Objectors fail to block controversial speakers at LSE debate

More than 100 UK-based German students and academics have signed an open letter objecting to the choice of panellists for a debate at the London School of Economics later today.

February 14, 2011

The “Integration Debate: Europe’s Future – ‘Decline of the West’?”, which opens a week-long German Symposium at the LSE, will feature Thilo Sarrazin, a banker and author, and Henryk M. Broder, a journalist, who according to the letter argue that “there exists a pathological unwillingness among minorities in Germany (in particular Muslims) to integrate into society”.

The letter continues: “The stigmatization of certain social groups by Mr Sarrazin threatens social harmony and social cohesion…Both warn of an allegedly looming Islamization of Europe and thereby join a group of Islamophobic publicists and politicians across the continent.”

Rather than giving “a prominent platform” to “the polemical, socially divisive and non-scientific theses of Mr Sarrazin and Mr Broder”, it concludes, the LSE’s German Society “should aim to represent a modern, progressive and open-minded Germany, which is fit to face the challenges of the 21st century”.

The German Society responded to the concerns with a statement of commitment to freedom of speech, saying that it has “invited prominent figures from all spheres of public life in Germany” and is “hoping for an open discussion without thought control”.

A spokesman for the LSE added that, although it is not an event run by LSE itself, it is to be held on LSE premises, so the school’s Code of Practice applies.

“Accordingly, when complaints [about Dr Sazzarin] were received which raised issues of free speech, the school’s Free Speech Group was asked to give its opinion,” he said.

“It was clear that the views of the proposed speaker would be regarded by many as offensive. LSE does not set out to offend others, nor does it encourage its student societies to do so. However, judging the case on its merits, the Free Speech Group decided that the likelihood that offence would be caused was not in itself a reason to prevent the event from going ahead.”

The debate is due to take place at 6pm today at the LSE’s Hong Kong Theatre.

matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com

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