Religious bigotry and censorship at LSE

October 6, 2013 at 10:39 am (academe, atheism, capitulation, Christianity, Civil liberties, Free Speech, grovelling, humanism, Islam, Jim D, relativism, religion, secularism, strange situations, students)

How has it come to this? And how is that some who regard themselves as on the “left” not only tolerate religious bigotry and censorship of this sort, but actively promote it?


Statement from the British Humanist Association

LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society incident at freshers’ fair

October 4th, 2013

Representatives of LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society have been threatened with removal from their University’s freshers’ fair by their Students’ Union after refusing to remove t-shirts depicting the online comic ‘Jesus and Mo’. The society’s members were threatened on the basis that the t-shirts were could be considered  ‘harassment’,  as  they  could  ‘offend  others’  by  creating  an  ‘offensive environment’.

In a statement, the students have explained:

‘When the LSE security arrived, we were asked to cover our t-shirts or leave LSE premises. When we asked for the rules and regulations we were in breach of, we were told that the LSE was being consulted about how to proceed. After a period of consultation, Kevin Haynes (LSE Legal and Compliance Team) and Paul Thornbury (LSE Head of Security) explained to us that we were not behaving in an “orderly and responsible manner”, and that the wearing of the t-shirt could be considered “harassment”, as it could “offend others” by creating an “offensive environment”. We asked what exactly was “offensive” about the t-shirts, and how the display of a non-violent and non-racist comic strip could be considered “harassment” of other students.

‘At the end of this conversation, five security guards started to position themselves around our stall. We felt this was a tactic to intimidate us. We were giving an ultimatum that should we not comply immediately, we would be physically removed from LSE property. We made it clear that we disagreed strongly with this interpretation of the rules, but that we would comply by covering the t-shirts… After that, the head of LSE security told us that as he believed that we might open the jackets again when was going to leave, two security guards were going to stay in the room to monitor our behaviour. These two security guards were following us closely when we went in and out of the room.’

You can see their statement of events on the second day.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA), commented, ‘The LSESU is acting in a totally disproportionate manner in their dealings with our affiliate society. That a satirical webcomic can be deemed to be so offensive as to constitute harassment is a sad indictment of the state of free speech at Britain’s Universities today. This hysteria on the part of the SU and University is totally unwarranted; intelligent young adults of whatever beliefs are not so sensitive that they need to be protected from this sort of material in an academic institution. Our lawyers are advising our affiliated society at LSE and we will be working with them, the students, and the AHS  to resolve this issue.’

The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies strongly condemns the actions of the LSESU. President Rory Fenton said, ‘Our member societies deserve and rightly demand the same freedom of speech and expression afforded to their religious counterparts on campus. Universities should be open to and tolerant of different beliefs, without exception. That a students’ union would use security guards to follow and intimidate their own members is deeply concerning and displays an inconsistent approach to free speech; if it is for some, it must be for all. The AHS will work with our partners at the British Humanist Association and National Secular Society to assist our affiliated society and seek engagement with both the LSESU and LSE itself. It is the duty of universities countrywide to respect their students’ rights, not their sensitivities.’


For further comment or information, please contact Andrew Copson on 07855 380 633 or Rory Fenton on 07403141133.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

Permalink 14 Comments

Workers Liberty students’ statement on the SWP at ULU

July 13, 2013 at 10:39 pm (AWL, Jim D, misogyny, reblogged, Socialist Party, students, SWP, trotskyism, women)

Marxism 2013

By Daniel Cooper, ULU Vice President, and Rosie Huzzard, NUS National Executive, on behalf of AWL Students

This year a large part of the SWP’s “Marxism 2013” event is taking place at University of London Union. This has led to controversy among ULU activists concerned and angry about the SWP’s handling of recent rape allegations against one of its leading members, including on the ULU executive. ULU has issued a statement.

The AWL is involved in ULU; Daniel is one of its four sabbatical officers, sitting on the executive as Vice President. Most of the rest of the ULU leadership is made up of comrades we work with closely, and whose anger at the SWP leadership’s recent conduct we entirely share. We therefore want to make our position clear. It is particularly important we do so as it has become evident that our thinking on this issue represents a minority position within the ULU executive.

