The argument often used when extreme or intolerant speakers appear on campus is that it exposes their views to challenge from students, but in our experience this doesn’t happen often enough.
Here, Gino Ragnoli, Treasurer of the University of Leicester Atheist, Humanist and Secular Society, details his attempts to do so when Hamza Tzortzis appeared on campus. All views are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of Student Rights…
Hamza Tzortzis’ last visit to the University of Leicester made national headlines for its segregated audience, so it was an odd decision by the Islamic Society (ISOC) to host him again following the negative publicity and breach of the Students’ Union’s rules tarnishing its reputation.
After looking into the nature of iERA (an organisation at which Tzortzis is a senior figure) and watching footage of a debate in which he justified the consummation of marriage with nine year old girls, I, along with others, attended his lecture, titled ‘YOLO?’, questioning whether it can truly be said that “You Only Live Once”.
The first red flag came before the lecture began, with a male ISOC member standing by a door appearing to direct ISOC ‘sisters’ through the farthest door, while allowing ‘brothers’ through the closest.
However, this may have been personal preference rather than compulsion.
When the talk began, Tzortzis declared that he had “heard on the grapevine” that some had tried to bar him from speaking, though no indication was given as to whom this might be.
Though we had levelled criticism regarding his invitation and openly voiced our intention to challenge him, some felt that the Atheist, Humanist and Secular Society were the implied party.
The actual substance of the talk was uninteresting, and at times frustrating. The first half consisted of appeals to emotion, false equivalences (materialism, hedonism, atheism, nihilism), and a justification of theism with a god of the gaps argument with regard to consciousness and reason.
His arguments involved claims regarding psychology, physics, evolutionary biology, neuroscience, and more, and during the Q&A, his default response was the words to the effect of: “I don’t know either, bro. I’m on a journey, too, you know!”
Tzortzis’ ability to transition seamlessly from knowledgeable scholar to humble student when presented with trying questions was peculiar and made getting straight answers laborious.
He was quick to evade questions from members of the audience who failed to articulate their queries well; ridiculing one attendee for having an agenda.
Others who pressed difficult questions were often told to calm down.
It is by hiding their views that Islamists can speak at universities, despite many student unions, including Leicester’s, having in place measures designed – wrongly, I believe – to prevent those with such views from speaking.
But in one regard he was unapologetically blunt: one who rejects Islam is “destined for the fire”. One wonders what else he may have said had his guard been down.