British law professor under fire over ‘Islamophobic’ statements

Students at the University of Bristol demand an apology and review of a module they say expresses ‘discriminatory, bigoted’ views on Islam.

The law professor rejects the accusations but was unable to comment while an investigation was ongoing [File: Geoff Caddick/AFP]

London, United Kingdom – A British university professor has come under mounting criticism over what students described as his “Islamophobic” remarks and taught content.

In a statement last week, the University of Bristol’s Islamic Society (BRISOC) said it was “alarmed by multiple complaints against Professor Steven Greer of the Law School for his reported use of discriminatory remarks and Islamophobic rhetoric”.

Law students have claimed Greer “frequently expressed views in class that can be deemed Islamophobic, bigoted and divisive”, said the statement, which was signed by several other student societies.

Although Greer’s accusers have gone public, he has been barred by the university from making any comment on the allegations because they are subject to an ongoing investigation and he is bound by a duty of confidentiality.

He did however tell Al Jazeera he rejects the allegations.

BRISOC’s president, Aamir Mohamed, told Al Jazeera the first complaints came last September and the society lodged a formal complaint with the university in November.

A law student at the university told Al Jazeera he filed an independent complaint about Greer last year.

BRISOC is demanding an official apology from Greer and the removal of content it considers to be problematic, in a human rights module.

The society also seeks an apology from the university for “funding, supporting and promoting” Greer’s work and for its “delayed updates” since the complaint was made, said the statement.
The university told Al Jazeera it has launched a process to address the issue.

‘Islamophobic’ content

The principle complaint against Greer relates to a human rights module he teaches, titled Human Rights in Law, Politics and Society.

BRISOC highlighted several lines in lecture slides they provided to Al Jazeera from the module.

One of Greer’s students described them as painting an overall “misinformed and bigoted view of Islam”.

In a section discussing “Islam and human rights”, Greer listed freedom of expression as a “key challenge”, and highlighted “insult to Islam was punishable by death”.

The slide gave the deadly Charlie Hebdo attack as an example.

Gunmen killed at least 12 people when they attacked the French satirical magazine in 2015 over cartoons of Prophet Muhammad they deemed offensive.

One of the slides used by Greer in his classes [Courtesy: University of Bristol]

A student who attended Greer’s class said he was shocked by some of the content, which gave the impression that Islam was “essentially bad” and “incompatible with freedom”.

“The Charlie Hebdo killing was a terrorist attack. Muslim leaders not only condemned the killings, but the fact that the professor actually used it as proof of Islam’s stance on freedom of expression was absolutely appalling,” the law student, who wished to remain anonymous, told Al Jazeera.

“The professor cherry-picked his examples to put Muslims in such a negative light when there are examples of the contrary – he just chose to not talk about them,” he said.

On the same slide, Greer listed several other human rights challenges related to Islam, including freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the position of non-Muslims in Muslim countries.

Another section related to the position of women in Islam, said students, referring to lines that said Muslim women experienced “physical chastisement by husbands” and “women who wear hijab [were] less likely to work outside home or be involved in higher education”.

A law student who attended the same module during the previous academic year said she felt “extremely uncomfortable, othered and hurt” on several occasions during Greer’s classes.
“Initially, I was interested to share an academic discussion on Islam, but I was left shocked and antagonised,” said the student, who also wished to remain anonymous.

“He singled out Islam as a sort of threat. It was another Islamophobic, misinformed and bigoted understanding of Islam. Not something I expected in a university and especially, a human rights module,” she added.

According to FOSIS, an umbrella body of Islamic societies in UK universities, the Bristol case is not unique.

“Numerous cases are brought to our attention regularly where universities have failed to recognise and adequately address the concerns of Muslim students and their experiences with Islamophobia,” Muna Ali, acting vice president of student affairs at FOSIS, told Al Jazeera.

According to the National Union of Students, there are more than 300,000 Muslim university students in the UK.

An NUS study in 2018 revealed that one in three Muslim students in the UK had experienced abuse or crime at their place of study, while one in four said they would not report an Islamophobic incident.

“Islamophobia remains largely unacknowledged and by extension, accepted and normalised in higher education,” Sofia Akel, from the Centre for Equity and Inclusion at London Metropolitan University, told Al Jazeera. “Wilful negligence is complicity.”

University response

Disappointed with the university’s response, BRISOC went public with its concerns last week. The university’s Student Union issued a statement of solidarity.

The campaign comes amid complaints about another Bristol University professor accused of anti-Semitism.

A University of Bristol spokesperson told Al Jazeera they were “in regular contact with the society and the member of staff”, and that a process of responding to BRISOC’s concerns was “still ongoing and under review” and as such, they were unable to comment further.

In a statement, the university said it upholds the 2018 All Parliamentary Party Group (APPG) definition on Islamophobia – which describes it as a distinct form of racism – and that it was keen to create an “inclusive place for all students”.

It added that the university was also committed “to freedom of speech and to the rights of all our students and staff to discuss difficult and sensitive topics … universities are places of research and learning, where debate and dissent are not only permitted but expected, and where controversial and even offensive ideas may be put forward, listened to and challenged”.

There are more than 300,000 Muslim students in UK universities [Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP]
Source: Al Jazeera