TED HONDERICH AND THE NEWSPAPER LONDON STUDENT
From the www.monabaker.com archive (legacy material)
Ted Honderich | Ted Honderich Web Site | October 2004
At the Edinburgh Festival Ted Honderich gave a lecture that included moral support for the Palestinians in their struggle against neo-Zionism — the enlarging of the state of Israel beyond its 1967 borders, with what that has entailed and will entail for the Palestinians. This was objected to by the chairman and some other members of the undergraduate Jewish Society in University College London and also by the Union of Jewish Students. An aim of the group in question was to have the college take down the website at which you are looking. The aim was pursued in the LondonStudent, the newspaper of the University of London Students Union, said to be Europe’s largest student newspaper. Also, a motion was put on the agenda of the first meeting of the academic year of the University College London Students Union. What follows here, first, are three articles from the newspaper, the third having to do with a lecturer at Kings College London. The articles about Ted Honderich contained falsehoods and false implications, and were in the opinion of his lawyers, Farrer & Co., and Mr. Julian Pike in particular, defamatory and inflammatory. As a result, London Student agreed to apologise, which it has done, and to print a considerable reply, and to refrain from repeating various allegations. It has also agreed to pay Professor Honderich’s considerable legal costs. That he chose to incur them, against a university students union, had to do with resisting the final aim of any campaign of neo-Zionism, however juvenile and disregardable in itself, and however it came about, which final aim he describes as the continuing violation of Palestine. The three articles appeared on the front page and other pages of the newspaper on 20 September 2004, under the given headings, and were subsequently disavowed by the chairman of the Jewish Society. They are followed below by the agreed reply, which appeared in the next issue, that of 11 October. The motion to the UCL Students Union was rejected unanimously. It would have been decisively rejected, it seems, given attitudes to free speech in University College London, shared by the officers of the college’s Association of University Teachers, even if the proposer of the motion and others had not been absent from the meeting, apparently on account of a Jewish holiday. The author of the second article below, Dex Barton, withdrew as a seconder of the motion in advance of the meeting.
University of London race relations suffer a series of blows
by Angharad Davies
(London Student, 20 September 2004, p. 1)
A summer of controversy has left race relations at the University of London in pieces.
Despite being home to one of the most cosmopolitan and multi-cultural student bodies in the world, lecturers at the colleges have proved themselves to be far from racially tolerant after a series of incidents that have left students in shock.
Amid a torrent of protest, an internationally renowned University College London philosophy professor condoned terrorism in Israel during a speech at the Edinburgh Festival in August. UCL was again criticised after the professor was able to condone Palestinian terrorism again on a website hosted by college servers. At the other end of London, students at King’s College are still reeling after a physiology lecturer walked out of a packed hall at the end of last term and refused to teach a class because it included a girl in Islamic dress.
In the face of mounting pressure, both lecturers will be back at the University of London this week teaching. With over 200 countries represented among the city’s 350,000 home and international students, London has the most ethnically diverse student population of any region in the UK. This year the University Is set to welcome more international students than ever before: over 65,000 will be attracted by the city’s academic excellence and cultural vibrancy.
Students have been left outraged by the college authority’s reaction to both events and many are asking who will come under fire next from university staff. All eyes will be on the lecturers involved in both scandals this week and some college insiders believe that a similar incident is inevitable.
Peter Leary, a spokesman for the Students Assembly Against Racism, said: ‘The University of London has an obligation to all its students, particularly vulnerable students. If they are not going to respect their right to study it sends a very bad message. It is not for a lecturer to decide not to teach students because they object to what they wear.”
After receiving a battering last year, race relations are set to go from bad to worse as students and lecturers start the new academic year under a dark cloud.
Racial Harm-ony Part One
UCL professor brands terrorism against Jews ‘acceptable’
by Dex Barton
(London Student, 20 September 2004, p. 2)
A UCL professor has sparked outrage after claiming that Palestinian terrorism is an acceptable moral response to Israeli “ethnic cleansing” on a website hosted by UCL servers.
Ted Honderich, acclaimed philosopher and professor emeritus at UCL, delivered this startling message to a sell-out crowd at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, on 19 August. He later spoke in an exclusive interview with AI-Jazeera’s website, where, he repeated his claims that Israel was carrying out “terrorism by a state” and an “ongoing rapacity of ethnic cleansing.” A brief synopsis of the Professor’s speech was also available from his UCL webpage athttp://www.ucl.ac.ulv-uctytho/
“This rape of a people and a homeland is in its wrongfulness a kind of moral datum and issues in a moral right on the part of the Palestinians to their terrorism,” stated Honderich. He went on to attack Neo-Zionism as the principal cause of Palestinian terror, claiming that “it dishonours the great Jewish moral and political tradition of resolute compassion for the badly-off, a tradition now exemplified by Noam Chomsky”.
