Students and national organisations have condemned the decision to host CAGE Outreach Director and former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg as a guest speaker at a talk this evening due to concerns over his “track record of religious fundamentalism”.
A cross-society collaboration between Socialist Students, Friends of Palestine, FemSoc and Islamic Society, Begg is due to appear on a panel aimed at discussing the implications of anti-radicalisation strategy Prevent and campaigns for the legislation’s repeal.
In a series of scathing tweets, Exeter student and NUS delegate Charlie Evans, accused event co-organisers FemSoc and Socialist Students of forming an “unholy alliance” with an “Islamist extremist” who “supports [the] stoning to death of adulteresses”.
It’s terrifying when @ExeterFemSoc is co-hosting Moazzam Begg when he supports stoning to death of adulteresses.
— Charlie Evans (@Chevans93) March 12, 2016
“I and many other students have expressed concern at Moazzam Begg’s presence on campus, without challenge. We have not tried to shut down the event once, but rather open it up for a debate. Others nationwide have shared this concern [and] believe that Begg should be debated with. We recognise that this isn’t something the organisers want, but we wanted to raise our concerns with the organisers,” he told Exeposé.
Following the tweets, the event has garnered national attention with the National Secular Society and Southall Black Sisters, a black and minority ethnic female rights group, taking to Twitter to denounce Begg’s beliefs as “antithetical to feminism and human rights”.
Meanwhile, Gita Sahgal, founder of the Centre for Secular Space, who resigned from her post at Amnesty International in 2010 over their association with Begg, went so far as to suggest that FemSoc withdraw their sponsorship of the event “in memory of the many thousands of women killed by Al Qaida, al Shabab, Boko Haram et al”.
Maryam Namazie, Council of Ex-Muslim leader, who recently hit national headlines after being no-platformed at the University of Warwick over allegations that she may “incite hatred”, also weighed in on the debate. “What a shame that a Feminist Society must be reminded of, well, feminism,” she wrote.
FemSoc have since released a statement, confirming that “no one in FemSoc invited any of the speakers for the event” and that the society is “currently in search of reliable sources to support the claims made against Begg”.
“The opinions of speakers at events do not, nor have they ever, necessarily been a direct reflection of the society’s views [sic],” it continued, “We encourage those who have been making the claims against Begg to come to the event tomorrow and ask for clarification on his views himself.”
“We believe tomorrow will be an excellent opportunity to shed some light on some of the claims that have been made, but more importantly we hope to see progress made in preventing Prevent.
“Prevent is a harmful, Islamophobic piece of legislation, and it’s a shame that what was meant to be an event to combat this has been derailed and hijacked, completely overshadowing its purpose.”
Speaking to Exeposé, Hayden Cooper, incoming President of Socialist Students, defended the criticisms leveraged against the event.
“As a society comprised of multiple types of political identity we can never have a speaker we all agree with. And it is in the nature of free speech to encourage debate and discussion, thus is the nature of dialectics.
“I would like to express concern with the fierce and vitriolic nature of opposition of an event that challenges Prevent, [but] welcome challenges and disputes to the event and speakers.”
While the Students’ Guild will not be preventing Begg from attending the event tonight, they will not be supporting his presence. VP Welfare & Diversity, Naomi Armstrong, commented: “Whilst the Guild opposes the Prevent Strategy due to our concerns over the way marginalised groups have been targeted and due to the woolly interpretation of ‘extremism’ which could lead to free speech being curtailed, I want to make it clear that we don’t endorse Mohammed Begg’s attendance next week. Furthermore, we have played no role in extending an invitation to him. Some of the words CAGE (and Mr. Begg himself) have used in the past are misguided at best and deeply inflammatory at worst.
“We are committed to equal opportunity and values expressed by individuals associated with CAGE do not necessarily stand up to values we hold. However, it is important to have a campus where we can listen to the lived experiences of others.”
‘Preventing Prevent – Students Not Suspects’ will take place in Newman Blue tonight at 6:30 and is free for all to attend. Other panellists will include Rahmaan Mohammadi, school student reported for Justice for Palestine campaigning, Hannah Dee from Defend the Right to Protest and Shelly Asquith, NUS Welfare Vice President.