UCL's Malcolm Grant is the one who is 'out of touch'

By Rosanna Rafel, October 18, 2011
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The issue of whether university campuses, particularly those in London, were "hot beds" for extremist behaviour was present long before Umar Farouk Adbulmutallab - former president of University College London's Islamic Society - boarded a plane to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

Debaters at UCL and the subsequent Caldecott Enquiry both decided that he had not been radicalised at UCL, despite the fact that as a student he organised events such as "Jihad vs. Terrorism" and "War on Terror Week".

Malcolm Grant, UCL provost, states that one only need "talk to our Muslim and Jewish students" to see that both radicalisation, hate speech against minorities and tension "just doesn't exist" on his campus.

He charges Michael Gove with being "out of touch" with the reality of student life on campus. It's a charge I would instead place against Professor Grant. In fact, as the former co-president of UCL's Jewish Society (with Tom Wilson), I can tell you that Professor Grant's claims are outright lies.

In November 2010, Tom met Professor Grant to raise concerns over a set of speakers invited to speak for the Islamic Society's Ramadan Conference. One speaker, Jalal Ibn Sa'eed, had been recorded stating: "Most of us are guilty… We selfishly live like the Jews who only care about themselves and call the rest the goyim, those who are damned, those who are enslaved to them."

Professor Grant proceeded to explain that he would look into this, yet nothing changed. This was despite the fact that the Union of Jewish Students and the Board of Deputies alerted UCL to their concerns, as did the former president of the LGBT society with regards the homophobic guests the Islamic Society had brought to speak on campus.

Such speakers continued to be brought in. It was left to the sabbatical officers of the Union, who were not out of touch, to take action.

Last year, when Jody McIntyre accused Israel of being a "cancer" in the Middle East at a UCL Friends of Palestine event, the sabbatical officers agreed that this was discriminatory against Jewish and Israeli students, thus breaking the Equality Act's protection from discrimination against any race, nationality and religion or belief. As a result the welfare board met, but Malcolm Grant didn't even address the problem.

As president I met members of UCL's academic and welfare boards, whose members included the vice provost, Rex Knight, and the dean of students (welfare), Ruth Siddall. They seemed appalled to hear what Professor Grant had allowed to happen on their campus; he hadn't informed them of the hate speech he knew was going on.

Some might say that the average student – one not involved in JSoc - wouldn't have been impacted by this. However ask any student who had to face an "apartheid wall" erected on campus by their Palestinian Society, or those who saw "Boycott Israel" posters plastered all over their union, if they truly felt that they were not affected.

Having graduated, I'm no longer involved in the Israel or Jewish Society at UCL. But as an MA student at the School of Oriental and African Studies I am still affected every time I enter my union and see anti-Israel literature emblazoned across the walls and leaflets strewn all over the tables. And if students aren't affected than why do so many call out to organisations such as StandWithUs for help on campus?

Maybe Malcolm Grant should stop trying to sweep the issue of hate speech on campus under the rug in the national press and actually attend a few events or read some of the literature posted by some of these societies.

Maybe then we will have some progress on campus with regard to tackling discrimination, extremism and hate speech.

Rosanna Rafel is a UCL graduate. She is studying for an MA in Near and Middle Eastern Studies at SOAS.

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Last updated: 12:36pm, October 19 2011