Free Speech Society under pressure to cancel 'offensive' speaker after Christchurch attack



By Ed Southgate, co-Editor in Chief

Almost 400 students and student leaders across the UK have demanded the cancellation of a Bristol Free Speech event accused of 'hosting islamophobic rhetoric' in the wake of the Christchurch massacre.

Bristol's Free Speech Society will be hosting Emma Fox from The Henry Jackson Society, a think tank, on Monday at an event called 'Extreme Speakers vs Free Speech'. She will be discussing her report Extreme Speakers and Events: In The 2017-18 Academic Year, which she says reveals a 'failure by universities to apply their Prevent duties'.

An open letter, published yesterday by Bristol's Islamic Society, has called for it to be cancelled. The letter accused the event of 'hosting Islamophobic rhetoric' which it says, in light of the Christchurch attack killing 50 Muslims, is 'deeply troubling'.

Senior figures within the NUS, including its Vice-President Zamzam Ibrahim, as well as students and union officers from at least 34 UK universities have pledged their support.

Cambridge, Cardiff, Durham, Imperial College London, KCL, Sussex, Keele, Nottingham, Swansea, Warwick, Brighton, London South Bank, UWE, Sheffield Hallam, Manchester, Bath, Kingston and Leicester are all on the list.

The letter, which reached over 150 signatories within a few hours after it was published and is now almost at 400, added it is 'highly insensitive that the Free Speech Society think it is appropriate to host such an event in light of the recent wave of Islamophobic violence across the Western world'.

It warns that those attending may 'already have dangerous prejudices against Muslims, and that this speaker could radicalise them into committing violence'.

The Freedom of Speech society has refused to cancel the event. A demonstration will take place outside the venue on Monday to protest islamophobic hate speech.

A spokesperson said: 'Staying faithful to our commitment to neutrality we do not condone, nor condemn, the speaker’s views or those of the organisation that she represents.

'We do however oppose the conflation of legitimate criticism of Islam with anti-Muslim bigotry and the use of such tactics to stifle Free Speech'.

The spokesperson added: 'We are aware that a protest is scheduled outside the event, and are glad that participating students feel able to use their Free Speech in such a way. Certainly we expect that there will be a mutual and peaceful celebration of Free Speech both inside and outside the venue'.

A spokesperson for the Bristol Islamic Society said the protest is 'not an objection to free speech and open discussion' but to 'plaforming of a speaker with views inciting Islamaphobia and hatred in a particularly vulnerable time for Muslim students without any fair representation of Islam'.

It is understood that Bristol's Islamic Society originally requested for the event to be postponed, rather than cancelled, to allow time to find an expert speaker from the Islamic community to speak alongisde Ms. Fox. The event was not adjusted.

Featured Image: Facebook / Brisoc


Ed Southgate

former co-Editor in Chief 2018-2019 | former Editor of Epigram Comment 2017-2018 | UoB English student 2016-19 | Twitter: @ed_southgate