7 January 2010 (Jewish News)
Jewish student leaders have expressed concern over the rise of campus extremism in the wake of an attempted terror attack on a transatlantic flight by a former UCL student.
Members of the Jewish community have called on universities to take fresh action to curb extremism on UK campuses by restricting anti-Semitic and radical guest speakers.
On 25 December Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a former president of UCL’s Islamic society, failed to detonate a bomb on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. Abdulmutallab was the fourth president of a London student Islamic society to face terrorist charges in the past three years.
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, said: “Last week’s revelations should serve as a stark reminder to all university authorities to be far more vigilant of student body activities, taking immediate action to ensure that no radical speakers are ever invited to spread their poisonous hatred on campuses.”
Recent controversial guests who have visited UK universities include Bongani Matsuku, who the Human Rights Commission in South Africa said had practised hate speech against Jews and Israelis. Another guest, Abu Usamah, a radical Muslim cleric who has defended Osama bin Laden, was scheduled to appear at UCL Union last year, but his invitation was later withdrawn. Usamah, who reportedly said: “If I were to call homosexuals perverted, dirty, filthy dogs who should be murdered, that’s my freedom of speech, isn’t it?”, did however speak at the University of East London last June.
The Zionist Federation said it was concerned that British universities had created an environment in which extremism could flourish. The ZF called upon “university vice chancellors and student unions to be more vigilant” against anti-Semitism and said: “Free speech is only possible with appropriate boundaries.”
The Union of Jewish Students (UJS) said universities should issue more stringent guidelines on which speakers could be permitted on campuses. A UJS spokeswoman said: “Too often university authorities have taken no action, preferring to hide behind the banner of free speech and ignoring the fact that a speaker may be propagating hate or division on their campus.”
She added organisations such as the Federation of Student Islamic Societies should take responsibility for societies that they represent that consistently invite “hate speakers”.
Danny Stone, director of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, said that the matter of who should be allowed to speak at universities required “urgent attention”. Stone said: “The All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism found inconsistencies, confusion and a lack of guidance in relation to which speakers could or should be allowed on to university campuses.”
UCL is investigating the time that Abdulmutallab spent at the university and said the investigation would look at UCL’s policy for how speaker requests are granted. Malcolm Grant, UCL provost, said in The Times that the university would not accept restrictions on freedom of speech within the law.
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