The radical Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary has been invited to speak at the Oxford Union, despite being on bail on suspicion of being a member of a proscribed terror organisation.
The invitation, which Choudary exclusively read to Cherwell, says that it would be “a great privilege” for the Union to host the preacher as a guest and that it would “be delighted” if Choudary honours the invite.
The panel discussion he is invited to appear in will be debating the motion, ‘This house believes that radicalism is born at home’.
The letter also explained the reason behind the debate, describing how “the Western world has suffered” due to radicalism in light of recent events, including the Charlie Hebdo attacks and murder of soldier Lee Rigby.
Choudary was offered a number of dates on which the discussion could take place; the evenings of 28th May, 4th June or 11th June.
Choudary told Cherwell, “This is not the first time I’ve been invited to talk at a university. One of the most high profile was at Trinity College, Dublin, and these visits have proved very successful.
“Students at universities have more open minds and this will be a good opportunity to present my opinion on radicalism. It will be a very interesting evening.”
Choudary is currently on bail after his arrest in September 2014. He was one of nine men held on suspicion of being members or supporters of banned terrorist group, Al-Muhajiroun.
His alleged offences carry a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and he is due to attend a police station on 29th April, when police will choose to charge him, release him or extend his bail.
He commented, “The police are currently looking for evidence regarding my arrest on 26th September. However, it is not a crime to be raided and I believe the police are under pressure from the Home Office.
“This has happened four times over the past five years and I have never been charged. Over the last 20 years, I have had only one conviction for organising a demonstration in Trafalgar Square in 2006, which was – of the 100 I have organised – one that I actually did not.”
Choudary has previously been associated with the recruitment and radicalisation of British Muslims who have in turn been charged with terror offenses in the UK.
He is thought to have played a role in the radicalisation of Brusthom Ziamamni, who was found guilty of plotting to behead a British soldier.
The invitation appears to contradict a recent bid by the Home Office to crack down on the problem of Islamic extremism, particularly at universities.
A spokesperson from the Home Office said, “This Government has been clear that hate speech and extremism have no place in our society. The Oxford Union, like higher education institutions and student unions, should give due consideration to the public benefit and risks when they invite speakers to address students.
“We would also firmly encourage consideration of wider social responsibility and an understanding of how they will manage the risk should a speaker break the law at an event. Anjem Choudary often presents himself as a representative of British Muslims. That is an insult to the vast majority who consider his views abhorrent.”
James Shaw, a Law finalist at St Hugh’s, commented, “I guess my main problem with inviting him is that his appearance would be a direct threat to Shia members of the Oxford community, who are already pretty marginalised within the UK Muslim community (let alone Oxford, where Muslims are already marginalised).
“Choudary has some horrible views on Shias (that they’re kaffirs and need to be destroyed, and so on) and has actually appeared in court before for attacking (or being a part of an attack on) Shias on Edgware Road in London where so many Shias and Sunnis live side by side. Inviting him to speak somewhere where there are Shia muslims living and studying is pretty threatening, given his past conduct.”
Undergraduate Jake Smales was also concerned with the invitation and commented, “Free speech is imperative, but at the same time there seems to be a line that we should be careful to cross. Considering that Choudary is currently on bail and has been criticised for his attempts to radicalise young Muslims, it seems fair enough to question whether legally and ethically he should be given another platform to preach from.
“I understand that could be useful to argue with him, but surely someone who refuses to condone atrocities like the Charlie Hebdo attack doesn’t merit the privilege of this sort of invitation?”
Fresher Jess Smith argued, “If you are going to remove the platform, then you must understand the connotations, chiefly that one is assuming that the students who will listen to controversial speakers at the union are not intelligent enough to make value judgments on whether they agree with there ideas.
“You also remove the opportunity to vocally condemn the ideas that these people support. You can’t be selective about freedom of speech, it is fundamentally counter-intuitive.”
The Oxford Union caused controversy last term when they invited Marine Le Pen to speak, provoking protests both for and against her invitation.
The Union declined to comment on its invitation to Choudary.