Written by Student Rights on 22 November 2013 at 11am

Intimidation damages freedom of speech at SOAS

Given the importance that universities set on protecting freedom of expression on campus it is disappointing to see the lack of coverage that the hijacking of a London university lecture theatre by Muslim Brotherhood supporters has received. 

On 18 October an event organised by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Palestine Society featuring Mohamed El-Nabawy, a member of Egypt’s secular protest movement ‘Tamerod’, was repeatedly interrupted by protestors.

Mr El-Nabawy was forced from the stage and escorted away by security and the event was called off; a victory for thuggish intimidation in an environment supposed to encourage debate.

Claimed by one SOAS undergraduate as individuals “exercising their right to protest”, the video from the event makes it clear that this was display of power by those opposed to El-Nabawy’s narrative.

Regardless of the extent to which individuals disagree with a speaker, they have absolutely no right to use bullying tactics like these, and should instead express their opposition through argument and debate.

Sadly, this is not the first time that we have seen protestors prevent an event which they disagreed with from taking place on campus through physical intimidation.

In January 2012 an event organised by the Queen Mary University Atheist, Humanist, and Secularist Society was called off after a man burst in and began filming attendees before shouting:

...listen up all of you, I am recording this, I have your faces on film now, and I know where some of you live...if I hear that anything is said against the holy Prophet Mohammed, I will hunt you down”.

Students also declared that the man filmed audience members outside of the lecture theatre, telling them that he would kill them and their families if he felt that they had insulted the Prophet Mohammed. 

Ultimately those acting in this way, who justify their actions by claiming freedom of expression as at SOAS, instead show that their goal is the suppression of any opinion except theirs. 

This is also often seen when extremist individuals are given a platform themselves, where the open debate that university authorities seem to imagine is taking place does not always occur.

Instead, those in opposition to these speakers can be intimidated or shouted down, whilst challenging questions are ignored for fear of provoking a violent reaction.

At other events, panels are loaded with guests all expressing the same views, with dissenting voices ignored or marginalised.

As such, if our universities are to be places in which controversial views are to be aired and challenged, then incidents such as that at SOAS last month must be met with zero tolerance.

Individuals must not be allowed to claim the right to use intimidation to cancel events they do not like whilst calling it freedom of expression, and the more incidents like this are widely reported and condemned, the more difficult they will find this.