Tuesday, November 01, 2005
Free Speech On Campus: The Strange Case of SOAS
Axiomatically, leading academic institutions involve intense and varied debate over a variety of topics, and some of that debate ranges over territory that mainstream conversation often misses. SOAS, a prestigious higher learning institution in the centre of London, would appear to have a defender of free and open discussion in head Colin Bundy. In the last month, the Director & Principal has openly defended the right of an apologist for the Uzbekistan regime, Shirin Akiner, to speak at SOAS, rejecting calls for reconsideration by former British ambassador the dictatorship, Craig Murray. He previously overturned a ban imposed by the Student Union on the attendance of Israeli embassy counsellor Roey Gilad: the students have an anti-racist policy, and consider Zionism to be in practise a form of racism. Bundy has expounded an heroic Voltairean dedication to free speech in defence of these actions.
Yet, one glaring exception renders the rule absurd: the treatment of a student named Nasser Amin. Amin had written an article for a student magazine arguing that Palestinians had the right to use force against Israel's occupation. Instantly, this issue was used alongside a clutch of others by some right-wingers and pro-Zionist students who insisted that SOAS was guilty of anti-Semitism. The broadsheets in the UK were joined in coverage of this claim by American far right website FrontPage magazine and Campus Watch, the former run by David Horowitz and the latter by Daniel Pipes, an anti-Muslim bigot. Gavin Gross, the SOAS student who had been most involved in pressing these claims, was given a glowing interview by FrontPage in which he dragged Amin's name through the mud. David Winnick MP raised the possibility in parliament that Amin should be charged with incitement to racial hatred. Finally, Bundy succumbed to the pressure and issued Amin with a formal reprimand, without even informing him of it or why he was being reprimanded. Read more