Union invites radical Islamist preacher to speak

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Radical Islamist preacher Anjem Choudary has announced his invitation to the Oxford Union.

Choudary has been on bail since September 2014, after being arrested under suspicion of supporting a banned terrorist group. He is the former head of al-Muhajiroun, or Islam4UK, which was banned in 2010.

The proposed debate title is “This house believes that radicalism is born at home.”

Choudary boasted of the invitation outside the Houses of Parliament during a street protest. He said it would be a “great privilege” to appear at the Union and that “the police can’t stop [him] from speaking”.

Choudary is considered a key Islamist recruiter within the UK. He has been careful to keep in line with Britain’s hate law despite frequently making inflammatory statements praising terror group Islamic State, and predicting that one day Sharia Law will be “implemented in every country”. He publically defended the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and is associated with a British man who mocked British security services on social media about his escape to the Islamic State. He also said that Lee Rigby, the Woolwich soldier murdered by terrorists in 2013, would “burn in hellfire”.

Oxford Islamic Society condemned the invitation, with President Imran Naved commenting: “We feel that the Union offering a platform to Mr Choudary is problematic as he is unrepresentative of most Muslims in Britain. We would like to make it clear that Mr Choudary purports only one scintilla of Islam that promotes violence and intolerance and is therefore contrary to the beliefs and views of the Islamic Society.”

Numerous students agreed. A Muslim undergraduate at Oxford who wished not to be named said that it was “typical, although disappointing, that certain controversial characters are repeatedly asked to speak – whether it is on air or at the Union – as representatives of Islam or British Muslims.”

She added that there are “plenty of eloquent, well-informed, and far more representative speakers who could have been invited, but it seems the Union is not looking for a debate which fairly represents the two sides. It’s obvious [Choudary] is only being invited in order to create a stir and hopefully bring in a bigger crowd.”

The invitation follows controversial appearances at the Oxford Union within the last academic year, including leader of the Front National Marine Le Pen, and Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub. Jan Nedvidek, President-elect of Oxford University’s Conservative Association, commented: “Student activists on the Left have shut down a debate on abortion before, and violently protested against the appearance of a major European politician from France at the Union: if there are no major protests against someone who openly supports the Islamic State, and no condemnation by OUSU, I should be rather unimpressed.”

Nedvidek added: “Hopefully, on this occasion, common sense rather than Marxism will be the basis for decision-making in OUSU Council.”

The invite was sent a day before Home Secretary Theresa May announced a crackdown on Islamic extremists. Her proposal to force universities to ban extremist speakers from appearing on campus was recently abandoned until after the General Election, due to fears from Liberal Democrat ministers of an erosion of freedom of speech and debate in higher education institutions.

Choudary took to Twitter to criticise May’s decision to draw up a blacklist of extremist individuals and organisations with whom the government and public sector should not engage. He said: “If Theresa May or Cameron don’t like me practicing their so-called freedom & Liberty then maybe they should pack their bags & leave Britain!”

If convicted for the allegations that he belongs to al-Muhajiroun, Choudary faces up to seven years in prison. He declared intentions to “radicalise everyone in prison” if convicted.

Choudary further gloated on Twitter saying: “My invitation from the Oxford Union to a debate the causes of radicalisation in May/June is covered by the Daily Mail.” Concern has been raised around allowing the preacher to take part in a debate alongside impressionable young students.

The Oxford Union declined to comment on its decision to invite Choudary.