The University of Edinburgh has put the rights of bigots above those of women

Genuine equality issues are taking a back seat to accommodating religious intolerance in student politics.

Last week two motions passed by university student unions at different ends of the country have gone a long way towards convincing me that many of these institutions are no longer fit for purpose when it comes to challenging religious intolerance on campus.

The first, voted through on Tuesday at University College London (UCL), ostensibly called on the union to support a campaign called ‘Real Student Rights, but in reality attacked my organisation Student Rights for investigating campus extremism.

It insinuated that our work showed support for far-right politics and claimed that we deliberately fuel Islamophobia and encourage fascist groups like the English Defence League.

Of course none of this is remotely true, but it shows how warped the priorities of some student unions have become when those challenging bigotry are the ones attacked before those propagating it.

When a similar motion passed at LSE before Christmas one student society there lamented it as “an attempt to silence the group that has worked the hardest to call out fascists at British universities”.

Worse still though, is the fact that the motion mandated the UCL Union to back ‘Real Student Rights’, despite the fact that it has sought support from extremists, including one whose organisation is actually barred from operating at UCL.

IERA’s Hamza Tzortzis has declared that apostates “should be killed”, while other members of the group have excused domestic violence and supported the return of execution for ‘fornication’.

In addition to this, the ‘Real Student Rights’ group has also approached Moazzam Begg, stripped of his passport in December 2013 after he was assessed to have been involved in terrorist activity in Syria.

That a student union should pass a motion which condemns a group working to challenge intolerance and supports those who ally themselves with extremists is disappointing enough.

However, following this the student union at the University of Edinburgh went further, and voted down a motion calling on the institution to “commit to disallowing imposed or directed segregation”.

Proposed by the Humanist Society, the motion was attacked by students in a number of speeches “which either stated or implied that the society’s motivations were racist and Islamophobic”.

That students should choose to place the rights of religious bigots above those of women by refusing to pass this motion is simply astonishing, as is the fact that they should compound doing so by smearing students fighting for equality as anti-Muslim.

However, given recent quotes from other student union officials supporting the imposition of segregation, including from a Goldsmiths College ‘Welfare and Diversity Officer’, who claimed banning segregation would “deny right to assembly for certain campus groups”, this outcome should perhaps not be a surprise.

Its grim inevitability does not, however, make the result any less disgraceful, and in tandem with the motion passed at UCL it highlights the challenges faced by those who would oppose religious intolerance on campus.

Despite the 300 miles and 48 hours that separated the two motion debates, the final votes show the same thing: that genuine equality issues are now increasingly taking a back seat to accommodating religious intolerance in student politics.

Hume and Bentham, the two universities’ most famous sons, would be disgusted.

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10 Responses to “The University of Edinburgh has put the rights of bigots above those of women”

  1. Oldmanmackie

    What is the response, in this line of thinking, to the gender equality officer at Glasgow who states: “Our feminist society, whose committee I sat on last year, sometimes
    holds women-only events, and I feel this is a really important right…as
    there are issues women may only feel comfortable raising in the presence
    of other women.”

  2. Mootpoint

    I don’t think anyone would have an objection to that, if the subject of the talk was about say sexual abuse, in the same way as if a men’s group wanted to talk about sexual abuse victims who are men or say something like testical cancer, they may want to have no women. I don’t think anyone would object to that either. The problem is if the segregation is not about concern and practically but discriminatory. For example a general meeting of a group who always segregates based on gender, when the topics under discussion are not gender based. So i think it is tricky to ban segregation as a whole, certain circumstances it should be exempt perhaps for health and welfare issues.

  3. Oldmanmackie

    Indeed. This is a really difficult issue to balance. I’m just not sure it’s as simple as the author is painting here. I might be wrong.

  4. Matthew Blott

    I’m pretty sure it’s as simple as the author says it is and the fact you can’t see that is why we have such a problem. No doubt your reservations are well intentioned because you’re worried about upsetting brown skinned people but I’m afraid there are a lot of nasty brown skinned people who will exploit your good nature to push through their extremist agenda. Read Ed Hussain’s The Islamist, he discusses how the militant Muslims on campus made a conscious effort to change the climate by normalising certain behaviour and prayed on liberal minded tutors fears of being charged with Islamophobia.

  5. Oldmanmackie

    Straw men and all that, huh? If you had read my post correctly you’ll see that I make no mention of ‘nasty brown skinned people’. I merely pointed out that there are other groups that require consideration when thinking about motions of this kind. And whose groups (like the aforementioned feminists) i’d like to think were of the more progressive variety. I’m pleased that MootPoint was able to provide a more nuanced argument, however. I wish life were as simple as this but freedom of expression is a notoriously difficult area to balance. I’d like to hear the author’s response to the issues thrown up.

  6. Stubbs_Maloy

    I think MootPoint hit the nail on the head, subjects like domestic violence or sexual assault can be issues which women may only feel safe/comfortable discussing around other women, and I think consideration for this should be taken into account (perhaps on case-by-case basis by the SU). However, when events are unrelated to subjects like this, or when a group says “segregation is observed at all events…ladies at the back, men at the front” (as Aston ISOC did) then this is clearly discriminatory.

  7. Oldmanmackie

    Couldn’t agree more. It’s difficult to have a uniform rule for everyone and every group. I guess that’s my point, if I have one!!

  8. Scott

    It reminds me of a quote from Hitch where he talks about extremism being discouraged in other European countries and many Muslim-majority countries. But in Britain, as a result of imperial guilt, the most extreme positions are embraced and even championed as representing the norm. The constant support given to Islamists by otherwise left-wing non-Muslims must make truly liberal Muslims sick.

  9. EdinburghEye

    I’m never very impressed by Islamophobic bigots who claim they only want to be bigots to “protect women”.

  10. Matthew Blott

    Oh come on. Of course you didn’t mention brown skinned people but that’s exactly what we’re talking about, particularly brown skinned Muslims. Christianity has had to put up with Jesus wearing a nappy in the Jerry Springer opera, expressing love for a Roman Centurion in a poem published by Gay News in the 1970s and fantasising about a prostitute in Martin Scorcese’s Last Temptation of Christ all of which caused a stir but none of which resulted in anyone being killed or receiving a fatwa advocating murder. The left has no problem upsetting Christians and nor should it but when it comes to Islam the left puts on kid gloves. As you state in a comment further down it’s difficult to have a uniform rule for everyone (impossible I would say) but that doesn’t mean freedom of expression is difficult, short of inciting violence against individuals or groups (for which the law is pretty clear) people can and should be allowed to say, write, draw or film whatever they like. Freedom of expression is only made difficult if you worry about offending people and we all have the right to withhold our views if we are concerned we are going to upset someone but this is no area for the law. Should I really be prevented from saying you’re talking bollocks because it might upset you?

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