Silenced by hypocrisy

January 8, 2009

Haidar Eid, from Al Aqsa University in Gaza, Palestine, was recently invited to give a keynote talk at an international conference on the nature of democracy, hosted by the Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics at the University of Brighton.

Despite protracted negotiations, he was unable to attend, having been denied an exit permit from Gaza by the Israeli Government. That is bad enough. For certainly Eid's coming to this conference would have presented no physical threat to any citizen of Israel, nor, indeed, to anyone else.

What is particularly disturbing, however, is this. Just a few weeks before the conference, Bill Rammell, then the UK Minister for Higher Education, extolled at this same university the central importance for the academic world of freedom of speech.

And yet the UK Government, including the Minister, resolutely refused to intercede on Eid's behalf. So much for freedom of speech. As the UK vice-consul in Jerusalem put it to the conference organisers, with perhaps admirable candour, nothing could be done because the Israelis wouldn't stand for it. So much, then, for any principles at all.

Is it that Eid's freedom of speech doesn't matter to the British Government because he is Palestinian? Or that the freedom of speech of foreigners in general doesn't matter? But even on such a parochial view, what about the freedom of speech of our British colleagues? For as Eid was silenced, so were all of us. We were unable to question or to argue with him, or to discuss his views.

As academics, we have a duty to protest against this example of the hypocrisy of the British Government.

Bob Brecher (plus 17 other signatories), Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy, Politics and Ethics, University of Brighton.

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