Freedom of speech row as talk on Islamic extremists is banned
A leading university has been accused of "selling out" academic freedom of speech by scrapping a talk on links between the Nazis and Islamic anti-semitism after allegedly receiving emails from Muslims protesting about the event.
Matthias Küntzel, a German author and political scientist who specialises in the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, was told yesterday by the University of Leeds that a talk scheduled for yesterday evening, and a two-day workshop, on Hitler's Legacy: Islamic Anti-semitism in the Middle East, had been cancelled because of security fears. In a statement yesterday, two academics in the Leeds German department, which had organised the event, claimed the university had bowed "to Muslim protests". Dr Küntzel said he had given similar addresses around the world and there had been no problems. advertisementHe added: "I was told it was for security reasons - that they cannot shelter my person. But I don't feel in any way threatened. ''I know this is sometimes a controversial topic but I am accustomed to that and I have the ability to calm people down.
It's not a problem for me at all. "My impression was that they wanted to avoid the issue in order to keep the situation calm. My feeling is that this is a kind of censorship.'' He has given the talk at Yale and in universities in Jerusalem and Vienna.
Dr Küntzel said the contents of emails described to him did not overtly threaten violence but "they were very, very strongly worded''. He added: ''It's stupid, because I also talk about Christian anti-semitism.''
The university last night emphatically denied censorship, saying the organisers had not given it enough notice to arrange for stewards to be on duty at what was bound to be a potentially controversial event.
The university said it only found out about the event on Tuesday, though the organisers claim posters went up weeks ago. Dr Annette Seidel Arpaci and Morten Hunke, both members of the German department, said in a statement yesterday: "Dr Küntzel's talk is part of a series of scholars' and artists' talks at the German department.
''The series is supported by a grant from the School of Modern Languages, who did not raise any issues during the grant application process." The statement added: "The reason the university gives for the cancellation of the talk and seminars by Dr Küntzel are security concerns. ''These concerns are founded on emails received by the office of the Vice Chancellor.
The sudden cancellation is a sell-out of academic freedom, especially freedom of speech, at the University of Leeds." One of the protest emails, from a student who describes himself as ''of both Middle Eastern and Islamic background", complained that the title of the event was "profoundly offensive''. It added: ''To insinuate that there is a direct link between Islam and anti-semitism is not only a sweeping generalisation but also an erroneous statement that holds no essence of truth."
However, last night the university denied the claims. It said: "The decision to cancel the meeting has nothing to do with academic freedom, freedom of speech, anti-semitism or Islamophobia and those claiming that is the case are making mischief. ''Nor are we bowing to threats or protests from interest groups.
The meeting has been cancelled on safety grounds alone and because - contrary to our rules - no assessment of risk to people or property has been carried out, no stewarding arrangements are in place and we were not given sufficient notice to ensure safety and public order.''