Sunday, March 25, 2007

University of Leeds [UK] Cancels Speech Critical of Islam: Self-Censorship run amuck

The University of Leeds cancelled a speech by Dr. Matthias Kuentzel of Germany.The speech, entitled ‘Hitler’s Legacy: Islamic Antisemitism in the Middle East’ was cancelled on the day Dr. Kuentzel arrived in Leeds without any explanation to him or apology. In addition to his speech, his two seminars were also cancelled.

The Secretary of the University admitted that the University “received no threats, and only a handful of complaints”. Apparently the university received some E-mails by Muslim students who asked for the "cancelling the lecture all together” and to “apologize to the Muslim Community as a whole, for suggesting such a topic.”

For more information on this controversy see the website of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East [SPME]. For those interested, Kuentzel's paper may be dowloaded.

I have written the following letter to the Secretary of the University: Dear University Secretary Gair:
I am writing you to express my outrage at the cancellation of the talk by Dr. Matthew Küntzel. Dr. Küntzel is an academic and someone whose views would be of interest to the academic community at the University of Leeds.

I understand that one of the reasons the lecture was cancelled was on "safety grounds. to protect the safety of participants in the event" as your press release indicates. First of all, this indicates that your university can easily be silenced by threats. More importantly, it suggests that a few protestors can silence anyone they don't like. I am given to understand that his lecture had been well publicized for weeks. This suggests that the university had enough time to put proper security in place.

It appears that your university has practiced self-censorship of the first order. Your behavior is an embarrassment to an institution which claims to engage in higher education or, truth be told, education of any form.

For your information,I recently received an inquiry from some students at your university inquiring whether I would be willing to come to Leeds at some point to discuss Holocaust denial and the growing antisemitism and anti-Israelism on many university campuses. I would also discuss my defense in Irving v. Lipstadt, the libel trial which resulted from David Irving's charge against me of libel. I predict that there will be those who will try to do to me exactly what a number of Muslim students have successfully managed to get you to do to Dr. Küntzel. If my schedule permits me to accept the students' invitation, I shall watch with interest whether once again you show the same commitment to academic freedom and free speech that you have shown in this case.

Sincerely yours,

Deborah E. Lipstadt, Ph.D.
Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies
Director, Institute for Jewish Studies
Emory University

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