Extremists are being given a platform within British universities, as I have recently seen for myself, intimidation and mob politics are replacing freedom of speech. It is a problem that we can no longer afford to ignore.
Radical preacher and Hamas supporter Azzam Tamimi was recently invited by Birmingham University's Islamic Society to speak at an event entitled "Remembering Gaza: In pursuit of justice". A group of students organised a protest against Tamimi's presence and I attended out of curiosity. The hype surrounding the event created an intimidating atmosphere. Students fell silent as they were ushered in by security, a gang of glowering Islamic Society members at the door scanning the crowd for any dissenters.
Rather than addressing the issue that he had been invited to discuss — the victims of Gaza — Tamimi spent the best part of an hour trying to clear his name as a "Jew hater" and attacking those who had criticised him in the past. He defended his right to be there, saying repeatedly: "If you don't agree with me, let's have a debate." While I and most students would agree that rigorous debate should take place about controversial issues, there was no debate to be had on this occasion. The other speakers on the panel shared Tamimi's political standpoint and any challenging questions at the end were simply shouted down. When a Jewish student accused Tamimi of pushing his own agenda on the back of an emotive political issue, Tamimi pointed at him and shouted: "You! I feel sorry for you! You are the product of Zionist indoctrination!" The student pointed out that Tamimi had failed to address his question, only to be told to "shut up, yeah?" by members of the Islamic Society. This incident, which had a distinctly sectarian element to it, is precisely what those protesting against Tamimi's appearance had sought to avoid.
Birmingham University's code of practice states that the right to freedom of speech is not "absolute and open-ended", and should stop short of allowing "extremism or intolerance". Tamimi has publicly applauded suicide bombing as a "noble cause" and has said: "I admire the Taliban, they are courageous." Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party, who has also made a career out of preaching intolerance and extremism, has been banned from speaking at universities under the National Union of Students' "No Platform for Fascists" policy. The BNP and Islamic extremists are united in their anti-Semitism and share the dream of a segregated society. However, unlike Tamimi, Griffin has never gone as far as calling for the killing of Jews.