Update: Woop! UCLU have rescinded their ban at long bloody last.
In yet further grandstanding of the power unaccountable bureaucracy holds over freedom of speech, a former UCL student has been blocked from delivering a talk on the fight with Daesh in the Middle-East. Originally due to speak at the invitation of the university’s Kurdish Society, Macer Gifford was unilaterally barred by UCLU’s activities and events officer, Asad Khan, on grounds so vague as to be borderline absurd. Defending his actions with the lurid euphemism that ‘one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist’, Khan continued to write that ‘in every conflict there are two sides, and at UCLU we want to avoid taking sides in conflicts.’ For one, it is deeply disturbing to hear any moral equivalence be drawn between the predatory and barbaric political system under construction by Daesh and its Kurdish national opposition, the YPG; but a pre-emptive ban on an individual with first-hand expertise on a subject whose facts are forever blurred in the mainstream media runs counter to the very spirit of independent thought we should aspire to nurture at a university.
We must not allow undemocratic vetoes to be cloaked in this shady language of political neutrality. UCLU has made repeated political interventions in the past, and will continue to do so in the future with or without the consent of its sabbatical officers; several motions have been moved in recent years against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, for example, a theme which deserves to be revisited again. Moreover, despite Khan’s claims to the contrary, not all of his colleagues were informed of his decision to bar Gifford, and he certainly has no right to legitimate such any pronouncements with reference UCLU’s student body, essentially none of whom were consulted. Khan must be censured, and the ban on Gifford immediately rescinded.
Originally written for the UCL Free Education bulletin.
If you’re looking for insight into Saudi culture – optimism included – you might enjoy this interview with Haifaa Al-Mansour, the writer and director of Wadjda:
I am really looking forward to watching this film – about a Saudi girl’s determination to buy the bike of which her relatives deprive her. A few things stand out for me:
Al-Mansour states, explicitly, that her objectives were never intended to be political, or even polemical. Although she is conscious of the inevitable stirring she will cause in her home country – once it finally reaches the TV sets, cinemas being illegal – her central image is the innocence of childhood, not its corruption; by its nature it contends with something universal to the memories of all other Saudi women. Why is this significant?
It’s together with Al-Mansour’s rather warm appreciation of the ironic that I think justification for optimism might be found:
The post-9/11 Saudi government – suddenly conscious, as if surprised, that Wahhabi Islam might encourage jihadism – has introduced some token reforms to its systems to appease the White House, which though churned turgid by clerical conservatism might anticipate “giant steps” yet to come. Now, one wouldn’t expect subtle developments in how Saudi women view themselves to be recorded – not if, as she implies herself, women feel as invisible as they are.
But here we have a writer – of a comparatively “liberal” background, admittedly – who sees no real importance to a film exploring instances in which humour stands independent from the primitive, totalitarian background that produces it. Does this point to something wider, something shifting? Al-Mansour’s first film depicted a criminal who wore a burka to escape the law, for example, very much in contrast to the likes of Persepolis in which a girl comes of age under the regressing forces of the Islamic Revolution. Tragedy and satirical detachment arise from pessimism, decline; but comic irony is the signal fire of reformism and the nuance of cultural consciousness.
Had its bishops been a little more flamboyant, Charlie Chaplin’s quip that “in the light of our own egos, we are all dethroned monarchs” might just have become the motto of the Church of England. To hear nothing beyond Lord Carey’s recent bombast one might be forgiven for thinking that David Cameron had recently led an anti-theist coup to purge England of all things non-infidel:
More shockingly, the Equalities Minister, Helen Grant, recently gave her support to the Labour MP Chris Bryant’s campaign to turn the 700-year-old Parliamentary chapel of St Mary Undercroft into a multi-faith prayer room so that gay couples can get married there. The Speaker of the House of Commons is reported to be supportive of the move.
Thankfully, he elected not to predict from the omens that by dawn we’ll be burning Protestants like it’s 1554. But more:
Lord Carey also that said a recent ComRes poll suggested “more than two-thirds of Christians feel that they are part of a ‘persecuted minority'”.
“Their fears may be exaggerated because few in the UK are actually persecuted, but the prime minister has done more than any other recent political leader to feed these anxieties.”
Ah, yes. The same Cameron whose homage to our “Christian roots” will go down as one of the most embarrassing pretensions to conservatism our political establishment has seen for some years.
The bemused reader of Carey, like myself, has plenty about which to be irritated. Much like its counterpart in Tehran, 26 places are reserved specifically for the Anglican episcopate in the House of Lords; the Church’s governor is the British head of state in Queen Lizzie; on paper, at least, it is our national church. Were these merely quaint anachronisms I doubt anyone would seriously care. I might oppose it on moral and constitutional grounds but be somewhat indisposed to that extra bit of administrative waste, being the history student with a curious affection for old things that I am.
And yet it would seem that no matter how many times these points are rehearsed they will never quell the arrogance of the Anglican Church – because these legislative tidbits are more like nourishing provocateurs than comforts for the senile. That the Church has in its history sunk to the most abysmal depths of the worst criminal acts should give it cause for humility; for having opposed attempts to end the African slave trade, for opposing the emancipation of gays and women in the 1960s, for administering African colonies on behalf of the British crown, for waving the flag in 1914 as young men marched like cattle into gunfire and never dropping it. That is not the record fitting for complacency, and fitting even less as a precedent to a panicky manifesto to a secular Parliament.
So when Carey cries “persecution” one ought to be astonished, and yet is somehow embarrassed and vaguely confused. The Tudor dynastic church, scrambled together in the bedroom of Henry VIII, now ranks in matters of sexual morality far below the condom machine. And psychiatrists love to remind us that relationships begin to fall apart when the sex dries up. That’s why it’s so farcical and not at all tragic: the absurd hysteria of Anglican figures is fueled by the knowledge that, deep down, their political authority is as hollow as the crown of Richard II. It wasn’t after all always so easy to get the Church to admit that its members are now in a minority.
But Lord Carey’s remarks are as insulting as much as they are arrogant: and none less, would you believe it, than to Christians worldwide. The sad irony is that they are probably the most persecuted religious group on the planet, alongside the Jews: in the Middle-East, China, North Korea, parts of India, north Africa and even Turkey, Christians simply for their beliefs and practices might face anything from exclusion from office to death. The ideology that once gave moral directorship to imperialism has now created victims in its modern adherents. To compare this with secularism – with the position of the equality of religious and non-religious outlooks – is a pompous disgrace, one which probably won’t humiliate the Church as much as it should.
Back in Britain it would seem that the Church is dying in the bed in which it was born, brought as it was into England feeding on the marital morality of which today it is starved. It can’t stop gay marriage – how dreadful. I never really cared for it until the Church revealed why they thought it was so important to oppose it. Indeed, one can only hope for one final divorce: not just from Rome, but from Parliament. Kick out the bishops, democratise the Lords and we really will have true freedom conscience in this country.
To Chaplin’s earlier quoted line might be added another, that “life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” Think of that with the Anglican Church, who might like many others learn from Shakespeare how a dethroned monarch need not forgo his assured self-respect:
For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,
Allowing him a breath, a little scene,
To monarchize, be fear’d and kill with looks,
Infusing him with self and vain conceit,
As if this flesh which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus
Comes at the last and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!