Free speech: the slippery slope

March 16, 2007 at 11:36 pm (Jim D)

There has been little coverage in the mainstream media (the London Times being the exception) of the cancellation by Leeds University of a lecture by leading German academic Dr Matthias Kuntzel.

Dr Kuntzel was due to have spoken this week on the subject of Islamic anti-semitism, but his lecture was called off by the University because, it told the Times, ‘proper arrangements for stewarding the meeting had not been made’.

Dr Kuntzel, a research assistant at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s  Vidal Sassoon International Centre for the Study of Antisemitism, and a former adviser to the German Green Party, was not impressed by Leeds’ explanation:

“I have lectured in lots of countries on this subject. I gave the same talk at Yale University recently, and this is the first time I have been invited to lecture in the UK. Nothing like this has ever happened before -this is censorship”.

“It is a controversial area but I am accustomed to debate. I value the integrity of academic debate and I feel that it really is in danger here. This is a very important subject and if you cannot address it on university property, then what is a university for?”

Ahmed Sawalem, president of the Leeds University’s Islamic Society, told the Times “The title of the talk (originally “Hitler’s Legacy: Islamic anti-Semitism in the Middle East“, later changed at the request of the University authorities to “The Nazi Legacy: the Export of anti-Semitism to the Middle East”) is provocative and I have searched the internet to read his writings and they are not very pleasant (presumably he is referring to this, the most readily accessed of Kuntzel’s writings). However, Mr Sawalem insisted that “we are not opposed to freedom of expression. We just sent a complaint, we did not ask for the talk to be cancelled”.

Assuming that Mr Sawalem is telling the truth, then why the hell did the University authorities cancel the lecture? Had they received other, more menacing communications from those who found the title of the talk “provocative”? Or was this simply an act of cowardly self-censorship by the University? Either way, it’s a salutary lesson in slippery slopes for those who allowed concerns about giving “offense” and meretricious complaints of “racism”, to persuade them to sell the pass on free speech during the Danish cartoons row.

You can read the paper that Dr Kuntzel would have based his talk on, here.

43 Comments

  1. Will said,

    “There has been little coverage in the mainstream media (the London Times being the exception) of the cancellation by Leeds University of a lecture by leading German academic Dr Matthias Kuntzel.”

    bullshit. there has now.

    You will be accused of being a racist now by John Game* (but he is a fuckwit).

    *(Lick my scrotum you fucking racist)

  2. Renegade Eye said,

    That type of self censorship is epidemic now.

    I wonder if they would book an Iranian mullah to speak?

  3. Will said,

    The same Leeds University as the Leeds University which has gone into the business of deciding who is a Jew —

    Click to access nov_referendum_motions.pdf

  4. Will said,

    Why the eqivalence with Iranian Mullah’s Ren? Kuntzel is a proper academic not some obscurantist fucking nutjob.

  5. http://modernityblog.blogspot.com said,

    Hang on, I’ll bet that JohnG suggests that antisemitism exported to the Middle East is really a cunning plan of the Western powers, and that Germany was not really to blame, nor were Germany’s allies in the region

    or maybe not? Tell us JohnG!

    Let’s not forget that Egypt was a bolt-hold for Nazis in the post WW2 period.

    PS: Volt, any chance of a preview option on the comments pages?

  6. Jules said,

    Modernity – any chance of you ever writing anything that makes any sense?

  7. charliethechulo said,

    Will: I agree, but I think Ren’s point is that Leeds Uni probably *would* allow an Iranian Mullah to speak…

  8. Jules said,

    Yeah, and they probably stone gay students and have seminars on suicide bombing!

  9. charliethechulo said,

    That’s the SWP Student Society for you, Jules!

    Btw: a certain SWP’er at SOAS (not Leeds) *has* been known to express sympathy with suicide bombers. But then, he’d reply “so has Cheri Blair”.

    The point being that Ren’s comment is not so off the wall.

  10. Jules said,

    Maybe according to your Islamophobic fantasies Charlie boy…

  11. Jim Denham said,

    Charlies’s comments are not fantasies, Juley boy: SWP academics and students *have* defended/justified suicide bombings; they *have* stated that Israeli civilains are legitmate targets; they *have* defended the Iranian regime as “more democratic” than America (Lenny “Lenin”, btw), they *are* in alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood, both in Egypt (via rees at the Cairo conferences) and in the UK (via the MAB/ British Muslim Initiative), they *have* defended Ken Livingstone’s welcoming of a leading homophobic and anti-women Islamic cleric…so what’s “Islamophobic” about imagining them welcoming an Iranian mullah?

  12. Jules said,

    Jimmy, the remarks made by Renegade Eye and backed up Charlie were originally about Leeds Universtiy welcoming Iranian mullahs not the SWP. Alot of your remarks about the SWP are hearsay and i’d like links and context before I draw any conclusion from them.

