Ms Namazie had been blocked from speaking at a Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society event after the Student Union said the ex-Muslim campaigner could ‘insult’ religion. The SU were also concerned that Namazie, an NSS honorary associate who campaigns for human rights and equality, could ‘incite hatred’.
Informing Ms Namazie of their initial decision to block her, the SU wrote: “There a number of articles written both by the speaker and by others about the speaker that indicate that she is highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus. This is in contravention of our external speaker policy”.
In a frank apology on their website, the SU admitted they had “failed, and failed badly in this case” and promised to “act immediately to examine how that happened, and to it put it right”.
In the last few days we have all seen much debate, and considerable concern, expressed about an application to Warwick Students’ Union made by the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, that an SU society host the campaigner and blogger Maryam Namazie as an external speaker.
Warwick SU has a process for assessing any potential risks or legal issues associated with any external speaker, and it is now very clear to us that in this case that process has not been followed. Speaker invitations that may involve such issues are routinely considered by the SU President, who will also take advice from senior SU staff. This did not happen on this occasion. Neither the SU President, nor senior SU staff, were consulted as they should have been. This is a significant error for which there can be no excuse. There is a great deal that we now must put right, and these are the first steps that we are putting into place:
1) The proper process has now been followed, as it should have been in the first place. The application by the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society for Warwick Students’ Union to host Maryam Namazie as an external speaker has now been considered and approved.
2) The SU is now seeking to meet promptly with the leadership of the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society to make the necessary arrangements for the event to take place in the format they have requested.
Warwick SU will issue an unequivocal apology to Maryam Namazie for this egregious and highly regrettable error.
We want to assure everyone of Warwick Students’ Union’s continued commitment to free speech. We also want to take this opportunity to apologise to everyone who has expressed concern, or disappointment, or who has been hurt by this significant error and, as we said above, we will be issuing a full and unequivocal apology to Maryam Namazie.
NSS executive director Keith Porteous Wood commented: “We welcome the Student Union’s change of heart and hope their ‘continued commitment to free speech’ is reflected in actions as well as words. Freedom of expression is under growing threat, particularly when it involves discussions surrounding Islam. Every act of appeasement to those intent on closing down debate encourages self-censorship and depletes this freedom further.
“Freedom of expression is not only a pre-requisite for resolving challenging problems but for the functioning of democracy itself.
“The Student Union’s decision has saved it and the University from an escalation of this unfortunate situation and potentially even a legal challenge further down the line.
“While this case has ended in the right outcome, we still have grave concerns about an external speaker policy which says guests on campus must ‘avoid insulting other faiths’. This is extremely broad and open to a wide variety of interpretations, and therefore extremely restrictive to freedom of speech.
“Universities have a legal duty to defend freedom of expression and in our view certain Student Union policies may be working in direct conflict with that duty. This is an issue we hope to discuss with the NUS in the coming weeks.”