently on campus at the beginning of this year.
The senior Hizb ut-Tahrir member was hosted by the Global Ideas Society in October and December 2012 at unopposed single platform events.