Just as you thought the moral cowardice and intellectual duplicity of our trendy university atmosphere couldn’t get any worse, one of London’s largest universities reminds us that we are indeed living in a tempestuous age.
University College London (UCL) is among the most competitive colleges in the world. Perhaps the early warning signs starts right there. For it is in some of the world’s top institutions today that a peculiar moral cowardice has emerged. This moral cowardice is formed not by an inability to think, but by an almost active and certainly dogmatic decision not to.
This week, in a relatively unnoticed move, the UCL’s Student Union chose to ban one Macer Gifford from speaking. But who is Macer Gifford and why should it matter that he speaks?
Macer Gifford is an alumnus of the UCL, a former currency trader in the City whose comfortable world view suffered a rude awakening as he witnessed ISIS’s rise to power while the world stood aghast and did .. absolutely nothing.
It’s what Macer himself did next that makes him exceptional. In a move that defies all the crude stereotypes we enjoy harboring towards city traders, Macer left his job, left his friends, family and country and volunteered to join the Kurdish resistance group YPG to fight ISIS. Macer spent five months in northern Syria and subsequently told BBC Radio 4 that he took this decision because he had been “shocked to the core” by the rise of ISIS, and the West’s lack of action. He stated that he wanted “to shine a light and to show the Kurds aren’t alone.” Here’s one man for whom a red line clearly means a red line.
Macer had been invited by Kavar Kurda, the president of the Kurdish Society at the UCL, to come in and address students on his experience. But the Union’s Activities and Events officer, Asad Khan, chose to ban Macer from speaking. Denied a homeland they may be, but the Kurds aren’t, after all, fashionable Palestinians. So far so typical of today’s mollycoddling university “safe-space” culture.
But it is only when Kavar Kurda went to speak to Asad Khan in an attempt to understand his reasoning that the real crime, the Union officer’s dogged refusal to think, became apparent. Asad Khan went on to offer what is the most cowardly, duplicitous and frankly morally repugnant obfuscations proffered by post-modern relativists since George Monibot penned his Guardian column that absurdly equated Western jihadists who join ISIS with Orwell’s anti-fascist brigades.
Using the old trope that leaves every high school-level debating society initiate thinking he’s discovered the Higgs Boson, Asad Khan went on to explain that “one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist… in every conflict there are two sides, and at UCLU we want to avoid taking sides in conflicts… [I don’t] agree with western definitions of groups…the Syrian crisis is a very contentious topic with many different groups, and although I understand YPG are fighting against ISIS the situation is far too complex to understand in black and white as expected by the student.” With that, Macer was banned.
Two sides to every conflict, he says. Yes, that is true. Just as was the case with Nazis, there is a reason why ISIS is attempting genocide while enslaving and raping Yazidi women, throwing gays off tall buildings and turning children into throat-slitters in the name of Islam. That reason is because they are amoral, maniacal, blinkered bloody ideologues.
Now before anyone goes there, I’ve always been against the invasion of Iraq, which I opposed from my jail cell as a political prisoner in Egypt. But let us get one thing straight, and I sigh in disbelief as I find myself even having to clarify this: Though war is not necessarily always a solution, it is not always a crime, either.
Fighting by the rules of war for freedom is never ever comparable to fighting in order to break the rules of war, and for Islamist theocracy. The YPG are the armed wing of the Kurdish political party PYD, and as America’s allies in the fight against ISIS even the State Department has clarified that they are not a terrorist group.
Indeed, the YPG are one of the only effective forces in Syria fighting for their freedom against ISIS. ISIS is a terrorist group, so terrorist in fact that even other terrorists are embarrassed by them. To even remotely compare the YPG to ISIS, to present this level of moral equivalence as a reason not to allow Macer to address his old university, is not only naive, it is incredibly immature and frankly, dangerous.
In a culture that recently harbored Muhammad Emwazi, aka “Jihadi John,” at the University of Westminster, while academics in a conference at Bath university decried ex-Muslims as “native informants,” Affleckesque posters went up this week at my alma mater SOAS, labeling the views of my progressive counter-extremism organization Quilliam as “racist and Islamophobic.” This pseudo-political tendency to muddy the waters between terrorism and war, and between bigotry and scrutiny, in order to confuse condemnation of the clearly reprehensible, has very real implications. Such arguments are selectively deployed to serve popular campus causes, which invariably today are forms of the Muslim-victimhood narrative, or Regressive-Left grievance mongering.
But this is what happens when nuance becomes a shield behind which to conceal one’s dishonesty, while vague platitudes become the sword with which to fend off critical thought. All in the name of “right-on” politics. For let us recall the NUS, the national student umbrella to which UCLU affiliates pointedly rejected a motion to condemn ISIS while readily condemning Israel. This same NUS officially partnered with pro-jihadist group CAGE , leading members of which have themselves gone abroad in support of the Taliban, no less. This was a pairing that proved too much even for Amnesty International, which severed all ties with CAGE this year. And NUS intransigence on this very issue attracted the direct ire of Prime Minister Cameron. So much for the Union not taking sides.
I was less interested to learn therefore of Events and Activities Officer Asad Khan’s electoral history. It is not the 1 percent of his votes docked by the Union over mass-fraud allegations that gave me pause for thought. Rather, it is the fact that he belonged to a full slate of candidates backed by the UCL Islamic Society, who won four of the seven full-time Union sabbatical roles for 2015-2016. This concerns me because I expected the UCL’s Islamic society would by now have developed a stronger moral compass. This is considering that a past president of their society was was none other than the convicted terrorist “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
If your student society has previously produced the likes of this man, then you really should want your star election-slate candidates to be clear on what terrorism is, and what it is not. Or, maybe not.