Nurture reason and respect

January 13, 2011

The feature "Contravene or intervene" (6 January) is a thoughtful, nuanced and vital contribution to efforts to sustain university communities that vigorously support free speech and simultaneously promote the rights of all students to study and live without threat of violence and intimidation in an atmosphere that respects fundamental principles of equality and respect for human difference.

Even if the individuals cited in the article - graduates of King's College London and the London School of Economics - who went on to carry out a suicide bombing at a bar in Tel Aviv and to murder Daniel Pearl in Pakistan were not radicalised at university, universities have the opportunity and civic responsibility to nurture democratic values and respect for human rights among their students.

Campus discourse on a range of subjects can often become strident and intolerant of diversity of opinion. Universities need to develop intentional educational policies that strive to promote reasoned and respectful discourse and give access to a diverse range of perspectives on political, social and moral issues on which there is disagreement and debate. Self-reflection, self-criticism and openness ought to characterise university life and campus interactions.

This will not guarantee that graduates of universities will not succumb to extremism later in life. But it will provide them (and society) with some inoculation against the powerful temptations and gratifications of extremism and the devastating consequences that result from its violent expression.

Noam Schimmel, Department of media and communication, London School of Economics.

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