    It is however not the case that the SWP are in an alliance with the British Muslim Initiative. In fact the SWP/Respect have been fairly dismissive of the BMI and have effectively set up its own Muslim front organisation through the StWC Muslim Network. In any case I wouldn’t see anything wrong with forming an alliance with the BMI against Islamophobia and racism.

  13. Jim Denham said,

    Jules:
    1/ The SWP most certainly *are* in alliance with the MAB – indeed, they (the SWP), were the major force in promoting it in Britain. Leading members of the MAB are involved in the “British Muslim Initiative”, and as far as I can undertstand, it’s a front for the MAB; but if I’m wrong, please correct me (eg; if the BMI is an attempt by the MAB to break away from the SWP…)
    2/ The SWP as a whole, and their student wing, in particular, have a record of playing down or denying, anti- semitism: I’ve already had cause to take up John Game on this matter…several of the examples I gave in my previous posting related to him.
    3/ The latest example of SWP-student nonsense on these matters is (according to Sasha Ismail in the present edition of the AWL’s “Solidarity” paper), that SWP students at both Manchester Uni and SOAS have submitted resolutions to the NUS arguing that anti-semitism doesn’t just effect Jews, but muslims too:
    ismail comments: “It’s difficult to know where to begin. Of course Muslims must be defended against racism and bigotry. But so bizarre is this point about anti-semitism that it is hard to see how it could be motivated by anything other than a desire to downplay racism against Jewish people”.

    I could, also tell you about my own, student, experience of Tony Cliff’s gloating joy in baiting jewish students at Birmingham University…

  14. voltaires_priest said,

    Jules:

    Why do you think they wouldn’t book an Iranian Mullah to speak?

  15. Jules said,

    Jim,

    If Sasha’s report is accurate (and I hestitate to rely on the accounts of rival student factions) then the wording of the SOAS motions was rather silly. Although the term anti-semitism is problematic, in common parlance it means anti-jewish racism, and that’s how it should be used accordingly. It seems from reading Sasha’s article that the motions were not submitted in the end so it sounds like another storm in a teacup to me. On challanging the EUMC definition of anti-semitism, I think that is legitimate given that some parts of it could potentially brand critics of Israel as anti-semitic.

    I also can’t see a reason why Leeds Uni should have prevented Kuntzel from delivering his lecture. From what I’ve read his thesis is fairly flawed but that’s no reason to censor him. What I object to is the way the cancellation of his speech has quickly been jumped upon to whip up Islamophobia (by the likes of Harry’s Place and co) even though there is no evidence that muslims had any part in stopping him from speaking. This has been reflected in these comments boxs with “they’ll be inviting the mad mullahs next” style posts.

  16. Jules said,

    Better question VP – why do you think they would?

  17. Jim Denham said,

    Jules: I don’t know whether the Leeds Uni authorities’ decision to stop Kuntzen’s lecture was as a direct result of Islamicist thretats, or as a result of ‘pre-emptive’ cowardice. Quite possibly it was the latter. But. you are boeing disingenious if you are tring to make out that Muslim threats (starting with the ‘Stanic Verses’) against the principle of free speech, have not been the major factor in the lliberal backing off from free speech in recent years. Sure, it is true that other religious reactionaries, like the Sikhs, Catholics and the miserable Anglicans, have followed in the Muslims’ slipstream in demanding special privileges for their own particular supersticions: but it is the vigorous, expansionist muslim religion that is making the running against free speech, democracy and enlightenment values. Therefore it is quite correct for marxists to identify political Iaslam as the main enemy.

  18. Jules said,

    Ah Jim, now it starts to get interesting. So the main enemy now is the “vigorous, expansionist muslim religion” – frankly this is an alarming sentiment for a supposed socialist. Reality check – muslims in Britain make up under 3% of the population, many don’t even have decent jobs or housing, let alone any political influence over the country. They are also the current main target of the fascists and the rightwing media.

    I thought the main enemy for socialists was “our” ruling class. You know the ones that created the blood bath in Iraq in which workers from both sides are perishing for bourgeois interests.

    Also your attributing the campiagns against freedom of expression by other relgious groups as following the “Muslims’ slipstream” only further exposes your islamophobic prejudices. Why couldn’t these campiagns have had there own initiative? After all, both the Sikh proests against Behzti and the evangelical protests against JSTO preceeded the muslim demonstrations against the Dutch cartoons.

  19. Jules said,

    er… that should be Danish cartoons…

  20. Clive said,

    I hate to say this, but I tend to agree with Jules on this point. Surely, Jim, you don’t think political Islam is ‘the main enemy’. What on earrth does that mean, and what would be the implications if it were true?