The booking for “Marxism 2013” was made commercially through ULU’s booking department, which does not require prior authorisation from ULU’s political leadership to take bookings. We were the first ULU activists to notice this, about a month ago, and Daniel proposed to the ULU executive a) that the booking should not be cancelled and b) that ULU should issue a statement explaining this decision while also criticising the SWP’s record.

We did not argue against cancelling the booking on the grounds that it would be impossible or difficult to do so. We argued explicitly on the grounds that, while cancellation was possible, it was not the right thing to do. While there was eventually a majority against cancellation, most exec members did not share our broader thinking.

Our draft for the ULU statement linked the SWP leadership’s behaviour in the rape case to the organisation’s more general political trajectory – what the AWL has elsewhere called “apparatus Marxism”, ie putting perceived organisational advantage and organisational self-defence above assessing things in the world clearly and above political principles, in this case the principles of transparent and democratic functioning, accountability of leaders and women’s rights. Read the rest of this entry »

Permalink 3 Comments

Galloway exposes himself …

February 21, 2013 at 5:15 pm (anti-semitism, Asshole, Galloway, israel, Jim D, Racism, Respect, students)

… as a racist and antisemite

It’ll be interesting to see whether anyone who is not an avowed or obvious antisemite is prepared to defend Galloway over this:

From (Oxford students’ online magazine) Wednesday 20th February 2013:

George Galloway has been accused of ‘pure racism’ by his debate opponent after ‘storming out’ of Christ Church.

George Galloway, the Respect MP for Bradford West, has been accused by Oxford students of anti-semitism.

Mr Galloway “stormed out” of a debate at Christ Church on Wednesday evening, upon finding out that his opponent, Eylon Aslan-Levy, a third-year PPEist at Brasenose, was an Israeli citizen.

Mr Galloway had spoken for ten minutes in favour of the motion ‘Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank’, before giving way to Aslan-Levy.

Less than three minutes into Aslan-Levy’s speech against the motion, Galloway was made aware that his opponent was an Israeli citizen.

“I have been misled,” Mr Galloway then commented, interrupting Aslan-Levy’s speech. “I don’t debate with Israelis”. He then left the room with his wife, Putri Gayatri Pertiwi, and was escorted out of Christ Church by a college porter. When prompted to explain why Aslan-Levy’s nationality prompted him to abandon the debate, Galloway stated that “I don’t recognize Israel.”

In a statement late on Wednesday evening Galloway explained that “I refused this evening to debate with an Israeli, a supporter of the Apartheid state of Israel.

“The reason is simple; No recognition, No normalisation. Just Boycott, divestment and sanctions, until the Apartheid state is defeated.” Mr Galloway is a leading political proponent of the campaign to ‘boycott’ Israeli goods, services and – it emerged tonight – people.

After the debate Aslan-Levy said that “I am appalled that an MP would storm out of a debate with me for no reason other than my heritage.
“To refuse to talk to someone just because of their nationality is pure racism, and totally unacceptable for a member of parliament.”
Mahmood Naji, the organiser of the debate, told Cherwell that he “condemned Mr Galloway’s walkout, on the basis of his opponent’s nationality.”
He went on to deny that he had “misled” the MP. “At no point during my email exchange with Mr Galloway’s secretary was Eylon’s nationality ever brought up or mentioned.” He added, “nor do I expect to have to tell the speaker what his opponent’s nationality is.”

Permalink 150 Comments

Bring back the pamphlet!

October 28, 2012 at 6:07 pm (AWL, Education, internet, literature, Marxism, publications, socialism, students, trotskyism, youth)

By Martin Thomas of Workers Liberty


Material conditions for socialist education and self-education are better than they’ve ever been. Much socialist literature which previously you could read only if you could get into a good library is now freely available on the web. Vastly more has been translated.

Thanks to second-hand book sales moving onto the web, printed books which you’d previously find only by searching second-hand shops are now also easily available.

Thirty years ago, if a newcomer started reading the Communist Manifesto, and wondered who Metternich and Guizot were, they were on their own. These days the Workers’ Liberty website alone has more study guides and aids, available free on any internet-connected computer, than the whole of the left could offer then anywhere or at any price.

Even without a study guide, Google will tell you in seconds who Metternich and Guizot were. And Marx’s declaration, “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves” — maybe you thought it was in the Manifesto? You can check in a minute where he wrote it, what the context was, how exactly he put it.

