Students from Goldsmiths University’s Islamic Society intimidated well-known activist and ex-Muslim Maryam Namazie, including turning off the projector, reportedly gesturing death threats, and laughing at the death of a blogger
Last Monday, Goldsmiths University saw a well-known human rights campaigner and ex-Muslim, Maryam Namazie, aggressively heckled and intimidated by protesters from the University’s Islamic Society (ISOC).
Namazie had been invited to the university by the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASH) to give a talk entitled ‘Apostasy, blasphemy and free expression in the age of ISIS’.
As protesters disrupted the talk, they claimed it “violated their safe space.”
Namazie, herself an ex-Muslim, fled her native Iran in the face of persecution and is a strong campaigner against Islamic extremism and Sharia law. She is a member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and was named Secularist of the Year in 2005 by the National Secular Society. She is also on the central committee member on the banned resistance group: the Worker-Communist Party of Iran.
The night before the event, ISOC posted on their Facebook page: “We feel extremely uncomfortable… she is renowned for being Islamophobic, and very controversial.”
A video posted online of the entire two hour talk shows how the events unfolded. At around 11 minutes in, Namazie begins to interrupt. She shouts “be quiet or get out” a total of 17 times.
To which the victim of the shouting claimed: “You are intimidating me.” Namazie then replied: “Oh, you’re intimidated? Go to your safe space.”
At one point, some students seem to laugh when the murder of secular Bangladeshi bloggers is mentioned. Namazie responds to them, saying: “Is it really funny that people get hacked to death?”
At around 34 minutes in, Namazie displayed images of the Prophet Muhammad in a ‘Jesus and Mo’ cartoon. A student in the front row left his seat and turned Namazie’s projector off. Then security forcibly removed him from the room.
After the talk, Namazie said that, “After my talk began, ISOC ‘brothers’ started coming into the room, repeatedly banging the door, falling on the floor, heckling me, playing on their phones, shouting out, and creating a climate of intimidation in order to try to prevent me from speaking. I spoke as loud as I could.”
Reza Moradi, a lecturer present at the talk and who was involved in the group discussion that followed, said that one Muslim protester “looked right into my eyes and with his finger, shaping hand like a handgun, touched his forehead,” in what Moradi described as a “death threat.”
Since the event, ISOC has accused Ms Namazie of “harassment” of its members after the incident. ISOC has also condemned what they see as the “vile harassment of our ISOC members (both male and female) by the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASH).”
According to ISOC: “Muslim students who attended the event were shocked and horrified by statements made by Namazie.”
Strikingly, both the University’s Feminist Society and LGBTQ+ society have come out strongly in support of ISOC’s actions at the event. This action has received heavy criticism on twitter with many claiming Namazie has done more for for LGBT* and women’s rights than either of the groups.
According to the National Secular Society, Namazie said: “The behaviour of the ISOC ‘brothers’ was so appalling that a number of Muslim women felt the need to apologise, to which I explained that no apology was needed from those who were not to blame.”
She added: “Freedom of expression and the right to criticise and leave Islam without fear and intimidation is a basic human right. We have a responsibility to fight for these universal values at British universities and also across the globe.”
In a statement, a university spokesperson said: “Goldsmiths supports freedom of speech and follows a set of regulations to help ensure that it is, within the law, secured for members, students, employees, and for visiting speakers.”
However, the Campaign manager for the National Secular Society has said: “It’s becoming very clear the concept of ‘safe spaces’ is being abused to the point where it is becoming a direct threat to freedom of speech.
“Some students may find criticism of their religion offensive but, in an open and free society, that does not give them the right to close down such discussion and intimidate those expressing their views.”
Since the event, well-known scientist and atheist, Richard Dawkins, has described Namazie as “a brave, wonderful woman, champion of the oppressed, of freedom of speech, and of women.”
The University of Manchester’s Free Speech and Secular Society issued a statement to The Mancunion from one of their members, Ghassan Al-sammari: “The actions of Goldsmiths ISOC before, during and after the event on 30th November are utterly contemptible and have no place in a university environment.
“Far from being a ‘notorious islamophobe’, Ms Namazie has always made a clear distinction between Muslim, Islam and Islamism in all her talks. Ideas and beliefs are not people; a university should be the place where beliefs and idea can be analysed and debated.
“That ISOC first tried to appeal to safe space policies to have the debate stopped, then proceeded to attempt to disrupt and intimidate the speaker and attendees at the event and then finally made outrageous accusations after the event is frankly appalling and an abuse of what a sensible safe space policy is there for.
“What is more shocking is that both the Goldsmiths Feminist society and the LGBTQ Society have backed the ISOC over the Secular Society on this matter, despite the video footage clearly showing the behaviour of some of the ISOC members. Maryam Namazie is a feminist and pro-LGBT*. She is also an ex-Muslim—a minority group that suffers much bullying and oppression and little recognition. For these two groups to simply accept the ISOC’s ‘notorious islamophobe’ smear as fact and as justification for the ISOC’s desire to disinvite her is nothing short of disgraceful.”
The University of Manchester Students’ Union declined to comment.