An Open Letter to Birkbeck College regarding the cancellation of the Islamophobia Conference Booking

December 21, 2014


As activists and academics who work against racism and Islamophobia, we were deeply concerned with the decision by Birkbeck College to pull the venue for a conference on Institutional Islamophobia only 3 days before the event was meant to take place. The decision to withdraw from this event appeared to be as a result of buckling to the Islamophobic threats by far-right groups including Britain First and Casuals United (who threatened to demonstrate this event) as well as pressure from the local Camden PREVENT officer.

In a press release by one of the event organisers, the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) state that far right groups have been using bullying tactics to intimidate Muslim communities from organising these type of events. It is important to mention that Birkbeck College appeared to express more concern towards the anti-fascist counter-demonstration and the threat to the far-right protesters than to the safety of those among us who know of the necessity of participating in these conversations about Islamophobia and those who face Islamophobia and were looking for a space to discuss how to tackle such experiences. By reneging on the venue, Birkbeck signalled to all of us that our concerns and fears in dealing with Islamophobia were better silenced than tackled collectively.

In light of Birkbeck’s breeding Institutional Islamophobia last week, its reputation as a pioneering academic institution with a radical vision of inclusiveness that previously opened the doors for those excluded from higher education, seems merely a nostalgic memory.

Furthermore, this cancellation (agreed by Birkbeck with the local PREVENT officer) suggests that the refusal to host the conference had political motifs. IHRC state:

“It seems odd that instead of tackling the immediate threats to a legitimate and peaceful event, the College appeared to be more interested in using the issue as an excuse to involve anti-extremism and radicalisation officials.”

According to CAGE, the work by PREVENT to cancel events by Muslim organisations indicates a desire to shut down conversations about the demonisation of Muslims today. Nothing proves that better than an event aimed at tackling Institutional Islamophobia being shut down by the very institution that was meant to assist in this conversation.

In a wider UK higher education context where groups such as UKIP are being invited to speak at several of Britain’s universities, we wonder about the troublesome collusions between Islamophobic agendas of far-right groups, the government and some of the top academic institutions in this country. Academic institutions have the responsibility in researching and challenging the oppressions that we see around us rather than simply conspiring with these power structures. If we cannot have these vital conversations about Islamophobia within academic institutions, how can we possibly hold ourselves up to this standard of continuous critical academic enquiry?

We strongly urge Birkbeck to showcase a greater commitment to challenging instead of buckling to racism and Islamophobia in the future.  We ask for a detailed explanation of the events leading to the cancellation of this venue, beyond the general excuse of ‘health and safety concerns’ that is currently being used. Regardless of IHRC’s offer to pay for private security, this was clearly not a concern for the safety of those of us who are looking to tackle the alarming rise of Islamophobia in this country.



Kasia Narkowicz, PhD Candidate, University of  Sheffield

Azeezat Johnson, PhD Candidate, University of  Sheffield

Prof Tariq Modood, University of Bristol

Dr Salman Sayyid, University of Leeds

Dr Nasar Meer, Strathclyde University

Dr Nadia Fadil, Assistant professor, KU Leuven

Dr Jan Dobbernack, University of Lincoln

Dr. Katy Sian, University of Manchester

Dr Fuad Ali, Greenwich University

Dr. Narzanin Massoumi, Birkbeck College

Hamja Ahsan, Free Talha Ahsan

Abdul-Azim Ahmed, Assistant Secretary General, Muslim Council of Wales

Dr Joanne Britton, University of Sheffield

Prof Daniele Joly, University of Warwick

Milena Doytcheva, Associate professor, Université de Lille

Sanaz Raji, Justice4Sanaz campaign

Jamil Sherif, researcher

Dr Emily Wykes, University of Nottingham

Zahra Ali, SOAS, Research Associate IFPO

Dr Robbie Shilliam, Queen Mary University of London

Dr Joanna Gilmore, University of York

Abdellali Hajjat, Assistant Professor, University of Paris-Ouest Nanterre

Dr Adrián Groglopo, Gothenburg University

Stephanie Davis

Dr Ulrike Vieten, University of Luxemburg

Dr Waqas Tufail, University of Liverpool

Dr. Uzma Jamil, University of South Australia

Katie Markham, PhD Candidate, University of Leeds

Dr. Tamjid Mujtaba, Wraysbury, Middlesex

Dr Rachael Dobson, Kingston University

Amrit Wilson

Dr Robbie Shilliam, Queen Mary University of London

Ahmed Uddin

Dr Natalia Paszkiewicz

Dr. Fahid Qurashi, Canterbury Christ Church University

Gabriel Varghese, Phd Candidate, University of Exeter

Dr. Farid Hafez, Salzburg University

Dr Steve Garner, Open University

Sumana Nandi, SOAS

Sami Wannell, SOAS

Rachel Seoighe, PhD Candidate, King’s College London

Terese Jonsson, PhD Candidate, London Metropolitan University

Andy Lie, Newcastle upon Tyne

Abdullah Sliti

Jen Fox

Lucy Davies

Richard Braude, University of Cambridge

Ross Exo Adams

Remi Joseph-Salisbury, PhD Candidate, University of Leeds

Sita Belani, PhD Candidate, King’s College London

Hannah Kate Boast, PhD Candidate, University of Sheffield

Nick Clare, PhD Candidate, University of Sheffield

Marcia Vera Espinoza, PhD Candidate, University of Sheffield

Fatuma Khaireh, University College London

Ben Rogaly, University of Sussex

Dr Marta Araújo, U. Coimbra, Portugal

Caoimhe Mader McGuinness, PhD candidate, Queen Mary University of London

Julia Suárez-Krabbe, Roskilde University, Denmark

Mike Jackson



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