Today 52% of young women, and 42% of young men, go through university. Not so long ago, many new recruits to the socialist movement would have left school at 14 or 15, and would at first find the language of the Marxist classics difficult.

Today many socialists have been trained as teachers, learning techniques which they can bring over from their paid work into our study sessions. In the old days it was often the straight lecture, or just collectively reading aloud.

It’s a lot easier to be a well-read socialist now than it used to be. Yet active, intelligent, university-educated young people in the AWL today usually read less than our young activists did 35 or 40 years ago. (We collected statistics).

Even the better-read young activists do not own their own little library of the classic Marxist texts, ready to lend out to new people who show interest, as they automatically would have done decades ago.

To do better, I think, we have to make a deliberate effort to bring reading pamphlets back into daily political life.

The root of the problem, I think, is that social science and humanities university education today often works to deter people from serious study rather than help them towards it.

I have a daughter about to finish a university degree in psychology. She is a conscientious and competent student. Yet her course has never required her to read a single book on psychology, rather than bits and pieces from the web.

Her university campus has a good library. The newer campus of the same university has a library with hardly any books. Most of its space is taken up by computers.

With the huge expansion in academic publishing, no university degree can cover more than a small fraction of the literature in its subject. So lecturers go for the easily available, the quick summary, the overview, the extract, the digest.

Research shows that on average people reading things from the web take in only one-sixth as much as when reading print. So what? The skill of quickly skimming a range of material, taking in a suitable one-sixth of it, and rehashing it fluently in an essay or assignment, is what employers want, not deep specialised knowledge.

The system thus works to deter people from deep study of substantive texts, rather than processed rehashes, and to train them in the idea that the deep study is too difficult.

Then, if the student comes into the socialist movement, the way to seem on top of the current debates is to skim blogs and Facebook, not to read books.

In the 1960s, by contrast, socialist meetings would have stalls piled with pamphlets. For Trotsky and Luxemburg we depended on pamphlets printed in Sri Lanka, which at that time had the world’s strongest English-language Trotskyist movement, but we had them.

The serious activist would always have one or another pamphlet in her or his bag or coat pocket; anyone who attended socialist meetings at all often would check out at least the main pamphlets.

There is no cause to idealise the system of socialist education which depended on pamphlets. Still, pamphlet-reading did something. It inserted serious study into the main flow of socialist activity. The pamphlets were in every activist’s bag or coat pocket, on every stall. If you wanted to know more than the minimum, your course of action was clear and ready to hand, and involved serious study, not one-in-six skimming. It gave a frame of more-or-less known references for debates.

We should use the new possibilities, but also bring back the pamphlet.

Permalink 56 Comments

NUS to ‘no-platform’ Benn and Galloway?

September 26, 2012 at 8:34 pm (AWL, Feminism, Free Speech, Galloway, Jackie Mcdonough, men, misogyny, strange situations, students, SWP)

The Last WikiLeaks Supper

Above: the Messiah Julian and his rape-denying disciples, including Benn and Galloway

The expression “hoist with one’s own petard” springs to mind:

(from the Counterfire‘ website):

Leading anti-war campaigner and socialist Tony Benn will be ‘no platformed’ like Tommy Robinson of the racist EDL and Nick Griffin of the fascist BNP if a motion to the National Union of Students gets passed this week. If local student unions follow the national union then Tony Benn may be refused a platform in any student union in the country.

Refusing to allow fascists a platform has long been the policy of the left and the student movement. But in a remarkably ill-thought out move the National Executive of NUS is about to apply the same policy to Tony Benn and Respect MP George Galloway.

The reasons given for this unusual step are comments they made about the charge that Wikileaks whistleblower Julian Assange raped two women in Sweden. The motion states that Galloway ‘referred to a man inserting his penis into a sleeping woman as, “bad sexual etiquette’ and that Tony Benn said of the Assange case, “the charges are that it was a non-consensual relationship. Well that’s very different from rape”.’

Tony Benn has since, at the request of Goldsmith Students Union, of which he is the honoury president, retracted his remarks, apologised and restated his life-long commitment to women’s liberation. But still the NUS is persisting with its resolution.

