Religious Pluralism Event Canceled After Death Threat from Muslim Radical

A frightening thing happened Monday night at Queen Mary, University of London.

The school’s Atheism, Secularism and Humanism Society planned an event which would have both religious and non-religious students discussing whether Sharia Law was damaging to human rights.

As quickly as the event began, though, it had to come to an end:

‘Five minutes before the talk was due to start a man burst into the room holding a camera phone and for some seconds stood filming the faces of all those in the room. He shouted ‘listen up all of you, I am recording this, I have your faces on film now, and I know where some of you live’, at that moment he aggressively pushed the phone in someone’s face and then said ‘and if I hear that anything is said against the holy Prophet Mohammed, I will hunt you down.’ He then left the room.

Because of the nature of the threat, the event had to be canceled.

Jenny Bartle, president of the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies (AHS), spoke out against the threat:

Our members have as much right as anyone else to participate in the free inquiry, discussion and debate which should exist in universities. The threats our members have received are both troubling and repugnant and we reject all attempts to counter debate with violence. At the same time, we welcome the support from across faiths that many of our societies experience on campus to help us secure the freedom to have our say, just as we support them in having the freedom to have theirs.”

There’s the difference between religious fundamentalists and open-minded atheists. We’re willing to discuss and debate faith openly. We’re not afraid of criticism. You can’t offend us. We’re not afraid of any argument you want to throw our way.

What we need now are more religious moderates speaking out against the extremists in their midst. Support open conversations. Support our right to criticize and mock. Support free speech without the fear of harassment or violence. Without your voices, nothing will change.

Here’s hoping they can reschedule the event with some extra security in place.

(Thanks to Robert for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • gene machine

    Scary stuff. Thanks for reporting this and taking a stand.

  • http://www.thejudge.me.uk/ TheJudge

    It’s even worse than that.

    When Rhys Morgan, the 17-year-old Welsh student who helped expose Stanislaw Burzynski expressed his solidarity with ASHS by putting a J&M picture up on his Facebook profile, he started receiving threats from someone claiming to be a Muslim, he has been subject of ostracism and further threats from other students, and his school has not been quite as supportive as it should have been.

    More at Rhys’ blog: http://rhysmorgan.co/2012/01/intolerant-islam/

    • Tim

      Different School (UCL- University College London – once known as “the godless instritution of Gower Street for being the first English university to admit non-Anglicans.  It was also the first in the Uk to admit women on equal terms to men_) not QM-UL (Queen Mary Universirty of London).  But equally worrying.

  • Jeremy Osborne

    They should have tackled the guy, took his phone, called the police and handed the phone recording over as evidence of a terrorist threat.

    • Tim

      It wasn’t just one guy.  And I am not sure you can expect the Metropolitan Police to protect you.  This is what happened in 1995:

      Gay activists stand trial over Islamic protest
      9:30 a.m. Monday, 30-January-1995Brent Magistrate’s Court, 448 High Road, London NW10
      Peter Tatchell and Glenn Halton, members of OutRage!, stand trial on charges arising from a peaceful protest against the murder of an estimated 4,000 lesbians and gay men since 1980 by the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran — most of the victims being beheaded, stoned and burned to death.
      The OutRage! protest took place outside the international Islamic fundamentalist conference held at Wembley Arena, London, on 7th August 1994, organized by Hizb-ut-Tahrir.
      Mr. Halton and Mr. Tatchell are charged with obstructing the highway and displaying signs which were “threatening, abusive, and insulting”. Both men deny both charges. They are being backed by the civil rights watchdog, Liberty (NCCL).
      “What is at stake is the right to free speech and peaceful protest. The defendants are determined to challenge the police violation of their democratic right to demonstrate”, said David Allison of OutRage!.
      “On the day of the protest, Muslim fundamentalists threatened to kill members of OutRage!. ‘We will find you and kill you’, they said. The police took no action against them. Instead, officers violently arrested Mr. Halton and Mr. Tatchell who were protesting peacefully against antihomosexual witch-hunts in extremist Islamic states such as Iran”, said Mr. Allison.
      “When Muslim militants at Wembley incited the murder of homosexuals, the police did nothing. Yet officers immediately arrested OutRage! members who were calmly protesting without threatening anyone.
      “These arrests were a gross infringement of the democratic right to peaceful protest. If standing on a pavement and holding up a placard is obstruction and grounds for arrest, then the right to demonstrate no longer exists. It is scandalous that officers have charged OutRage! members with public order offences for displaying placards with the factual statements, ‘Iran Murders Queers’ and ‘Islam Nazis Behead & Burn Queers’.
      “These arrests have undermined attempts to improve relations between the police and the lesbian and gay community. The police appear to be siding with those who want to kill us”, concluded Mr. Allison.

