NUS Vice President Claims Westminster University “Destroyed” Qurans

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Benjamin David

Benjamin is a philosophy postgraduate, writer and campaigner
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By Benjamin David and Scott Jacobsen

Shelly Asquith‏, vice president of the National Union of Students (NUS), yesterday caused controversy after claiming on Twitter that The University of Westminster had “destroyed all the students’ Qurans”, which she insisted was “caused” by the Government’s PREVENT Strategy.

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Shelly Asquith speaking at a free education demonstration in Birmingham in 2015. Photo: William Pinkney-Baird.

Asquith tweeted:

Deeming the Westminster University’s Islamic Student’s Society a victim of the Prevent Strategy, Asquith also this week spoke out in defence of the society which she claimed was being “spied” on after the university had installed CCTV cameras in the prayer rooms: “Absolutely shameful that [the University of Westminster] installed CCTV cameras in the prayer rooms. Spying on Muslim students who already feel targeted,

Asquith’s allegations prompted notable critics of the UK Government’s PREVENT strategy, including CAGE  (which has claimed that Prevent “gives people permission to hate Muslims”) and Prevent Watch UK – to demand further details from Asquith:

The Prevent Strategy:

According to the United Kingdom (UK) Government’s website, the Prevent strategy aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. However, many in the NUS, including Asquith, claimed Prevent is a “racist agenda” and promotes a “state-sponsored Islamophobia“.

The Prevent duty requires schools and local authorities to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

About 7,500 referrals were made to the scheme in 2015-16 – the equivalent of 20 a day.

Of the people referred to the scheme, set up in 2005 in the wake of the 7/7 London bombings, one in 10 were deemed to be vulnerable to terrorism and were referred to Prevent’s Channel programme.

The programme has been criticised by MPs, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the Muslim Council of Britain.

However, a senior police officer recently called the government’s Prevent anti-extremism programme “absolutely fundamental” in tackling terrorism in the UK.

The University of Westminster:

qurans, islam, westminster
The University of Westminster

The University of Westminster’s Islamic Student’s Society has received notable criticism since 2015 after the university commissioned a report concluding that the Islamic community is “dominated by ultra-conservative Muslims.” Also, the report included complaints about the conduct of the society’s members. For example, some of the members refused to speak with female Muslim staff members. Furthermore, it was revealed that complaints made about the society were usually ignored due to Islamophobia fears.

Furthermore, women were found to be subjected to “hostile or intimidatory” attitudes by male members of the Islamic Student’s Society. A four-member inquiry panel described the society as “Apostles of a self-contained faith, concerned very largely with matters of religious orthodoxy and perceived heresy.”

The LGBT student group at Westminster University previously expressed concern about the extremist views of speakers at the Islamic Student’s Society. The concern, in addition to revelations about Jihadi John’s (once the world’s most wanted man and a member of ISIS) association with the Westminster Islamic society, prompted the society to cancel a planned speech by Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad, who has been known to have extreme views on homosexuality.

Disputed claims:

However, activists, including the award-winning host of The Godless Spellchecker Podcast, Stephen Knight, have questioned the veracity of Asquith’s claims. This caused Asquith to renege on her original claim: “The students are no longer allowed them in the room. Is that fair?”

Delineating the controversy on his blog, Knight claimed he had communicated directly with the University concerning Asquith’s allegations:

“A Spokesperson from the University told me that in 2016 it was decided that a prayer room at the University would be turned into a multi-faith room. The consultation/transition period for this change began in the summer and ended in December 2016. During this period, the Islamic Society (ISOC) were consulted and made aware that any existing materials would need to be removed from the room, otherwise they would be disposed of on a forewarned date. And that is exactly what happened.”

He went on to challenge Asquith’s allegations which he asserted had “the potential to get people killed”:

“This wasn’t an act of desecration, it was planned maintenance. And maintenance that was carried out with due consideration to, and consultation with, the interested parties.”

Since 2010, there has been various noted cases of people arrested for damaging the Quran – including a teenager who was arrested over a “distressing” video posted online which allegedly showed him ripping up and burning the holy book.

 


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About Benjamin David 33 Articles
Benjamin is a philosophy postgraduate, writer and campaigner

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