The comments in both Galloway’s and Benn’s cases are of course wrong. It is wrong to state that non-consensual sex is not rape, and it was wrong to try to defend Assange from extradition by dismissing the claims of the women involved.

But beyond this, there is a fundamental problem by responding to these comments by trying to no platform Benn and Galloway. ‘No platform’ is an exceptional position that the Left has typically campaigned for Unions and other organisations to adopt in the fight against Fascism.

It is an unprecedented departure from the left’s defence of freedom of speech on the grounds that there can be no free speech for those who would deny such freedoms to others. There can be no democracy for those who would use genocide and extermination to end democracy.

These conditions clearly do not apply in this case. It is the exceptional danger posed by Fascism that prompted the tactic of no platform to be applied exclusively to fascists. To apply it indiscriminately to other political views we oppose means fascists cannot be isolated by the no platform policy as an exceptional threat.

Backward ideas about rape are profoundly upsetting and damaging to the fight against women’s oppression. However, the prevalence of these ideas (which the motion acknowledges) points to the fact that they stem from the sexist society in which we live. Therefore it is within society that we have to fight these ideas.

Surely it is much better to have Tony Benn, a figure that many people look up to as an inspiration, apologise and restate his commitment to women’s liberation as he has done, than to let damaging remarks remain unretracted where they can continue to damage and distract our movement. This is a fight we can win – we can change people’s minds, we can challenge sexism in our movement.

Astoundingly, if the writers of the motion genuinely believe these remarks have put Benn and Galloway beyond the pale, then there are a lot of people missing who should be named in this motion.

While the motion makes brief reference to Roger Helmer (UKIP MEP) and Andrew Brons (an MEP for the fascist BNP and a former leader of the fascist National Front), why are the members of the Coalition government who are overseeing massive cuts to rape crisis and domestic violence services not in this motion?

Why not the whole of the Cambridge Union Society who invited Dominique Strauss-Kahn to speak there earlier this year? Why not those government ministers whose refusal to demand that Assange will not be extradited from Sweden to the US is effectively prolonging the injustice to the women involved? All these people have gone far further than to make an offensive remark.

What’s more, the NUS would not dream of no platforming war criminal Tony Blair. And the NUS quite regularly opens its platforms to Zionists. In this context the attempt to no platform Tony Benn and Galloway looks absurd.

And why is the NUS, which has let its members down so badly over the fight against fees and cuts, not organising against the closure of rape crisis centres? Where are the leaflets, the posters, the protests, the pickets and the demos?

Tony Benn was a wholehearted supporter of the student movement of 2010. Which is more than the NUS executive can claim. It would be better if the NUS spent less time either censuring or no platforming Tony Benn and George Galloway and more time actually defending its members.


A response from AWL students, here.

Permalink 7 Comments

Some thoughts on the situation at London Met

September 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm (Anti-Racism, AWL, Education, Human rights, immigration, Jim D, students)

This is a short commentary on the development of the London Met/UKBA situation written by Workers’ Liberty Student, Vice-President of the Liverpool Guild of Students 2011-12 and NCAFC National Committee member Bob Sutton. It has been produced in order to provoke discussion about how to best resist the deportations that seem likely to result from what has happened at London Metropolitan University. It is not a finished blueprint for a campaign, but an attempt to raise important questions, suggestions and contribute to the debate.

This has been produced ahead of this weekend’s National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts activist training event at the School of Oriental and African Studies where student anti-cuts activists from across the country will be discussing issues across Higher Education. Due to the emergency situation at London Met a good chunk of the agenda – at 11.00 today and 10.30 tomorrow, has been given over to talk about it.

 It has also been circulated widely amongst other activists in order to share ideas. If people in London are in a position to get to SOAS this weekend (nearest tube Russell Square) to contribute, they would be welcome.

 Some preliminary thoughts on London Met 

Myself and ULU President Daniel Cooper, along with other activists from the NCAFC, were at the silent protest outside Downing Street on Thursday morning.

While it is clearly important that there was a quick and visible response to the news from the night before, and the placards which sought to expose the hypocrisy of the government’s trumpeting of the Olympics, as an example of how Britain was a place which welcomed the world, were good, there was also cause for concern.

The demo had been called after a night in which the Executive of the London Met Students’ Union had been up half the night responding to individual students’ worried calls an emails, at a meeting at ten that morning between LMSU and the National Union of Students.

