Monday, March 26, 2007

A coming free-speech dilemma for the Decents?

It looks as if the Decents may be in a bit of a pickle soon over freedom of speech on campus. As everyone is probably aware by now, they've been making a lot of noise about the decision of the University of Leeds to cancel a talk on Islamic antisemitism by German academic Matthias Küntzel. (See Küntzel himself at Engage, and Eve Garrard at Normblog.)

Meanwhile at Normblog again, Geras links to a Times article about government proposals (promoted by Decent poster-boy Denis MacShane) to combat antisemitism on campus. Except this seems to include the "extended" definition of antisemitism:

The government will warn vice-chancellors they must not ignore antiJewish activity on campuses and must prevent prejudiced lecturers, guest speakers and extremist political organisations stirring up hatred against Israel.

Personally, I think it was disgraceful of Leeds to ban Küntzel. If the Times article is accurate, then the government will be pushing universities to ban critics of Israel. The Küntzel ban really just reflects what pathetically conservative institutions universities are. In the face of the mere possibility of trouble, they're likely to play safe and stop a meeting from happening. Just as Islamic Societies tried to make a fuss about Küntzel, you can bet that JSocs will be calling on VCs to stop speakers of whom they disapprove. If Norman Finkelstein, say, gets disinvited, will the Decents protest?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Note also that the boycott campaigners are apparently going to lose the day by government order rather than democratically; I am actually pretty sure that Norm will come out against this one won't he?

3/26/2007 06:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There would appear to be a problem of definition here. What exactly is "stirring up hatred"? Do the following actions count as "stirring up hatred" of a country?

- falsely accusing a country of having links with Al-Qaida
- falsely accusing a country of having weapons of mass destruction
- accusing a country of being in violation of UN resolutions without specifying how
- encouraging newspapers to print pictures of the country's President alongside pictures of Hitler
- writing newspaper articles about a country which contain frequent uses of words such as "appeasement" "Munich" and "threat".

Perhaps someone could ask Denis?

3/26/2007 09:36:00 PM  
Blogger Dr Zen said...

What a thorough bullshitter McShane is. "Furthermore, the British National party is increasingly active on campuses."

That doesn't mean anyone's listening to them. Campuses are open to the public. Anyone can just walk in and hand out leaflets. McShane is, as is his wont, indulging in Decentist guilt by association.

I don't want Jewish students to be abused or have to face antisemitic graffiti but to be honest I don't give a shit about their feeling "isolated and unsupported".

Woolas is an arsehole too. He was preznit of the NUS when I was at uni. He's thoroughly political, if you know what I mean.

3/26/2007 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger Dr Zen said...

I should say, when I say I don't give a shit about Jewish students' feeling isolated, I mean that I don't care that they feel isolated because of anti-Israel sentiment. I care that anyone should feel unsupported if they do not receive sympathy on being abused or attacked. But I suspect that we are discussing students who don't like all the anti-Israel demos, speakers and meetings.

3/26/2007 10:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My fairly recent experience of University politics was that there was indeed quite a lot of anti-Israel sentiment, but an equally large number of people prepared to defend Israel. In any case, student politics was really quite easy to ignore, and most people did so.

I'd take Eve Garrard's interest in 'freedom of speech' more seriously if I felt it went beyond defending the right to make promiscuous (and usually unfounded) accusations of anti-semitism.

3/26/2007 10:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The organisers of Kuntzel's lecture failed to complete appropriate risk assessments for the safety of the people attending (despite being repeatedly asked to). They failed to put in place any stewards to assist those attending. Both of these requirements are standard to any meeting held in University facilities. The responsibility for cancellation of this lecture lies at the door of its organisers and no one else.

3/27/2007 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Both of these requirements are standard to any meeting held in University facilities

You know, I've attended any number of meetings of university chess clubs without anybody carrying out a risk assessment.

3/27/2007 02:19:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a the response, I received from Leeds Uni. Make of it what you will.

As the responsible officer, I write in response to your message of 18 March 2007. Dr Kuentzel’s proposed public lecture last Wednesday evening was cancelled neither for any reason of censorship nor because of pressure from any interest group. It was cancelled because the organisers did not give us enough notice to provide the normal level of portering, stewarding and security (around twenty people in total) for such an event. It is simply not true that we somehow capitulated to threats or complaints. As a matter of fact, we received no threats, and only a handful of complaints – fewer indeed than for a talk delivered on our campus the previous evening by an Israeli diplomat. The talk by the Israeli diplomat went ahead; the difference was that the organisers (the University’s Jewish Society) told us about that talk the week before and worked with us to make the necessary arrangements. Assuming that we are given enough notice, and appropriate logistical information, I know of no reason why Dr Kuentzel should not deliver his lecture in Leeds at a future date. For the record, and despite press reports to the contrary, the University did not in any way seek to prevent two other talks by Dr Kuentzel on (I believe) the same theme: as internal academic seminars, they did not require the same level of support as a large public meeting. I would refer you to a statement on the University’s website.

3/28/2007 02:19:00 AM  

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