On 23rd April Englishmen celebrated their patron St George. As Lady Renouf noted two days later, it was surprisingly appropriate to find his legendary slaying of a supposedly invincible dragon re-enacted, as London saw the latest stage of an epic struggle between another valiant champion and another monstrous foe.
Those who have seen the Jailing Opinions DVD will know that Europe's traditions of free enquiry and respect for truth are bedevilled by double standards. These were displayed once again on 25th April at Imperial College London, one of the world's leading centres for engineering and scientific education.
The Political Philosophy Society at Imperial invited Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the statesman who transformed Malaysia into one of Asia's "tiger economies", to address a conference on the theme Expose War Crimes - Criminalise War.
In 2007 Dr Mahathir called for George Bush, Tony Blair and their cronies to be prosecuted for war crimes against the Iraqi people. In 2003 he astonished the world's media by daring to criticise international Zionism for its predatory activities in financial, diplomatic and military spheres.
One might expect that a prestigious university would welcome the opportunity to hear from such a fearless and outspoken advocate, but in fact the Imperial College authorities' reaction offered further proof that when confronted by external pressures academia now responds with craven submission rather than a robust defence of intellectual freedom.
At 6 pm on the day before the meeting - after invitations had gone out to interested parties across London and further afield - the organisers were told that entry to the event would be restricted to Imperial College students only. This was a blatant effort by the college and student union authorities to sabotage the conference. While such authorities are of course entitled to exercise proper security precautions, a member of the college confirmed to me that never in his five years at Imperial had he experienced any such block being imposed on external guests.
Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad arriving at Imperial College
One might have thought that this was a speech by some criminal or rabble rousing demagogue, rather than a respected international statesman - from a country incidentally whose undergraduate and postgraduate students have contributed greatly to the Imperial College coffers. (The negative effect of the college authorities' behaviour can be observed in the ensuing Malaysian press coverage.)
The Political Philosophy Society responded to this provocation with quiet stoicism, and carried on with an orderly and informative meeting. Sadly many members of the audience were prevented from entering the lecture hall. These included Malaysian students from King's College London, who had rearranged laboratory work to be able to attend and had been waiting for more than two hours, members of the press including an Indian television camera crew, and visiting academics such as Dr Yaqub Zaki of the Muslim Institute, Iraqi archaeologist Dr Hani Alsaigh and Ministry of Peace founder Dr James Thring.
Tun Dr Mahathir told his Imperial College audience that he had been brought up to believe that Britain was a free country, but "I'm sorry that it didn't look very free today."
Further reports from those fortunate enough to hear Tun Dr Mahathir's speech will appear here soon, as will the results of ongoing investigations to determine who was responsible for the restrictions imposed on the event. First indications are that the problems resulted from pressure by the Union of Jewish Students, which is also boasting on its website that it managed to have the General Union of Palestinian Students thrown out of the recent NUS conference.
Meanwhile we can reflect on the irony that the Imperial College Student Union voted last year - in the name of academic freedom - to oppose the Association of University Teachers resolution to Boycott Israel, yet acquiesced in the attempt to silence Tun Dr Mahathir. In other words the SU was prepared to defend the rights of a bandit state but lacked the courtesy to extend similar rights to one of Asia's most eminent political leaders.
For now we must conclude on a positive note. Whatever the failings of their elders, the Political Philosophy Society (and the event's co-sponsors the Ramadhan Foundation) did much to redeem the reputation of Imperial College by staging a successful meeting on an important topic in adverse circumstances.
April 29th update:
We now understand that two individuals were responsible for the restrictions imposed on the Imperial College meeting: College Secretary Rodney Eastwood and Pro-Rector Prof. Julia Buckingham. Not only did they prevent invited guests from attending the event, they also banned any use of recording devices inside the meeting, ensuring that Tun Dr Mahathir's speech could not be broadcast later.
The Imperial College officials who despise academic freedom:
Dr Rodney Eastwood (left) and Prof. Julia Buckingham (right)
Dr Eastwood is also a Governor of Heythrop College, the specialist philosophy and theology college of London University. Since Heythrop acknowledges that its own "origins lie in the persecution of Roman Catholics in these islands during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries", the college may well be embarrassed by Dr Eastwood's insulting behaviour towards a prominent Muslim statesman (not to mention the many Muslim and non-Muslim students and academics who were refused entry to the meeting).
Complaints about this decision can be addressed to Prof. Buckingham firstname.lastname@example.org and Dr Eastwood email@example.com
Unfortnately neither Prof. Buckingham nor Dr Eastwood can now be contacted by telephone, having both changed their numbers very recently!