Professor accused of intolerance for objecting to segregation at a university debate

LEADING physicist and prominent atheist, Professor Lawrence Krauss, was accused of “intolerance” after he threatened to walk out of a debate at University College London because the organisers wanted men and women in the audience to be segregated.

Professor Krauss, a former adviser to President Obama, was taking part in a debate entitled: “Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?” organised by a group called the Islamic Education and Research Academy, which has now been banned from holding events on the UCL campus.

Hamza Tzortzis, left, and Prof Krauss

Hamza Tzortzis, left, and Prof Krauss

In its corner, Islam had Greek convert Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, described on the iERA site as:

An international public speaker on Islam, a writer, lecturer and intellectual activist. He is particularly interested in Islam, politics, western and Islamic philosophy.

He is also an extremist nutjob, who – according to this report – had called for an Islamic state in the UK, expressed his hostility towards Western values and stated that:

We as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even of freedom.

He is a former researcher for the hardline Hittin Institute and chaired the launch event of iERA, an umbrella organisation hosting many well-known British Muslim extremists who preach opposition to democracy and hatred against homosexuals and Jews.

Professor Krauss said he had been shocked to find that men and women had been segregated the debate last week, and threatened to walk out unless organisers agreed to let men and women sit together, which was eventually agreed. But he was then astonished to find himself being accused of intolerance by angry members of the audience.

He suggested in Britain people were often too polite to object to such practices as well as being cowed by those eager to protest whenever they felt “their cultural norms are not being met”.

He said:

People are not only afraid to offend, but afraid to offend a vocal and aggressive group of people. There is a segment of the Islamic community that is very vocal about this.

The professor added:

I think the notion that these cultural norms should be carried out within a broader society that not only doesn’t share them but that is free and open is a very serious problem.

Authorities at University College London have launched an investigation into the event last Saturday, at which people who attended were separated into men, women and coupled seating areas  – with women at the back.

Professor Krauss said he was later told by one woman who attended that she went into the lecture theatre holding hands with a male friend and pretending he was her boyfriend to be able to sit in the mixed section.

Richard Dawkins described the separation as “sexual apartheid” and suggested “heads should roll”.

Footage posted online showed Krauss saying “quit the segregation or I’m out of here” after security staff tried to throw out three men who had gone to sit in the women’s section of the audience.

Eventually his request was met and the event continued but some members of the audience were upset with him. One even shouted “intolerant” as he left, which he found “remarkable”.

A woman who spoke in the debate said she was uncomfortable sitting among men. Professor Krauss said he told her that he respected her feelings but added:

You are in a public arena and not in a mosque, not in a private event.

He told the Daily Telegraph:

The notion that because these cultural norms make some people feel uncomfortable in broader society, that broader society should accommodate that discomfort, is complete nonsense.

It was “vitally important” that institutions such as universities were secular and avoided segregation of any kind, he added.

It is the obligation of people who don’t feel comfortable with that to decide how they are going to mesh with broader society, not the other way around. It is not cultural racism. For better or worse, we live in a free society, and we live in a secular, open society.

Professor Krauss said it was the first time he had experienced such segregation.

I did a debate with an Islamic group in Australia which worked out fine. There were no issues and there was certainly not even the proposal that there should be segregation.

The IERA has admitted seating areas were separated by gender at the UCL debate but said that it did not enforce segregation and had launched a “thorough internal investigation” into what took place.

Hat tip: BarrieJohn