Walking through Kings College London adjacent to Somerset House earlier this week (Ash Wednesday) I came across a group of students waving Israeli flags and handing out brochures.
This chance meeting proved intriguing. The students were canvassing passers by about the various anniversaries affecting Jewish people in comparatively recent times, commencing with the First Zionist Congress of 1897.
Interest being aroused I mentioned my own student days travel to Egypt a few years back - see
Egypt 44 years ago and Cairo Giza Saqqara and Luxor/Thebes including the Egyptian solders with their prisoners on our train from Cairo to Luxor, the blowing up of jumbo jets in the desert which had just taken place and the beautiful Tombs and Valleys of the Kings and Queens on both sides of the Nile, empty then of tourists and virtually anyone else other than a young stranded Swiss archaeologist. Indeed we had only come to Egypt almost by chance following a compulsory evacuation from Turkey caused by a Smallpox outbreak.
The students then encouraged me to balance that visit with a trip to Jerusalem. That encouragement is attractive from a religious view point, which is entirely separate from the political aspects.
A girl then came over to join the discussion offering me some home made Jewish savoury meatball type food, at which point I mentioned being a catholic and Ash Wednesday fasting and abstinence rules, leading to further animated discussion. I took the view that the silly thing to do would be to turn down the meatballs which in the event proved delicious.
Subsequently walking along the Strand to Lincoln's Inn, reflecting on this impromptu and interesting discussion I reflected on the trend in British universities today of restricting open debate and discussion involving people with views which are not politically left leaning or otherwise politically correct.
Students and university professors/lecturers have usually been to the political left which is of course no bad thing but in C20 the involvement of minorities with different political views was invariably possible if not actually encouraged despite this general leftwards leaning.
In C21 matters seem rather different. Sadly at least according to the media, students and universities appear inclined to prevent open debate and discussion involving unpopular political or religious leanings by the speakers. Indeed there was a letter signed by a group of leading university academics in 2015 containing points including:
“Few academics challenge censorship that emerges from students. It is important that more do, because a culture that restricts the free exchange of ideas encourages self-censorship and leaves people afraid to express their views in case they may be misinterpreted. This risks destroying the very fabric of democracy.
The letter being to a newspaper known to be right of centre (The Telegraph) does not seem to have made much impact but I trust that universities will upon reflection shy away from the route to censorship now apparently being trodden by many.