  • Jude

    So the authorities are tracking this guy down, right?

    Right?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Reed/692599362 Paul Reed

      There must be some CCTV footage somewhere, surely?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=750428174 Paddy Reddin

      Exactly what I was thinking.  If he knows where some of them live, then they should know where he lives and thus making it easy for the police to deal with it.

  • Bubba Tarandfeathered

    Headline should read “Muslim student beaten to an inch of his death for making death threats at Secular gathering”

    • Jude

      Really? You think we should stoop to their level?

      • Bubba Tarandfeathered

        Sure the passive non-violent stance works as long as all parties are open to discussion, but we’re not talking about open non-aggressive debate and hot cocoa, we are talking about someone threatening peoples lives and the threat has a history of real violence.

        If this guy had walked into the room sat down and started praying as an act of protest I would ignore him and move on, but he pointed out that he was willing to take violent action against the meeting.

        In my opinion he should have gotten a swift and to the point reply, an ass beating. You threaten me or mine with violence and you better expect that it is going to get returned.

        Who is stooping down when we are all just really meeting each other head to head. Our missile armed drones flying over Pakistan is just the same as a bomb toting teenager. They both serve the same function to terrorize. Reason and intellect only make our weaponry more sophisticated and often less effective.

        These extremist though hold an trump card in their collective hands. They can terrorize with words and we back down immediately. 

        The intelligent thing to do would have been to place him under a citizens arrest and then call the cops. But I suspect these animals only respect violence and since we are just baring our collective throats to them they see us as weak prey easily intimidated by a few words.

        Spare the rod and spoil the extremist.

  • Guest

    What would have been better…

    Everyone turning to each other in stunned silence, then the entire room erupting into laughter and the event going on as planned.  While I understand the urge to take a bizarre threat like that seriously, and it probably should be–by authorities–when ordinary folks like you or I let kooks and extremists shut us down with random threats, we let them win.  Laugh.  Mock them.  Carry on.

    Just two cents, not criticism.

    • Bubba Tarandfeathered

      that only works until the next meeting when he comes back and blows himself up.

      • Sylvia

        love the laughing suggestion… it wouldve made him think twice before coming back

  • Mommiest

    If only everyone there with a cell phone had pulled it out and taken a picture of that jerk, then posted it on the web. Sigh. He couldn’t have been the only one who could take a picture.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_POBNPRAX3ZQKUBJF3XAG3WLI4A Tracy

      I agree. It would have helped in identifying him anyway.

  • Fufufu

    Why didn’t they go after him and get his phone? whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaIdon’teven

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=750428174 Paddy Reddin

      Cause then they would have been attackers and he would be the poor victim.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    The threats our members have received are both troubling and repugnant and we reject all attempts to counter debate with violence.

    Then why did they cancel the debate? That is not “rejecting” violence, that’s giving in to it. Don’t cancel the discussion, let those who wish to leave, go. I would have stayed after shouting to that lunatic, “GO FUCK YOURSELF!” Canceling the event just reinforced more of that crap.

    He did more to discredit his “holy prophet” than anyone at the assembly could have.

    • Michael

      Because this kind of debate requires that people are calm.

      I have no doubt that there will be a followup event, when people have calmed down, and this event will be referenced.

      • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

        I understand your point, but the followup event will be just as vulnerable to intimidation. Even with “extra security,” the original perpetrator or his clone can perturb their calmness with a simple note or phone call threatening a bomb, or violence against the attendees after they leave. Should they reward the behavior once again, or use the first event to desensitize themselves, declare “I will not live in fear, I will not be intimidated,” and carry on?

        • Tim

          Richard,  I take your point entirely about the fact that they ought to have stood up to him.  In an ideal world yes, but I have some expereince of Islamists at QM-UL and can give you a bit more background information.  Then you can decide if you will make the same call. 

          The Campus is in Whitechapel in the borough of Tower Hamlets in a poor part of East London  which is one of the most islamised part of the UK and possibly Europe.  This is only a few miles from teh centre of London one of teh most open, diverse and tolerant cities in teh world but it is a place where there are signs on Lamposts saying “homesexual free zone” (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/8550178/Muslim-fanatic-fined-100-for-gay-free-zone-stickers.html ) .  It is where the BNP (British National Party – essentially white working class fascists) and the Respect Collalition (essentially left-wing Islamofascists) manage to elect MP and councilors.  It is where Al-Muajiroon, which many believe to be a front for terrorist and raiser of funds and volenteers for al-Quada, draws a large number of supporters.  It is also a poor place with high crime, poor housing and high unemployement.  The Police in London (“the Met”) have been accured of cosying up to Islamist groups (See http://blog.newhumanist.org.uk/2011/11/was-met-in-bed-islamists-my-interview.html)  They have certainly not done a very good job in tackling the threat from Islamists.  It is not a happy, safe or stable place (at least it didn’t appear so to me as a white, middle class professional).  And in the middle of it is Queen Mary College which is actually a pretty good University (usually ranked about 12th to about 25th out of 130-ish Universities in the UK and with a  large and respected Medical school and a pround history of freethought  and one of the pioneers of Women’s education).  

           I studied there for 3 months about 6 years ago for a Certificate in Intellectual propery law as part of my professinal training (a course which I now note has been moved to the centre of London presumably so the trainee lawyers like me didn’t have to go to Mile End and feel scared) and saw just how volatile the situation can be.  I got caught up in a march by Al-Muajiroon which was terrifying (I can still still remember the physically intimidating young muslim men and the scared Student Union organiser (a rather pale and camp jewish lad in a skull cap and black t-shirt with “Union Staff” printed on it) trying to keep us students in the building. 

          I know nothing of this latest incident other than what I have read which is that the thug with the camera phone had a load of supporters outside.  but I can imagine that this was not just an idiot with a camera phone, but a connected islamo-facsist.   I think American readers need to bear in mind that the campus is not like a US campus – a big sprawlling place on the edge of town surrounded by sport’s fields and parking lots and with its own secuirity force.  This is a huddle of buildings (bizarly with a Portugese Jewish Cemeraty squashed intothe middle of it) next to a main road a canal and two Tube stations where people can come and go as they please.

          So yes we need to stand up to these people (and I really hope that the event will go ahead with proper Police protection) .  But don’t criticise the decisions taken on the ground.  from waht I know of the place and its politics, the action to cancel the event might just have preventted a riot. 

          • Tim

            …correction.  campus is in Mile End – just east of Whitechaple

          • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

            Tim, you’re right.  Please see my reply to Greg.

        • Greg

          Judging by the report linked to in the OP, it wasn’t just a single perpetrator. They say it was clear they ‘couldn’t secure the building’. He clearly had back up, and enough to make them think they couldn’t handle it if a fight broke out. Going on with the event could have caused violence, and the organisers could have put the health of the people there in question.

          Whilst I would have had the same response as you, actually, I can understand why they cancelled it. I do think they have to make a strong statement by rescheduling it as soon as possible, however.

          • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

            Tim and Greg, I concede that you are both right. When people glibly tell my letter writers to just out themselves to family or at work, I chastise them because it’s easy to talk tough when you’re not the one standing in harm’s way. Here I am over 5,000 miles from the danger, doing the same thing. I don’t know the situation and the atmosphere there, so I should not complain about their decision. Sometimes when I get pissed off, I don’t think as clearly as I should.