LMSU were reportedly warned against any action which might risk ‘external’ activists ‘hijacking’ the campaign – echoing the line the NUS leadership had taken since LM’s status had been suspended and permanent termination was looming.

It is probably worth saying at this point, that Workers’ Liberty, and many others across the student and workers’ movements are almost certainly amongst the kind of people the national leadership are referring to: Socialists, anti-racists, anti-deportation campaigners and class-struggle activists who would see the attack on London Metropolitan’s international students as part of the governments wider attack on black and migrant people, and any idea of public education.

If the NUS are worried about people not wanting to limit the campaign to lobbying and appealing to the idea that international students are ‘good immigrants’ who work hard and make shedloads of money for the British economy – they are right. We are for the right of everyone to come and stay here; to work, to study, to seek a better life or escape persecution. Those who come here to learn should not have to face being subject to surveillance or charged exorbitant fees.

From speaking to the LM students, it transpired that the University had sent out no formal correspondence to them. However, when they had tried to contact, University administration had told them they could not register. All they offered was help in finding alternatives studying at other universities – in effect washing their hands of them.

As it stands, students will be left isolated as individuals seeking to find themselves an alternative university [albeit with some help from whatever the provided assistance ends up looking like]. I had thought that there would be many who would simply not find places elsewhere, although I may be wrong about this – other Unis may well be prepared to sign up more cash-cows!

Even if the London Met ‘refugees’ do find places elsewhere, that will still mean a university has had to expel its entire non-EU student body and faces near or total collapse: students lives massively disrupted and those staff and students left behind almost certainly facing further course cuts, closures and job losses.

There is the further issue that, for many international students, their funding from their home countries is dependant on their studies not being interrupted or falling below a consistent level of high grades. Again this is something it would be good to get a better picture of, but it may well be the case that sponsors will not pay for tuition fees at a different university – let alone any increased living costs.

How to build a campaign?

There was a demonstration yesterday morning. I don’t have a clear picture of how it went. What is certainly the case is that after the demonstration on Thursday, NUS international Officer —– held a meeting with the LMSU President and one of the Vice-Presidents which NUS International Committee member Arianna Tassinari and, for that matter, anyone else who’d been at the demonstration, was excluded.

The single most important factor that will determine whether we win or not, will be that the students affected, the some 2,600 International students at London Met, are able to discuss openly and frankly amongst each other and their supporters about how the campaign is run. I don’t know yet how LMSU plan to get these people, or at least as many as possible, in one room at one time to have that discussion, but it needs to happen quickly. It needs to be run by the students themselves rather than decided in small meetings of the sabbatical team and the NUS officers and staff.

Something which I also think is massively important is that as many students as possible are on campus when term starts. Universities often make cuts, redundancies and other unpopular decisions during the summer in the hope that no-one will a) notice or b) be able to do anything about it. One of the reasons they will have done this now is that students are on their own spread across the world and separated from the ‘home’ students, students from other universities, staff and all the people who might be able to stop this from happening if they stood together. Everyone has the legal right to remain in the UK until the end of October when the 60-day period after the removal of trusted status (29/9). As many people as possible should be in and around the campus as much as possible, building links and building the campaign to stop the deportations before that point.

What do we want?

Again, the demands of the campaign will need to be something that develops by those who are fighting. But there are a few things which I think are important or worth thinking about:


Obviously, the central thing we want is for the UKBA reverse its decision to terminate trusted status and grant all London Met students the right to be here. One thing which I think might be worth bearing in mind, is whether to call such a thing an ‘Amnesty’. Amnesty suggests a one-off, an exception. I don’t think everyone who has used the term has meant it in this way, but I think we need to talk about in a way which does not cut against the fact that we think everyone should be allowed to stay here.

London Metropolitan University 

The fact that London Met management has so easily abrogated any responsibility towards its students is disgusting. They should still be treated as London Met students. It is the University that has taken the decision to deny students access to their lectures, the library etc. Obviously they have said that they have no choice and that they will not be legally allowed to register these ‘illegal’ students officially. But it is their choice to police these things, to fail to do anything to try and get around it, and to tell people there is no point coming back to London. Any self-respecting educator would see it as their job to defend their students rather than accept without a fight. The idea that it was by being ‘too lax’ on foreign students which got them into this mess, and that the way to get out of it is by being even more draconian is absolutely perverse. Immigration laws in Britain have been getting more and more repressive for over 20 years. The way to stop them is not to bend over backwards for them!


