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The newly founded LSE SU Human Rights Society has held two talks on the subjects of Islam, Sharia law and Human Rights. The talks featured two speakers who largely represent the two opposing sides to the question of whether Islam is compatible with human rights.

The first talk featured Omer El-Hamdoon, President of the Muslim Association of Britain, who argued that Islam is compatible with human rights. The human rights activist Maryam Namazie argued in the subsequent talk that Sharia law is incompatible with human rights. Though her talk addressed Sharia law and not Islam per se, she has also made it known that she believes the religion itself is incompatible with human rights.

Namazie’s event was somewhat mired by her accusations against the Human Rights society and the university of unfair treatment in contrast to Hamdoon’s. Her talk began with a complaint about the ordeal she had experienced at the hands of LSE security at the NAB entrance as she arrived that evening, saying that she “struggled to get in” to explain why her talk was delayed. Moreover, she criticised the university for the fact that her event was closed to the public. Whereas Hamdoon’s event was not an event flagged by the LSE communications division as a security risk, Namazie’s was, which meant that only LSE students could attend her talk.

Displeased with LSE’s decision, the Iranian-born activist took to Twitter to vent her frustration. Accusing Hamdoon of discrimination against ex-Muslims and of being a defender of stoning, she asked why she is the “security concern” and not her opponent. She also tweeted that due to her event being deemed a security risk, a chair had been imposed on her talk, which was not the case for Hamdoon’s.

Namazie LSE

Speaking to the President of the Human Rights Society, Zohaib Ahmed, he explains that the chair was not imposed on Namazie’s talk because of the security classification – rather, there was a chair because the event was initially planned to be a debate with another speaker who subsequently pulled out. The chair was kept for logistical reasons, he explains, as the society would have had to go through the event registering process again to have the event without the chair.

“This was explained to her (Namazie),” Zohaib says, “we told her it would be difficult to register the event again.”

And what about Namazie’s complaint of LSE security subjecting her to an unfair ordeal at the NAB entrance? That is not true either, he says. According to him, Namazie had come with five others who she claimed to be her security detail but whose presence was not made known to the event organisers beforehand, and therefore not registered by the LSE security staff.

As LSE allows speakers to bring only two guests with them, three of the people with her were turned away. “Again, it was explained to her that because she didn’t notify us beforehand of the guests she was bringing, she could therefore only bring two in with her. It was an unfair characterisation to blame LSE security for the delay”.

 “She had the habit of playing the victim”, Zohaib adds. He highlights how almost half of her talk was devoted to criticising the society and the university over the organising of the event. She even criticised the society for describing her as “controversial” in the description on the Facebook event page, a label which doesn’t seem unreasonable considering how previous events involving her at other universities have panned out, including a talk at Goldsmiths which was constantly disrupted by several audience members.

However, Namazie is not entirely wrong in questioning why her event is the security-risk event and not Hamdoon’s. After all, Hamdoon does hold views that many would consider offensive. For example, in his talk last term, he did not condemn outright punishing apostates when pressed on the issue, even putting forward a justification of the practice. Furthermore, he stated that women should stay at home to look after the children.

Though Namazie is overreacting by tweeting after her talk that “LSE [is] only ever welcoming to Islamists”, Zohaib concedes that Namazie is justified to feel aggrieved. He believes that Hamdoon holds views that are as controversial as Namazie’s, if not more, and should therefore have been deemed a security-risk event too if it is simply a matter of whose views are more offensive.

Omer El-Hamdoon, President of the Muslim Association of Britain
Omer El-Hamdoon, President of the Muslim Association of Britain

But if their views are equally offensive, why then do Namazie’s events garner much more controversy and disruption, and LSE to classify her talk as a security-risk event? Zohaib believes it is because of a tendency amongst students to want to resist criticism of religion, particularly Islam:

“Students live in their echo chambers, and anything that pierces it is so novel and something not used to, that there is shock reaction. I don’t agree that we can just criticise religion and expect something to change immediately. But I do agree with many things Namazie said in terms of students, that there is sort of acceptance towards Islamism and Islamic religious dogma, and it’s strange because these are students who go about and have marches about Trump. They don’t realise [Islamism] is incoherent with liberal values… that’s not really being compatible or being honest with yourself. “

The students at Namazie’s talk are perhaps not the students Zohaib is referring to here, as they overwhelmingly voted 85 to 1 at the conclusion of the two talks to pass the motion that Sharia Law is incompatible with human rights.

The LSE Human Rights Society is holding their Lent term AGM + elections tomorrow – click here for more info.

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