I go to a liberal university. A university where in the post modern world, no statement is left unquestioned. Where nothing is fact, but merely a social construction. Reality is disputed to the extent that there is no actualization of concepts, they are simply all conceptions, built up by society
Simply asking to be directed to the ladies’ toilets seemingly is becoming the latest social crime, as at King’s, we pride ourselves on gender neutral bathrooms around all campuses; the term gender is seen as a fallacy in itself. I’m not condemning our uber-liberal outlook, on the contrary, having endless theories of the outlook of life with commitment to toleration and free speech, only enriches and broadens our previously theory-laden and apparently narrow minded education. This is the only time in our life we are encouraged to doubt all our pre-conceived thoughts and criticise anything we come across. But how liberal should a liberal university be? As one of the most famous liberals J.S. Mill said, a liberal society should be tolerant of all those who are tolerant, and therefore be intolerant towards the intolerant.
Last week, on January 20, 2016, King’s university students faced not only the intolerant but also the savage. The Israel society together with interested students, were bombarded by violent protesters bashing and breaking windows, setting off the fire alarm, chanting aggressively and physically abusing those present. All this for the simple reason of listening to a talk promoting peace by Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secret service. Again, I am a firm believer of freedom of speech and debate, but in this case where multiple police cars had to be called in, and students had to be evacuated through a back door, we need to pull up our liberal barriers. When freedom of speech disturbs and attempts to censor other’s rights to a voice, this is where we need to put a stop to it. Ironically, these protesters were demanding that the members of the Israel society were fascist, when their sole aim was to repress speech and plurality at the university through coercion and intimidation.
As an outsider at the event (as the room was already full to capacity by the time my friends and I arrived to attend the event) watching the monstrous scene take place on the opposite side of the street , reminding myself that I am a student at this university, I was disgusted. How could society listen to the views of a group that intimidates other students regardless of their views? How could a group use such violent methods and still gain credibility and legitimacy in an establishment like a university?
But most importantly, what should the Israel community do? Is it even safe to bring another speaker to campus? If this is what happens when a pro-peace, pro-discussion speaker is invited, I just wonder what would happen to someone slightly more controversial. Next thing we know, extremist groups with a certain amount of credibility will be able to ban other societies from functioning. They’ll protest that we express views which threaten the liberal outlook of the university, exposing students to vile fascist propaganda. This would be a real threat to the culture of free speech. So far they have not threatened us with this, but the institutions need to bear in mind the real watchword of liberalism. Intolerance is something that should not be tolerated. we’ll be banned from having any student society.
Contributed by Kings College London CAMERA Fellow, Joelle Reid.
This article has since been published in Israel Hayom.