The UCU – the lecturers Trade Union, has long-standing policy that academics should refuse to comply with the registering of attendance which. In recent years many Universities, including London Met, have installed hi-tech electronic scanners which take control of monitoring out of the hands of ordinary staff and therefore much more difficult to oppose. Despite this, we should have a serious discussion about how lecturers can best help get students back into lecture theatres – to talk to their classmates as much as to continue their studies.

Other Universities

I have already talked about how crap a solution getting students into other universities is. However I don’t think that means we should not necessarily demand other unis, or Universities UK, the organisation of all University heads, commit unconditionally to taking on all London Met students. The reason this could be important is that it gives people around the country a focus in campaigning at their own institutions. How we do this without accepting the pulling of the plug on London Met is something to be thrashed out.

Where next

A demonstration that is widely publicised and encourages the local community, staff, students from other campuses and other activists is essential to maintain the momentum and the widespread outrage this has caused. If people do not here about a campaign they can get involved in they will assume it is dead.

This should be used to get people into a meeting to build the campaign.

Dan Cooper is keen to build a meeting at ULU around resisting immigration controls – this has been an issue at London Universities for some time. At SOAS, where we are meeting this weekend, in 2009 the UKBA in collaboration with the University management and the cleaning agency ISS stormed the building with riot police and deported several cleaning workers. There was an occupation of the Vice-Chancellors office. At points in London there have been powerful anti-deportation campaigns which have had some success at stopping removals and we need to discuss those lessons. There isn’t a date pinned down yet but we should have one soon.

In Solidarity

Bob Sutton 1/9/12

Permalink 1 Comment

London Met and overseas students

August 30, 2012 at 12:56 pm (Education, Guest post, immigration, internationalism, London, Pink Prosecco, students)

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

As long as they are following a legitimate course of study, have the appropriate qualifications (including a good command of English of course) and have no criminal propensities – international students should be welcomed with open arms to the UK.  As well as bringing important income to universities, they also bring different perspectives and experiences which enrich the student experience for all. 

The Coalition government has sometimes seemed determined to do whatever it can to make life difficult for universities, and its grudging attitude towards foreign students is just one example of this trend:

However it is not as yet clear, to me, what to make of the recent news that London Metropolitan University is no longer to be allowed to sponsor students from outside the UK.

If concerns over issues such as students taking on too much paid work or not having an appropriate level of English were raised six months ago and have not yet been addressed – perhaps the decision is not unreasonable, although it is clearly going to cause huge stress to many students who have done nothing wrong.  However the fact that this story was leaked to the Sunday Times, before London Met itself was notified, reinforces suspicions that supporting the university, and its many students, is not a top priority for the government.  However, that does not mean that London Met is beyond criticism, by any means.

Here’s a statement from London Met Unison:

Permalink 6 Comments

Vitae, or losing the will to live.

April 30, 2012 at 7:49 pm (academe, Education, students)

Guest post from Pink Prosecco

When visiting a friend who teaches at a university, I found myself looking at a printout of a strange pie chart. It looked at first glance like something produced by a cult targeting the terminally insecure, offering various paths to self-improvement and enlightenment. However it turned out to be a diagram presenting the skill sets required by postgraduate researchers.

An idle google brought up a whole website full of further documentation about this framework, produced by Vitae. It seems that there are 63 skills, each of which can be further subdivided into five levels of attainment. I was reminded of this (begins 12:30 minutes in).

Some people will leap on any opportunity to avoid what they should be doing in favour of peripheral preliminaries – and it’s very easy to imagine a certain type of student striving for perfection in all these areas, going up the levels like a Dungeon and a Dragons character – rather than actually producing a thesis.

Given the hike in student fees and the loss of the EMA – the production of this obsessively elaborate scheme and its reams of associated documentation didn’t seem like the best use of public money. My friend seemed to be drowning in grant applications, marking, publishing deadlines, research audits, and countless other still more thankless tasks. Bureaucrats have plenty of time to produce superfluous schemes, new hoops for everyone to jump through – but lecturers seem to have no time to fight back. But perhaps they – and their students – don’t want to? I’m surprised to find no critical or simply satirical comment on this – not because I think what it’s saying and promoting is particularly objectionable – simply because it seems so cumbersome and unnecessary.

