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More on Yusuf Chambers at York

At the top of the piece about this issue on Student Rights there has now been added a link to a statement from York’s LGBT Officer, Leon Morris.  It opens:

Yusuf Chambers is a member of the Islamic Research and Education Academy (iERA). The iERA features Muslim fundamentalist preachers who advocate the criminalisation of homosexuality and even the death penalty for same-sex acts. They argue that it is necessary to execute gays to keep society pure. Indeed, Yusuf Chambers was one of the founders of this Academy and in addition to this, has been known to advocate the return of stoning adultress women and is openly against Jews.

One of the biggest issues, however, that restricts any possibility of mine to stage a protest is that of free speech. I believe that the freedom of speech is one of the most fundamental rights that allows and permits us the capacity to be rational human beings and by the very nature of free speech, people will be offended some of the time. In developing a level of tolerance to others, we can manage those that which offend us.

I’m not at all sure about this – not being invited to speak at a university is not in itself an infringement of free speech, and neither need a protest necessarily shut down debate.  What it can do is demonstrate that people find Chambers’ views repellent.

The writer goes on:

Yet, where do we go from here? The answer is not to picket or lobby the event unfortunately. We must collectively respect the Society’s wishes to call upon an extremist speaker for an event. Instead, we must all attend and have our voices heard. I wish for the society to cancel the event but in openly protesting, we endanger those students who may feel vulnerable as a minority student.

That is a depressing perspective.  One would hope, for a start, that it wouldn’t only be students who identify as LGBT who would want to make a fuss.  Here’s one student who (on twitter) expresses frustration at the way this has been handled and describes Morris’s statement as ‘weak’.

James Armstrong, a PhD student at York, has written an excellent post about this event.  He explains that he challenged Chambers, who did not retract his previous statements:

As far as I am concerned his failure to take back this statement is condemnation enough from a moral point of view, because most reasonable people would have leapt at the opportunity to clarify their view. Instead, when offered the opportunity to take back his statement, Yusuf remained notably silent.

James had the chance to talk to him in private:

What struck me about our conversation was that it was incredibly congenial: We shook hands, we smiled at one another, we discussed, and we debated; and all the while I felt myself being confronted by what Hannah Arendt described as “the banality of evil.” Every argument that I made felt like ashes in my mouth and in my throat, and all of the pleasantries we exchanged felt like something of a performance.

… I’m certain that many of my fellow students – whatever their faith – will be shocked and horrified when they read about this man’s views. I should also say that I am in favour of free speech, where views can be opposed in an open public debate; but I do not think that it is appropriate for a man like this to be given a platform, on any subject whatsoever, when his view is allowed to go unchallenged, as it largely was today.

It’s worth reading in full, but even here there is a little inconsistency perhaps.  Although we would all hope that students, whatever their faith, would be horrified by Chambers’ views, it seems implicit from James’s post that, if they were, they didn’t (apart from him of course) do much to demonstrate it.

Update. James noted in the comments:

I should have made it clearer in my blog that there was a protest of 8-10 students outside the event, and amongst my friends, who were in the event, there was a clear consensus view of opposition to views such as those expressed by Yusaf. The problem was that the chair of the debate had made it clear that questions would only be allowed if they specifically addressed the talk given by Yusaf, so students tried to address the issue without addressing the issue (aside from myself… probably because I don’t mind appearing rude!).