1 Mar 2015

Cleric: ‘Banning legitimate debate will not stop terrorism’

Home Affairs Correspondent

A controversial preacher who had been due to speak at the University of Westminster on the day Mohammed Emwazi was unmasked, tells Channel 4 News that banning legitimate speakers is “naive”.

Haitham Al-Haddad who was due to speak to the university’s Islamic Society told Channel 4 News that he hoped his speech would still go ahead.

The controversial speaker who has previously reportedly described homosexuality as a “scourge” and a “criminal act”, was due to give a speech entitled “Who is Muhammad?” on the day it was revealed that Mohammed Enwazi had graduated from there. However it was later cancelled.

Since then, a coalition row about limiting free speech on campuses has come amid claims that Mohammed Emwazi was radicalised during his years at Westminster University. The government has already passed a controversial counter-terrorism bill which compels universities to prevent students being drawn into terrorism.

But the Lib Dems have today been accused of trying to water down the guidance that is to be issued to them.

‘The preacher debate’

But should preachers like al-Haddad be banned from debating their ideas with students? Channel 4 News put it to Dr Al-Haddad that his views have been heavily criticised by some, and that 3,000 people had signed a petition against his talk before Emwazi was named.

He told this programme that banning legitimate speakers on university campuses would not prevent terrorism. “This is a naive and oversimplistic approach,” he said.

Mr Al-Haddad insisted that Muslim speakers had a more influential role to play in wider society. “If you find my views distasteful, then we should debate this. We are part of British society and we should contribute to shaping British values.”

On his own views he said: “The views I hold have been held by muslims for hundreds of years – and have been endorsed by British muslims. All my views can be found in books inside university libraries. They have never created terrorism.”

“I have been so vocal against Isis and all extreme groups,” he said. “I have warned women against going to Syria for any course. Nothing has been reported. This shows the normative views of Islam is nothing to do with terrorism. The whole counter-terrorism narrative has to be investigated carefully.”

‘Wider concerns’

The developments came as the university confirmed that Emwazi graduated from a three-year course in information systems and business management in 2009. The University of Westminster has hit back at claims that it is a fertile breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalism.

It had been reported that Dr al-Haddad’s talk could still go ahead. However, a University of Westminster spokesman told Channel 4 News: “No meeting is taking place tomorrow Monday 2nd March between representatives of the University of Westminster and Sheikh Haitham Al-Haddad. All student events have been postponed until further notice as announced last week.”