Permalink 2 Comments

Why I (allegedly) changed my name “to seem Muslim”

April 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm (AWL, Jim D, perversity, sectarianism, secularism, stalinism, students, SWP, truth)

The following appears in the present issue of Solidarity & Workers Liberty. Until a few years ago I would have had difficulty believing the truth of what the writer claims (or at least suspected him of wild exaggeration), but sadly it rings all too true these days. And not just about the SWP, but also other degenerate, hysterical and petit bourgeois sections of the “left” including certain blogs:

Recently, someone I know through my student AWL comrades told me about a claim a prominent student SWP member had made about me. This SWPer had told her that I changed my name to Sacha Ismail in order to sound more Muslim: the implication being that I was seeking to cover up or mitigate the AWL’s supposedly “Islamophobic” – in fact secularist, anti-racist – politics. My original name, believe it or not, was John Smith.

(Just to be clear, Sacha Ismail is my real name. My father is Bangladeshi and my full name is Alexander Salim Ismail. Sacha is short for Alexander.)

In itself, this is just ludicrous and bit bizarre – not worth mentioning in print, let alone writing an article about. I am writing about it by way of introduction to a more general point, because it seems almost emblematic of the surreal torrent of lies which gets poured out against the AWL by some others on the left – particular the SWP, and particularly in the weird world of student politics.

Unfortunately, most of these lies are more significant than me changing my name. There are so many that it’s hard to know where to start. The AWL supports the presence of Israeli troops in the Occupied Territories; we support an Israeli attack on Iran; we think Islam is worse than other religions… I have even been told, on Facebook, that we drag Muslim people into bars in order to throw them out (yes, you read that right – that was from the same person who said my name is John Smith). The claims made by a small number of “left-wingers” run on and on, becoming more and more hysterical and implausible. God knows what gets said behind our backs, when we can’t respond.

Let’s take one example which is clear and instructive.

At the National Campaign and Fees and Cuts conference, there was a motion proposed by members of various left groups to oppose war and sanctions on Iran. It said nothing about the character of the Iranian regime or solidarity with its victims. We proposed a four line amendment stating our solidarity with the struggles of students, workers, women and national minorities in Iran (see here), which passed. Because of this, the SWP, Counterfire and others who had originally proposed the motion voted against it! That was bad enough. But it was not all.

SWP student leader Mark Bergfeld got up and told the conference AWL students had proposed the amendment because the AWL supports war on Iran! This was despite the fact that our amendment didn’t remove a single word from the original motion. And despite the fact that in his speech for the amendment our comrade Bob Sutton began with our opposition to war and sanctions and repeated it several times.

It so happened that the back page of our paper that week also included a headline: “No to war and sanctions” – pretty clear evidence of our position, you would think.

The point is that members of the SWP, rather than debating their real diffrences with opponents on the left, particularly the AWL, regularly slander them. In the case of the Iran debate, they probably felt under particular pressure to do so, because their position – opposing any solidarity with Iranian students, workers etc as pro-imperialist – is really pretty embarrassing. Easier to claim the AWL is pro-war than to defend that.

If SWPers made arguments along the lines of: “We think the AWL’s opposition to war on Iran is unreliable. Despite stating they oppose an attack, they published an article saying Israel had good reason to strike Iran’s nuclear program. Is that a record we can trust? In any case, this is why we believe their stance on solidarity, despite its good intentions, weakens the thrust of the anti-war position we are trying to put forward…” – that would be wrong (in our view, of course), but at least a respect-worthy attempt to actually debate us. Why don’t they do that? I think partly because many of them are not very confident in their own arguments, and partly because slandering opponents is increasingly part of their political DNA.

My student comrades also experienced this kind of nonsense in the election for University of London Union Vice President (see here). AWL member Daniel Lemberger Cooper, who won the election, was accused of all kinds of ridiculous things by campaigners for his opponent, SWP member Ross Speer, including being a racist and a sexist. (The large number of black, anti-racist and feminist activists who backed him across London, and particularly at his university Royal Holloway, obviously disagreed.)

