Remarks made during a panel debate on how to tackle radical Islam in Britain led to the allegations of racism from Professor Mohamed El-Gomati, counsellor to Muslim students.
The remarks were made by Douglas Murray, Britain’s best known neoconservative, when he said that “we have to put up with the most intolerable filth about Jews from the Islamic world” as an example for the needs of universal free-speech. The two other panelists were Baroness Haleh Afshar, an Iranian born feminist professor at the University, and Guffah Hussein, a former member of Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Murray responded that if the allegations were made in public, “I would sue you in a court of law and I would win.”
What started as a discussion on radical Islam and the roots of fundamentalism in Britain quickly turned into a foreign policy debate and a blame game, with each member of the panel referring to the others’ understanding of Islam as overly-simplistic.
The debate started with a ten minute speech from each panelist in which they outlined their own views on what radical Islam was and what should be done about it, and led into a heated and lively discussion with questions from the audience. Tom Merry, who organised and chaired the debate, spent the majority of his time trying to prevent the questions turning into opinionated monologues, and keeping the focus on domestic issues and solutions.
The reasons for the growth and nurturing of radical Islam throughout the evening ranged from an ideological vacuum created by Muslim parents and society, through the outworkings of British Imperialism, to the loss of God-consciousness from society.
While Hussein blamed part of the problem on “resource-weak Muslim communities with Imams who don’t speak English” and Afshar attributed the problem to “young British-born muslims being labelled as immigrants”, Murray controversially said that “the problem is rooted in Islam – a religion that has violence built up in it.”
He continued; “most Muslims do not do this, because they recognise as human beings that they should ignore it. All people of faith, including Muslims, do not have the right to have their faith respected or revered. If you believe in Scientology then you must expect to have to put up with my ridicule of you.”
As the reasons for fundamentalism were different, so were the solutions offered. Afshar, who remained adamant throughout that extremism was a simplistic label attached to Muslims, noted that “Islam is not a disease with a cure, but we need a process of dialogue. There is no instant solution.” Hussein, however, maintained that Islamist ideology was to blame as a key factor for radicalising young Muslims, and said that it should be defeated in debate.
Murray, ever the stirrer, said that the British Government should not meddle in Islam at all, but that there should be a line of what was and was not acceptable to say, thus allowing people to know where they stand. “The government can’t do anything, and theology is the area in which they are least qualified. The removal of religion from the public sphere is the greatest achievement in British liberty.”
While the breadth and strength of opinion throughout the evening was noticeably high, the debate was both lively and entertaining for all, and certainly gave room for thought about the wide range of topics mentioned and referenced.
Tom Merry, organiser of the evening, said that he thought that the evening went well. “We had a very good natured debate, and I think that people got a real argument from both sides. We covered a good number of topics, and there was a healthy emphasis on free speech. It was really good to have controversial speakers who challenged a lot of people’s perceptions. Ultimately, if people enjoyed themselves, then it was a good event.”