Student Voice: Hamza Tzortzis at UKC

President of the University of Kent ASH Society, Peter Keeling, gives his take on seeing Hamza Tzortzis appear on campus following Gino Ragnoli’s blog on Tzortzis’ Leicester appearance. All views are his own, and do not necessarily represent those of Student Rights…

Hamza’s Tzortzis’ talk, entitled ‘YOLO’, was given to a well-attended lecture theatre, although the audience was unfortunately overwhelmingly made up of member of the Islamic Society itself.

Tzortzis gave an interesting and wide ranging talk, without a hint of ‘extreme’ or ‘radical’ language – indeed, he addressed his previous ‘extreme’ comments and appeared to genuinely regret them.

Although I found many of his attempts at theology and philosophy woolly and at times frankly nonsensical, and he made the usual generalisations about Atheism, Humanism and Secularism (‘fundamentalist secularists’), he nevertheless had some thoughtful things to say about contemporary Islam, including an attack on the narrative of ‘victimhood’ so beloved of the likes of Islamic State.

He repeatedly encouraged free enquiry and made a number of interesting observations about interfaith dialogue and public discourse relating to Islam.

Asked directly about Sharia Law, he made a good attempt to place it within its historical context (also with regards to apostasy) and at no point suggested it should be applied to the West.

Overall, although often rambling and extremely verbose (he spoke for two hours without making it to the end of his presentation, and struggled with the ‘Q’ side of Q&A) he nevertheless struck me as exactly the sort of speaker a student group should be hosting, and I only regretted that there were so few non-Muslims in attendance.

Religion is, by its very nature, objectionable. With this in mind, I found Tortzis’ views no more or less objectionable than any of the other speakers at the many university religious society talks I have attended over the years.

A piece was recently published on the ‘Student Rights’ blog by someone who saw Tzortzis speak at Leicester, and describes his speaking style well, to a certain extent.

However, I would object to the suggestion, made in that post, that he was ‘hiding’ his views; if he does still hold objectionable views at no point did they materialise, and I am willing to accept, unless proven otherwise, that he should not be judged exclusively on his past utterances.

I do not feel that posts like the description of Tzortzis at Leicester – the only criticism in which strikes me as coming from a straightforward atheist/anti-theist perspective rather than as a commentary on ‘extremism’ – are conducive to open conversation, something which, for all the grand statements made about free speech these days, is all to rarely in evidence.

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