A decision to ban a secular human rights campaigner from speaking at Warwick University over concerns she would "incite hatred" against Muslims has been overturned after the decision prompted huge outcry.
Maryam Namazie, equality campaigner and member of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, was blocked from talking at an event hosted by the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists' Society after the university's student union (Warwick SU) said a "number of flags had been raised" while researching the campaigner that indicated she is "highly inflammatory, and could incite hatred on campus".
Namazie is an Iranian-born secularist and spokesperson for groups such as the International Committee Against Stoning. Responding to the news she had been banned form the talk, she said the union was "lacking understanding" about her intentions.
An online petition set up by Benjamin David, president of Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists, urging the union to repeal their "appalling decision" was signed by more than 5000 people and garnered support by high profile names such as Professor Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins.
Following the furore, Warwick SU has now U-turned on their decision and apologised to Namazie after it said it had "failed, and failed badly in this case".
A spokesperson confirmed: "Warwick SU has a process for assessing any potential risks or legal issues associated with any external speaker, and it is now very clear to us that in this case that process has not been followed. Speaker invitations that may involve such issues are routinely considered by the SU president, who will also take advice from senior SU staff. This did not happen on this occasion. Neither the SU president, nor senior SU staff, were consulted as they should have been. This is a significant error for which there can be no excuse."
The union said there is now a "great deal that we now must put right" following the incident, starting with a meeting with the leadership of the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society to make the necessary arrangements for the event to take place in the format they. They offered an "unequivocal apology" to Namazie for the "egregious and highly regrettable error".
A spokesperson added: "We want to assure everyone of Warwick SU's continued commitment to free speech. We also want to take this opportunity to apologise to everyone who has expressed concern, or disappointment, or who has been hurt by this significant error and, as we said above, we will be issuing a full and unequivocal apology to Maryam Namazie."
Namazie said she accepts the "gracious apology" from Warwick SU and is now looking forward to speaking at the event on 28 October.
In a statement to IB Times UK, she added: "Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened nor will it be the last so it is important to challenge Student Unions and the NUS when they buy into the Islamist narrative that blames victims rather than perpetrators and wrongly conflates 'Muslims' with extremists.
"Muslims are people like any other; they are not homogeneous and many facing the wrath of Islamists for refusing to do as they're told. This small victory, therefore, is a victory not just for the free expression of ex-Muslims but also Muslims and others who want to and need to dissent."
The National Secular Society (NSS) said it welcomed the decision by Warwick SU. NSS executive director Keith Porteous Wood commented: "Freedom of expression is under growing threat, particularly when it involves discussions surrounding Islam. Every act of appeasement to those intent on closing down debate encourages self-censorship and depletes this freedom further.
"Freedom of expression is not only a pre-requisite for resolving challenging problems but for the functioning of democracy itself. The student union's decision has saved it and the university from an escalation of this unfortunate situation and potentially even a legal challenge further down the line."