YUSU has defended the invitation of Yusuf Chambers to speak at the University on Wednesday evening amid controversy over the speaker’s views on homosexuality.
The Islamic Society has invited Yusuf Chambers to speak at an event entitled ‘Patience, perseverance, and Final Exam’, and Tim Ellis, YUSU President, said in a blog post that the event would go ahead.
The event has been criticised by Stand for Peace, one of Britain’s leading Jewish-Muslim interfaith organisations, who say that Chambers has in the past, “expressed the desire for homosexuals to be killed and has denied that homosexuality has any natural or genetic origins.”
This allegation comes from a conversation between Mr Chambers and Dr. Zakir, called ‘Ramadhaan – The Month of Self-Improvement &Islaah [Part 2]’. In this 50 minute discussion, they take a selection of 70 sins and Dr. Zakir explains what Islam says about homosexuality, adultery and many others.
Ellis sought to reassure those against the invitation of Chambers, commenting on the YUSU website: “Under the University’s responsibility for encouraging divergent view and debate through the 1986 Education Act, it has been agreed that this event will go ahead. The society will be required to ensure that the Chair and speaker are clearly briefed on what is acceptable under Freedom of Speech.”
Leon Morris, YUSU LGBT Officer, in contrast to the statement by Ellis, commented: “I feel that Yusuf Chambers coming to the University is a difficult one to justify. I accept that the Islamic Society are at complete liberty to allow anyone they wish to see speak at any of their events. It is a different issue however, when the Society invite a man who openly preaches hatred against homosexuals, women and Jews. It’s completely unacceptable.”
The University has stated they will monitor the situation but not stop the event: “The University of York is founded on the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression. The University’s Islamic Society extended an invitation to this speaker and he is free to express his views provided they do not infringe the Equality Act or any other law. We will monitor the situation closely and a senior member of staff will attend the event.”
Ellis added: “They [the Islamic Society] have not brought him onto campus to talk about homosexuality and have expressly invited all students to attend the event and said that students’ views can be aired in the Question and Answer section. I would urge students to make their voices heard and I will also be seeking to work with the Islamic Society, and the YUSU LGBT network to talk about these issues in a healthy round table discussion in the coming weeks.”
An informal meeting was arranged yesterday today to discuss the best way to highlight Chambers’ “abhorrent views”.
Hasan Afzal, Director of Stand for Peace, has spoken out against the event: “Although defenders of Yusuf Chambers’s views will claim this, his invitation is not a freedom of speech issue. It is a decency issue. Do the people of York really want such a man to poison the minds of young people? Would the inaction of the University be the same if this man was a white neo-nazi? I don’t think so. The University has a duty to protect its students from religious extremism.”
But Ellis suggested that students make their voices heard by attending the event and participating in the Question and Answer session.
“We believe that students are intelligent people who are capable of hearing different views and evaluating them. I don’t believe that as a body we are impressionable enough that we need to be protected from certain opinions. I also don’t believe that it should be the Union’s responsibility to ‘vet’ who students can and cannot hear speak on an arbitrary basis.”
Morris added: “I’ve spoken to people who are weary of becoming involved but most people accept that Mr Chambers poses a potential risk to the welfare of some students at York as he has openly told people that he wishes the death of those I’ve already mentioned, which encompasses all of those students that I represent as a Student Officer.
“The key point to keep reiterating is that this isn’t a simple difference of opinion – the guy wants the death penalty for any sex outside of heterosexual marriage and that’s not on. Also, I’d like to say – we don’t have a no platform policy at YUSU, but we don’t need one – inviting someone who wishes death upon our students onto our campus poses a real and credible threat to us.”
The Islamic Society was contacted but has yet to respond.
The statement by Tim Ellis can be read here