I’m not sure why this kind of dishonesty and sectarianism is worse in the student movement than the labour movement. But I suspect it may be to do with the fact that people stay in the student movement for relatively brief periods of time. In the labour movement, where people often work together, in the same workplaces, industries and unions, for many years, there is a built-in tendency against this sort of behaviour. If SWPers in the NUT or Unison, for instance, regularly called us racist, they would much more quickly discredit themselves in the eyes of union activists. In the student movement too, though, the SWP’s behaviour alienates a lot of people: which is one of the reasons that most independent left activists, including many who disagree with us about issues like Palestine, backed Daniel Cooper in the ULU election.

And on the other hand, there is lying and dishonesty on the left in the labour movement as well. In all cases, the willingness of the SWP and others on the left to tell lies about their opponents poisons the political atmosphere. Cut it out, comrades! Let’s debate our differences openly and honestly instead.

-Sacha Ismail, South London

Permalink 9 Comments

Let’s All Go To Evil University

June 9, 2011 at 4:04 pm (Education, intellectuals, Max Dunbar, students)

I’m in favour of free education at the point of use, including tertiary education. However I am a little bemused at the mad beserker reaction to A C Grayling’s decision to open a tiny and very expensive private humanities college.

If you haven’t heard about this, the college will be based in Bloomsbury, with fees of £18,000pa and some kind of scholarship programme.

From far left reaction you would have thought that Lord Voldemort himself had risen from his Horcruxes to set up a Slytherin Academy of Pure Evil (with Dark Arts BTec).

Here’s an example of what I mean. A couple of nights ago Grayling spoke at a discussion about arts funding cuts held at Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross. According to Index on Censorship, which covered the event, Grayling ‘had behaved impeccably in the debate, and had even offered to stay on afterwards to discuss objections to his college.’ Protestors had other ideas:

Not content with calling out ‘You have no right to speak’ and ‘You should be defending public education not deserting it’, towards the end of the discussion one protestor let off a smoke bomb that filled the room with acrid red fumes, forcing the bookshop to evacuate the 100 or so people attending the event.

With this one gesture the activists against Grayling guaranteed that their objections would not be taken seriously. They may as well have danced into the bookshop in waistcoats and doubloons, banging drums, waving feather boas on sticks, and going ‘Flip flip flip’. It is silliness du jour.

Terry Eagleton complains that Grayling is setting a precedent for ‘a system of US-type private liberal arts colleges’ that will ‘relegate an already impoverished state university system to second-class status.’ But I suspect that there is more to the outrage than the fair principle of defending the public against the private. Eagleton, after all, delivered Yale’s Dwight H Terry lecture and Yale’s press published his pro-faith drivel.

No, there is an ideological thing going on here. Grayling and Richard Dawkins, another lecturer at Evil University, are hated by Eagleton, and similar far left academics, because they stand up to the religious right. Eagleton’s big objection to Evil University is apparently that there will be no theology department, and that Tariq Ali will not be able to get a job there. More:

Grayling peddles a Just So version of English history, breathtaking in its crudity and complacency, in which freedom has been on the rise for centuries and has only recently run into trouble. Dawkins touts a simple-minded, off-the-peg version of Enlightenment in which people in the west have all been getting nicer and nicer, and would have ended up as civilised as an Oxford high table were it not for a nasty bunch of religious fundamentalists.

Would there be the same shrieks of pious rage, I wonder, if a similar university was set up, charging the same rates, but staffed by religious/totalitarian sympathisers of Eagleton’s kind, many of whom have long been riding high on the theocratic petrodollar? I doubt it.

In education what matters is what works. For me the two big requirements of a school, college or university should be that a) it should give bright people from low incomes a chance to shine and b) it should not be a tool for doctrinaires and brainwashers of any kind.

Grayling and his friends deserve a fair hearing, if Saif Gaddafi and some Christian used car salesman get one.

Update: Two interesting and reasonable blog articles on this, one from the lawyer Charon QC, another from the American academic Sarah Churchwell. Plus, update on reactions and developments from the New Humanist.

Welcome to Professor Dawkins Neocon Imperalist University, where we play Quidditch with the heads of postmodernist academics.

Permalink 12 Comments

Next page »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 479 other followers