            I hope the event is rescheduled soon, that it is free of intimidation, and most importantly, that better understanding between all the different “tribes” is accomplished.

            • Michael

              Interestingly, the forum on which this started only has something like a hundred regulars. I expect the police will already know who visited the forum thread at http://forums.islamicawakening.com/f18/urgent-calling-all-muslims-east-london-today-55211/ in the run-up to the event and can prove some of their mobile phones were in the vicinity.

              According to some later posts he has expressed regret in the aftermath. Shame he didn’t realise that acting like a psycho in the name of islam makes people associate muslims with people who act like psychos.

  • http://frontendpost.com/ FredTheWebGuy

    I’m not as concerned with the dogma of Islam demanding this kind of insanity as I am with grown  adults who are capable of independent thought and reasoning giving way to common sense in favor of the brutality and bullying of people – the kind of abuse they’re claiming is being thrust upon them. If their prophet and belief system is really THAT strong, then who cares what other people say or do no matter how innocuous? It seems that this sense of confidence doesn’t exist, therefore acting like entitled, whiny brats is the right course of action for them. Yep, that’s religion for ya.

    I hope this is being taken seriously by the authorities in terms of the safety of those involved are concerned.

  • Apostatexp

    I would like to think that if I had been there I would have offered some choice words about his prophet right to his face.  Perhaps started drawing a caricature of Mo the moron for him to take home as a souvenir. 

    • guest

      and that would make u a better person because?

  • Anonymous

    Oh, but it’s not about religion. Islam is about peace by keeping your mouth shut and your face hidden.

  • Brian Macker

    Mohammad is one of the most vile characters in recorded history. Idiots have been emulating him ever since. Screw the Muslim who made the threats. He is a criminal and needs to be locked up, or probably deported.

    • SA

      vile because? because people follow him and your narrow mind fails to understand why… you cant say someone is wrong cz ur nut-sized brain doesnt understand why.. it deost matter whether it was jesus, moses muhammed, guru whoeeverrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… everyone has a brain (except brian) to understand that people can do what they want and not judge

      • sA

        *believe in what they want…. not do… if we let people do what they want than more nutters like this guys would think its ok 

  • Silo Mowbray

    I truly wish someone there would’ve reached out and bitchslapped him. Then held his threatening ass down until the police arrived.

  • http://twitter.com/TweetThatSheet Daniel Brown

    Look people, you got this Muslim terrorist all wrong!

    He just wanted to give a quick an easy answer to the nights question, “Is Sharia Law was damaging to human rights?”

    The terrorist spoke with action. “Yes!” It’s quite damaging to human rights, even the right to assemble and free speech, and the right to not be murdered!

  • Anonymous

    Now the anti-Islamic racists have an excuse to speak out against Muslims in London and the rest of the UK.  That’s a shame because the vast majority do just want to practice their religion in peace.  A whole group of young free thinkers (the next generation of innovators and leaders) have now had it drummed into them with frightening clarity that Islam is a violent religion that uses threats to achieve their aims.  Thousands of observers, maybe tens of thousands, now have an even lower opinion of Islam that they previously did.

    All because one idiot with a camera phone, backed up by a bunch of thugs, couldn’t permit others to question his religion.  Other than actually committing an act of violence I can’t see a worst way for a Muslim to protect Islam from harm.

    • Tim

      I am in complete agreement.  The problem you describe is compounded because the main opposition to Islamofascism in East london are the white-facists of the BNP (British national Party  – racist scum) and EDL (English Defense League- ex-foorball hooligans with Nazi tendancies) 

      • Greg

        Whilst I am in no way endorsing the EDL (and I want to stress that it is in NO way, whatsoever), I don’t think they are on the same level as the BNP. I was really rather surprised the couple of times I have heard an interview with the EDL’s leader – he was in no way as bad as I expected. 
        The suspicion I have is the the EDL get judged partly on their accent and ‘class’ – as you say, they are ‘ex-football hooligans’. They do actually seem to have some valid concerns, and – importantly – they (or at least the leader and presumably the founders of it) seem to have suffered a bit from people following radical Islam which colours their judgement and opinions. Which is understandable, and I think if we want to be reasonable we should make allowances rather than just dismissing them.

