Students protest Free Speech event due to guest speaker


A group of student protesters handed out leaflets at a Bristol Free Speech Society event in opposition of the Henry Jackson Society report being discussed by its author.

By Maddy Russell, News Editor

Student campaigners gathered outside the Centre for Applied Autonomy on Wednesday 16 October to protest an event held by the Bristol Free Speech Society.

The event entitled Extremism on Campus: Take 2 included a talk from Emma Fox, a Research Fellow at the foreign policy think-tank Henry Jackson Society.

Another planned Free Speech Society event earlier this year, at which Fox was supposed to be speaking, was cancelled by the University due to ‘security concerns’. This came after Bristol Islamic Society released a open letter, signed by nearly 500 people, and several hundred expressed their interest in protesting.

The initial event was then live-streamed to a larger audience than the original capacity intended.

Both events presented the findings of Fox’s recent report entitled Extreme Speakers and Events: In the 2017/18 Academic Year.

The report claims to catalogue ‘204 events promoted by students in the academic year 2017/18 featuring speakers with a history of extreme or intolerant views or representing extremist-linked organisations.’

Five of these such events were believed to have been hosted by student societies at the University of Bristol.

Protesters from the campaign group Stand Up To Racism accused the Free Speech Society event of allowing ‘hate speech’ on campus.

Fox later described the allegations made by protesters as ‘simply not true’.

Emma Fox returns on 16th October, make sure to buy your tickets in advance! Members get them for FREE! 😊

Posted by University of Bristol Free Speech Society on Monday, 14 October 2019

Khadija Meghrawi, on behalf of Bristol Islamic Society, said the following: ‘Our objection to Emma Fox and the HJS society is based on their specific prejudice towards Muslims that is veiled as an objective counteraction to extremism in general. Her report  Extremist Speakers from 2017/2018 is supposedly a neutral catalogue, listing events to students in the academic year 2017/18 featuring speakers with a history of extreme or intolerant views, or representatives of extremist-linked organisations.

‘Claiming to be an exhaustive list, every event listed is either by an Islamic society or a handful by Palestinian societies. This leaves us with two possibilities: either every extremist event that happened last year was related to Muslim students or the report left out other forms of extremist events to imply that to be the case.

‘For example, the Henry Jackson Society did not report on speakers such as Steve Bannon, Marine Le Pen, and Sargon of Akkad.

‘Not only is it propagating the implication that all extremist events during that year have been associated with Muslim activity likely to incite prejudice, the fact that this inaccurate conclusion has been marketed as based on objective evidence is even more dangerous, misleading people to a conclusion that they believe to be fact rather than opinion.

‘Some of the examples on the report are valid in their allegations, however, many Muslim speakers are labelled as being ‘extremist’ based on tenuous evidence or simply for being loosely linked with another problematic organisation or speaker. What is also particularly abhorrent is their demonisation of Islamophobia Awareness Month campaigns based on similarly weak, misleading evidence, attempting to undermine a campaign helping to make Muslims feel safer and more included in this country by perpetuating the very stereotypes that lead to these feelings of division in the first place.’

The Free Speech Society committee engage with one of the protesters | Epigram / Sabrina Miller

A spokesperson from Bristol Free Speech Society said: ‘We were very pleased to welcome Emma Fox from the Henry Jackson Society to give a talk on her report Extreme Speakers and Events: 2017/18 alongside Dr Steven Greer, the event's chair.

‘Our diverse audience found her talk to be highly engaging and afterwards many told us they were confused by how such a talk could ever be viewed as controversial.

‘We would like to reiterate our thanks to the excellent security team who we had protecting our attendees and speakers, allowing the event to go ahead without fear of disruption. Those who came to protest did so in a respectful manner, and we are grateful for this.

‘We are disappointed that the protestors did not wish to hear what Emma had to say and then ask questions, despite our offer of tickets. It is a shame that their handout contained false and misleading information, despite the entire content of Emma's talk being available online.

‘There will be plenty more exciting talks hosted by us in the future, so anyone interested should keep an eye on our Facebook page.’

Featured image: Epigram / Sabrina Miller

What are your thoughts on the recent protests against Free Speech events? Let us know!