LSE event exposes an inability to challenge extremism

Last Tuesday an event at the London School of Economics (LSE) saw a speaker allegedly glorify terrorist violence, while another claimed Israelis use rape as a weapon against Palestinians.

Rana Baker, a writer for Electronic Intifada, was reported to have called the hijacking of aircraft by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) member Leila Khaled “amazing”.

She then went on to claim that a 1985 suicide bombing carried out in Lebanon by 16 year old Sana’a Mehaidli, which killed two Israeli soldiers, “deserves a standing ovation”.

At a union general meeting on 29th January it was confirmed an investigation has been opened into the event after a complaint to the student union.

A second complaint has also been lodged against event chair Aitemad Muhanna-Matar after she was accused of comparing attacks on Israeli soldiers to Jews resisting the Nazis.

That this lecture, which did not feature any well-known extremists, saw such views expressed will concern those responsible for managing events at LSE.

Equally worrying, however, has been the response from a small number of students who have sought to downplay the statements – and to attack the anti-racism officer who condemned them.

Following a blog written by LSE Anti-Racism Officer, Esther Gross, which criticised the justification of violence, the LSE Black and Minority Ethnics Students Officer, Samiha Begum, responded.

Without even addressing Baker’s glorification of violence, Begum wrote that Gross’ letter was an attempt to “undermine anti-racism struggles on campus” and “a shamelessly racist attack”.

She also quoted other students, including one who declared Gross had made her “feel unsafe” and promoted “anti-liberation ideals”, and another who claimed students were left “threatened by their own elected officers”.

A petition calling for Gross to resign is also now reported to have been circulated after a post describing a man in a headscarf as the “LSE terrorist” was uncovered on her Instagram account.

That this has taken place in the same week LSE student union passed a motion opposing the new Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill highlights the falsehood behind the claim universities are the place extreme views can be most successfully challenged.

Instead, it shows that speaking out against extremism is more likely to see students harassed and accused of racism – and those expressing extreme views defended.

The same was true last year, when students at the University of Nottingham challenged Uthman Lateef, as well as in 2012 when a student opposing Hizb ut-Tahrir was jeered from the room.

If students and university staff are to convince people that they can challenge extremism without the need for new government legislation, this will have to change.

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