        Like I said, I’m not endorsing them, but I can somewhat understand why their leader – at least – holds the views he does. I don’t think it’s racism in the same way it is with the BNP, just generalising the religion as a whole based upon his run ins with the more extreme followers of Islam.

        Again, I am not in any way endorsing the EDL. (Have I said that enough? :p)

        (Although I do think the standard of English is slipping dreadfully nowadays – we really do need a league to defend the English language from slang terms…)

        • Philbert

          The EDL  might have found one guy who can sound reasonable for a few minutes, but then the BNP can do that. They are bad news, there are too many pictures of their members making Nazi salutes, and too many incidents of them being arrested for causing or trying to cause violence.

          That’s not to say they aren’t voicing valid concerns, fascists always try to latch on to a genuine cause, the problem is all the far-right baggage they bring with it. The danger is that people are all too willing to overlook the crazy if they perceive that the EDL / BNP are the only ones willing to call out the violent aspects of Islam.

          • Greg

            But the EDL didn’t ‘find’ one guy who can sound reasonable for a few minutes. This is the leader of the thing, one of the guys who set it up.

            Like I said, I’m not expressing any support for them – I’ve just found that the slightest of research into them makes me think they as a group are more complicated than they are portrayed to be.

            It may be that it has attracted people which differ from its original intent – it stemmed from a response to a demonstration against British troops by Al-Muhajiroun, a now banned organisation with links to Islamic terrorism, and infamous for having praised 9/11 among other things. At least in theory, it seems to have been set up in response to Islamic extremism.

            It has burnt Nazi flags in the past, and has burnt anti-Nazi flags. It publicly tries to promote multi-ethnicity, toleration and the like (completely different to BNP), and yet many of its members appear racist. It’s as if it’s two different groups, the original founders, and the people who have jumped on board who saw it as a way to express their hatred of Islam, or deeper racist currents.

            Searchlight (an anti-fascism magazine), have apparently said that not all of the EDL are fascists. Unite Against Fascism had a counter demonstration against them which devolved into violence and almost all those arrested were from UAF (55 as opposed to 3 from EDL) – what does that say about UAF? (UAF’s chairman, incidentally, is Ken Livingstone, former mayor of London. (Thanks wikipedia.. ;))

            In that it tends to be the rougher parts of the UK that feels the actions of these extreme Islamic groups the most (as a result of geography – you don’t get as many immigrants mingling with the rich and refined, for obvious reasons), it is only to be expected that they are going to be opposed most vehemently by the rougher parts of society. That means violence is more likely, and immediately violence starts, combined with their views, they’re going to get labelled as right wing. Even if they aren’t. After all, being violent, or causing violence, doesn’t automatically make you far right.

            Again, not supporting them – just trying to argue that it is not intrinsically fascistic or racist. Certainly a lot of its members and supporters appear to be, not arguing against that.

  • Charles Black

    It’s because of events like these that make me wonder why I give muslim fundamentalists second chances to change their behavior when they don’t want to do so.
    I would have thought they would have learnt from Salman Rushdie but I’ve had enough of these bullies. No more second chances.

  • Self defense

    As a human being, do I have the right to “hunt down” anyone that promises to do the same to me? Could that be considered a self preservation strategy?

  • SA

    ” support our rights to criticise and mock” seriously what loser wrote the article.. since when has ‘mocking’ become something that any society should promote or fight for..  ‘oh lets go mock people’ .. ittcomes under bullying… what happened to tolerance…. yh have your own views but let people have theirs.. no need to mock.. be civilised and agree to disagree

    ….as for the guy – its silly people like him that tarnish the views of a religion… what a big idiot!!! Annnndddd another example of bullying kmt

    the writer of the article and that man are fools


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