    It is, clearly *an* enemy – of the labour movement, internationally, and especially of course in ‘Muslim’ countries; and of secular, feminist, and what have you, Muslims. (And it – meaning political groups which fall under the general heading (I accept that ‘Islamism’ is a fairly diverse phenomenon) – can be a more direct enemy of, say, me, when its adherents plant bombs, etc.

    But it seems to me wrong to overplay the general threat posed by Islamists, not to mention Muslims generally, to British society. The truth is that racism is increasingly directed towards Muslim people, and the left and the labour movement needs to find ways to defend them (without capitulating to any other prejudices, and certainly not those of Islamist movements themselves. One of the problems with the whole miserable experience with MAB was that from the outset the SWP and its fellow travellers enormously overestimated MAB’s size and weight).

  21. Jim Denham said,

    …but not the Muslim campaign against ‘The Satanic verses’, which started it all.

    Let me be clear: I’m no more opposed to Islam than I am to any other religion (or, indeed, non-religious irrational thought, such as belief in organic vegetables): but I recognize (and have a grudging respect for) the fact that, in terms of reactionary vigour, it is Islam that is making the running at the moment. Do you deny that, Jules? And is pointing out this obvious fact, “Islamophobia”? In which case, pointing out the leading role of the Catholic church in (for instance) the rise of Hitler, the promulgation of anti-semitism over centuries, the victory of Franco in Spain, etc; etc…is to promote anti – Catholic prejudice. In a sense it is, of course: but only in the sense that hwe hope to win *all* workers from reactioanry, anti-human superstition.

  22. Jim Denham said,

    OK, Clive: thewterm “the main enemy” may have seemed OTT: but I used it specifically in relation to attacks on free speech, and the liberal/left’s capitulations of late. With regard to that specific matter, I stand by my statement that Islamists and politcal Islam have been the main driving forces, and is – therefore- on the specific question of *freedom of speech*, the “main enemy”.

  23. voltaires_priest said,

    Jules:

    Why do I think they’d allow an Iranian Mullah to speak? Well, why not? I’m not in favour of no-platforming Mullahs – are you?

  24. Chris Baldwin said,

    “The London Times”? WTF?

  25. voltaires_priest said,

    Transcontinental Denham – perhaps he’s making clear that it’s not the New York Times or the LA Times?

  26. Will said,

    Or the Edinburgh Evening Times, or the Glasgow Times.

    There is more to the world than the soft southern piece of shit that passes for a metropolis you know.

  27. voltaires_priest said,

    So many Times…

  28. johng said,

    It seems to me that in terms of reactionary and irrational ideas its the Islamphobes that are making the running just at the moment. Particularly the peculiar idea that there is a lot of ‘self censorship’ going on. Ye Gods if thats really true I’d hate to see what the media would look like if there wasn’t.

  29. Will said,

    Craven idiot.

  30. voltairespriest said,

    John;

    Do you think Kuntzel’s talk should have been cancelled?

  31. hakmao said,

    For the benefit of those of us who actually know a bit of German, would you be so kind as to 1. either learn the html for umlauts (it’s very simple: &vowelunl; or 2. put an e after the vowel – Kuentzel, Zuendel usw. Danke.

  32. hakmao said,

    &voweluml; even – why don’t you have preview?

  33. voltaires_priest said,

    Fukkin Teutonophiles.

  34. Will said,

    Get it right Voly and you won’t be bothered by Teutonophiles.

  35. voltaires_priest said,

    Fukkin mates of Teutonophiles.

  36. Will said,

    Fuckin’ complainers about mates of Teutonophiles

  37. voltaires_priest said,

    Touche! 😉

  38. voltaires_priest said,

    (and if any fucker goes “you need to know the HTML for accents on vowels”….)

  39. Igor Belanov said,

    Er, back to the point, clearly the talk should have gone ahead, its a subject that needs to be discussed. The problem I have is that the title of the lecture was somewhat tactless, and in the present climate it might be best if a bit of diplomacy was exercised and a more ‘appropriate’ title substituted. This doesn’t mean self-censorship, merely a bit of minor appeasement.

  40. Will said,

    The title was changed.

    Not that it should have been.

  41. Simon B said,

    “1. either learn the html for umlauts (it’s very simple: &vowelunl; or 2. put an e after the vowel – Kuentzel, Zuendel usw. Danke.”

    Or copy and paste it from somewhere else. Like this:

    Küntzel

    Hak Mao, could you also learn to close your brackets?

    Mercy buckets.

  42. hakmao said,

    (Touché)

  43. Will said,

    Simon B:

    If the wrong character set is defined in the style sheet cutting and pasting won’t produce the required result. So there.

    Kiitos

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