Universities and double standards
By Robyn Rosen
February 15, 2011
Last night, LSE’s management stepped up in the eleventh hour to cancel a debate due to be held by the German Society involving German banker, Thilo Sarrazin.
Mr Sarrazin was widely criticised last year after he made some controversial comments about Jews and Muslims, including writing in his book that “all Jews share a certain gene”.
I’m not going to go into a debate about Mr Sarrazin’s comments because last night’s decision raises other interesting points.
How do universities decide which lectures to cancel?
According to a spokesman, it was cancelled at such a late stage because it was likely to “suffer severe disruption”.
I assume by this, he is referring to planned demonstrations reported in the national press.
His second point was that the student union changed their minds and decided the event could “seriously harm good campus relations”.
But the most telling part of his statement is this: “Reluctantly, LSE decided that it could no longer ensure that the event tonight would be able to proceed in an orderly fashion.”
That word – reluctantly – shows that the university was more worried about the national attention and their lack of security resources rather than the pressing issue of hate speakers on campus.
In December, a lecture by Abdel Bari Atwan caused 30 students to walk out of the auditorium feeling under threat.
The Union of Jewish Students, CST and the university’s Israel Society had all expressed their concerns to the university prior to the event.
Were their voices not loud enough? Why did their concerns not have the same impact as Unite Against Fascism or a report in the Independent?
Atwan has previously been captured on video in 2007 on MEMRI TV saying: "If the Iranian missiles strike Israel - by Allah, I will go to Trafalgar Square and dance with delight if the Iranian missiles strike Israel."
And yet this event was allowed to go ahead as scheduled, and ultimately ended in chaos.
Universities need to work out and stick to their rules on free speech, what is permitted on campus and how it will be regulated. Because otherwise, more cases of clear double standards will continue.
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