A Q&A-style event to be hosted by the Sydney University Muslim Students Association (SUMSA) entitled ‘Grill a Muslim’ last week was cancelled at the personal request of Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence.
The event, originally planned for September 11 as part of Islamic Awareness Week, encouraged its audience to engage in dialogue with a panel made up of members of Sydney’s Islamic community.
“We wanted to provide a platform where questions can be brought forth and misconceptions can be quashed,” The 2014 SUMSA President told Honi. “The university prides itself on encouraging the expression of ideas.”
Two panel speakers, Sheikh Wesam Charkawai and Uthman Badar, had been confirmed for the event, which was to take place at 4pm in Carslaw 273 on the university’s main campus.
It was not until the eve of the event, however, that Spence made a phone call to the SUMSA President in order to raise his concerns over both the timing of the event and Badar’s participation. The SUMSA President alleged that The Daily Telegraph had informed Spence of the event, and of Badar’s presence on the panel.
“Spence told us that The Daily Telegraph had gotten hold of the event and were threatening to run a front-page report saying that the University of Sydney will be hosting [Uthman Badar].”
Last month, Badar was embroiled in a separate controversy when a talk as part of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas entitled ‘Honour Killings Are Morally Justified’ was cancelled by festival organisers after a public outcry.
The event happened to coincide with the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, though the 2014 SUMSA President has denied any deliberate link, saying that he knew it to be a “highly sensitive day”.
“[The Vice-Chancellor] said that the event can go ahead but not with Uthman. He based his decision on the fact that he could not guarantee security for Uthman as well as the audience,” said the SUMSA President.
A statement issued from the Vice-Chancellor’s office said the university had not known about the event until the day prior, as it had not been “formally registered”.
“The Vice-Chancellor immediately commissioned a security assessment to determine risk to members of the University community. Following that assessment, the Vice-Chancellor made the decision, in the interests of the wider University community, that Mr Badhar [sic] should not speak at the event,” the statement read.
Events held by clubs and societies are only required to register their plans for an event with the University of Sydney Union if they are seeking extra funding for it. University Venues told Honi that Carslaw 273 had been booked in advance for use by SUMSA between 4pm to 6pm on the day.
A statement on the SUMSA website reads: “We were sincere in our belief that having Brother Uthman on the panel would be an opportunity to enlighten the Australian audience about the splurge of Islamophobic remarks committed by tabloids and various media outlets, such as The Daily Telegraph and The Australian.”
The 2014 SUMSA President said that universities should be encouraging of a diversity and exchange of ideas. “When we talk about the free expression of ideas, that’s the perfect example.”
“[Badar] was an economics graduate [at USyd] and he also won the premier’s award for all-around achievement on his higher school certificate,” said the SUMSA President. “We definitely thought he was suitable
for that role.”
The Vice-Chancellor has agreed for SUMSA to reschedule the event but without Badar. A new date has not been set. The Vice-Chancellor’s office did not respond to Honi’s questions beyond forwarding a statement they had provided to the The Daily Telegraph.