Written by Student Rights on 15 May 2012 at 11am

SOAS Alumnus abused at Abdel Bari Atwan talk

Yesterday we highlighted the fact that Abdel Bari Atwan would be speaking at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and the effect that allowing partisan speakers an unchallenged platform has on campus cohesion.

The way that this creates a hostile atmosphere for anyone who does not agree with the speaker is an issue that we have raised a number of times before. Today, we have once again seen the consequences, having been informed that a Jewish individual who attended the event (which was advertised as open to members of the public) was intimidated and harassed by members of the audience.

They attempted to grab his camera, pushed around and then had his bag snatched away from him. At the same time, one individual asked of his camera “shall I take it off you?” before telling him “you’re a typical Israeli, you know that?” Despite the fact that he felt that this was a racially motivated slur and reported it to the police, SOAS security simply retrieved the man’s coat and bag before asking him to leave.

That someone attempting to record a public meeting can be threatened and abused in this way speaks volumes about the damage that has been done to the tradition of free debate on university campuses by speaker events which brook no dissent.  

We would once again urge universities and student unions to act to ensure that events focusing on such emotive issues are balanced, and allow individuals the freedom to attend and record proceedings without harassment and bullying.   

Raheem Kassam, director of Student Rights said: "It's disturbing though not completely unforeseeable that such an incident of this kind has taken place at a London university. We know that on previous occasions, filming for such events has been tightly controlled by the event organisers for reasons that remain unclear. University campuses are by and large, public spaces and no group should be able to hold meetings without public scrutiny. Those who sought to intimidate Mr. Millett yesterday should immediately apologise or be disciplined accordingly."