Union President Disha Hegde is under fire today after a member of her committee launched an attack over the invitation of Katie Hopkins. Further concerns were raised over an alleged plan to move the meeting “in camera”, preventing the discussion from appearing in the minutes available to all Union members.
In a meeting of the Union’s Standing Committee, Librarian-Elect Ebrahim Mowafy gave a long speech railing against the invitation, which appeared to involve numerous interruptions. He described the atmosphere as “emotionally charged”. The Oxford Student has since seen the version of the speech Mowafy intended to give, after he sent it to the Standing Committee mailing list, which includes numerous senior Union officials, including former presidents Ahmad Nawaz, Charlie Mackintosh, and Matthew Dick.
In that speech, he argued that while free speech is something [he appreciates and values]”, he questioned whether Hegde was aware of Hopkins’ track record and the fact that she is “not your average controversial speaker”.
In particular, Mowafy cited Hopkins’ remarks which “[called] for violence and the killing of Jews, Muslims and Refugees” when the decision to invite her was made. He asked whether the President would apologise to those groups.
The remarks Mowafy mentioned included those where Hopkins has called for a “final solution” to address Muslim extremism, where she referred to migrants as “cockroaches”, and where she stated in a visit to Israel that “[look], the Jews are not as bad as the Muslims, at least we know we can cull them by a third if we need to”.
Moreover, Mowafy argued that Hopkins’ remarks were in line with the legal definition of hate speech in the Public Order Act, remarking that “hate speech… is not free speech”. He also stated that he “opposed her invitation because she calls for violence to be used against every one of my faith, other faiths, identities and to so many other marginalised groups”. He also took particular issue that this was the third time Hopkins has been invited in recent years, questioning if she was a “regular guest”.
In addition, Mowafy cited various organisations condemning her platforming. These included the Jewish Labour Movement, the Zionist Federation, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, as well as various media organisations which had either fired her or banned her from appearing on their networks.
A follow up email from Mowafy clarified that he was not interested in rescinding the invitation, but instead wanted to understand the process by which Hopkins was invited and whether Hegde would consider apologising. He also expressed concerns over apparent suggestions to not minute elements of the meeting, arguing that it was “antithetical to free speech”.
The attack will increase pressure on the President, who has already drawn criticism for the controversial invitations of Hopkins and Ben Shapiro. Some have accused the Union for causing controversy for controversy’s sake, rather than to necessarily enable free speech.
Hopkins is known for her controversial opinions, after her 2015 article “Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants”. In the article she wrote “Show me pictures of coffins, show me bodies floating in water, play violins and show me skinny people looking sad. I still don’t care”. In 2020, Hopkins was permanently removed from Twitter for violating the platform’s “hateful conduct” policy.
The Oxford Union is a free speech society, founded in 1823. It has been drawn into controversy numerous times, most recently over the invitation of gender-critical philosopher Kathleen Stock and the subsequent uproar it caused among the University of Oxford’s LGBTQ+ community.