Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Universities Minister, David Lammy, expressed concern this week as it emerged that Birmingham University was refusing to ban a speaker who has advocated suicide bombing, supports Hizbollah and is widely known as Hamas’s representative in the UK.
Labour MP Denis MacShane, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, protested to the university’s vice-chancellor Prof David Eastwood about the appearance of Dr Azzam Tamimi, who told BBC TV he would be happy to be a suicide bomber.
He also raised the matter at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, telling Mr Brown that freedom of expression was not the same as providing “a platform for hate. We have to shut down those incubators of hate against our values and against the Jewish people.”
Mr Brown told the House that it was important how universities responded “to an attempt by some people to use them as a breeding ground for extremist activity. We must always get right the balance between the academic freedom that is at the heart of what universities are about and the maintenance of security in our country. I know that most vice-chancellors want to play their part in helping us to do that”.
The university’s Islamic Society invited Dr Tamimi to join a debate called In Pursuit of Justice: Remember Gaza with ex-Labour MP Tony Benn, and Mike Cushman of Jews Boycotting Israel Goods (JBIG) and the British Committee for Universities for Palestine.
He was twice invited by University College London Islamic society last year, but both meetings were cancelled after college authorities were told of his extremist views. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the alleged Delta Airlines attempted bomber, studied at UCL and was president of its Islamic society.
Dr Tamimi told BBC’s Hard Talk: “Sacrificing myself for Palestine is a noble cause ... I would do it if I had the opportunity.”
Dr MacShane said: “The university is in complete and utter denial about the threat to freedom posed by allowing a preacher of antisemitic hate and jihad to speak. The question is whether one of our universities should provide a platform for this hate doctrine. Professor Eastwood has decided that the university should be where a spokesman for anti-Jewish and anti-democratic hate can have his say. ”
Jon Benjamin, Board of Deputies’ chief executive, said: “This is yet another wake up call for universities to tackle the growing trend of extremism on campus.”
A university spokesperson said: “Universities are plural societies which are home to differences of opinion, debate and views. ”
On Sunday Dr Tamimi is due to take part in Glasgow Palestine Society’s Gaza Memorial Day, together with LibDem MP John Hume. Next month he is speaking at the Federation of Student Islamic Societies’ conference, alongside the deputy secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Daoud Abdullah, Ben White and Stephen Sizer.