The University of Exeter has responded to criticism from the English Defence League ahead of a national demonstration. The far-right EDL has used the university’s Islamic studies and Muslim research centres as justification for staging a national demo in the city.
EDL are expecting supporters to travel from around the country to a march which will take place on Saturday, November 16. A counter demo by a group called Exeter Together, aimed at showcasing the city’s diversity, is being held on the same day with hundreds of groups and individuals, one of the latest being Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw, signing up in support.
The full route of the march has not yet been made public, although the university said it is not expecting it to come near them.
The EDL said that it was coming to Exeter as the university was “the home of the European Muslim Research Centre” and “also the home of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies”. It also highlights various funding donations.
But a spokesperson for the university said: “The Arab and Islamic world is a subject of academic study at the University in the same way as Physics, History, French or English. It doesn’t follow that just because we have an academic specialism that the University is sympathetic to any particular cause.
“Yes, we have accepted donations from people and institutions in the Middle East for the pursuance of research or teaching, as we have from the UK, the US and Europe. All large donations are ethically checked before they are received.
“Saudi Arabia is the UK’s biggest trading partner in the Middle East and designated a ‘High Growth Market’ by UKTI, as is the Emirates, of which Sharjah is a part.
“We are not expecting the march to come near the University.”
A University of Exeter Students’ Guild spokesperson added: “The University of Exeter provides a wealth of exciting opportunities to study various cultures, societies and religions – and the study of the Middle East is no exception.
“There is great value in studying all cultures and the Students’ Guild is proud that our University offers such a diverse programme of courses. We continue to celebrate diversity amongst our students and the community.
“The city of Exeter, the University and the Students’ Guild enjoy a unique community feel and this is in part due to our multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-faith population.”
A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said: “We are aware of the planned march and are putting appropriate measures in place. We can not comment any further at this time.”
As we’ve previously pointed out, the European Muslim Research Centre in fact closed two years ago.