Members of the Jewish student community have reacted furiously to the comments. “I am disgusted… my mind boggles” said David Renton, a Jewish student. Mr Renton served a written complaint against Professor Honderich to UCL Provost Malcolm Grant on Friday 20th August, following the appearance of the AI-Jazeera interview.
A particular point of criticism for student representatives is that Professor Honderich was able to promote his views via a personal webpage hosted by UCL servers. Although the page displays a disclaimer absolving UCL of liability for the site content, it is also bound by UCL Computing Regulations — which warn that users must not “risk bringing UCL into disrepute” (Part 2.d) or producing material deemed “offensive” to others.
Danny Stone, Campigns Organiser for the Union of Jewish Students called Honderich’s comments “an abuse of UCL resources, and desecration of the name of UCL”. Stone added that “an apology may not be enough”, instead suggesting that the professor receive further education “about the issues and the students he’ll be dealing with.”
“I think these comments will affect not just Jewish students, but Iraqi, American, Russian and all the other victims of terrorism.”
The UCL Jewish Society has also joined UJS in calling for clearer guidelines to be published on the use of UCL personal webpages. Samuel Lebens, President of the Jsoc, stated: “UCL’s website should not be allowed to air views that are so removed from fact and so likely to disrupt the good relations between different religious groups on campus. As chairman of the Jewish Society, I will be challenging the administration to create clear guidelines as to what can and cannot be said from the platform of UCL”
In a statement to London Student, UCL’s Media Relations department wrote: “UCL is wholly committed to preserving the right of academics to speak freely in an informed way on all issues (naturally while staying within the law), and is equally wholly committed to the principles of individual and collective equity and of equality of opportunity in all fields…we believe the vast majority of the UCL community accept and value both our university’s diversity and the range of opinions to be found within it, and that this is one of its major strengths.”
It seems likely however that as this story breaks during freshers season, student passions will be running high. In the aftermath of what could potentially be a very embarassing development for both UCL’s Philosophy department and its IT policy, it is unclear how far student leaders will go in demanding an apology — or more — from Professor Honderich.
RACIAL HARM-ONY Part 2
by Alexi Duggins
(London Student, 20 September 2004, p. 3)
A King’s College academic has been suspended after refusing to teach a pupil who was wearing an Islamic dress which covered her from head to toe, causing a number of official complaints from students.
Dr T. Simons, a physiology lecturer, was teaching around 50 second year Pharmacy students at Guy’s Campus when he walked out of the lecture theatre into an adjacent office. It is alleged that he was unaware that his microphone was still connected to lecture theatre loudspeakers when he then said to a colleague “I cannot teach the girl with the veil and I don’t know how to ask her to leave. I refuse to teach the class.” Simons did not return to finish the class.
Simons’ comments caused outrage amongst students and and led to a number of them making official complaints to King’s. “This is not France, it is Britain” commented one student who was present at the time. “We pride ourselves on living in a multicultural society and are taught to respect others as individuals. We must not tolerate this behaviour.”
Following the incident Simons was suspended while an internal investigation was conducted and he was advised to seek counseling. He was also made to give a public apology to the whole class later in the day.
Confusion still abounds as to the exact reason for his objection to the students’ garb, however. “He obviously wasnt happy that they were veiled.” commented one student. “Maybe it’s culturally motivated.”
Others thought his actions to be motivated by racial prejudice. “His comments… were highly unprofessional and more importantly racist” said another student who was present at the incident.
Simons, who has since retired from full-time teaching and only teaches at King’s on a part- time basis, commented “I have nothing to say. I am not confirming or denying anything. What goes on inside the doors of a university is a private event. The public is not admitted to classes in a university.”
A college spokesman said: “There was an incident when an academic who was teaching walked out of the class when there was a student wearing the burkha. The reason was unclear.”
HONDERICH WRITES BACK
(LondonStudent, 11 October 2004)
You have a human nature. Part of it, by way of a fast example, is that you do not want to be tortured and you are sure it would be wrong for you to be tortured regularly so that someone else can have a better house. It is also your human nature that you are rational — you have reasons, like the reason that it would be wrong for you to be tortured for that purpose. Any reason against anything is also a reason against related things in related situations. So your rationality commits you to moral judgements about other things also being wrong.
These personal truths enter into more general ones.
We all want to live — have decently long lifetimes, say 75 years rather than 30. We also want bodily well-being, not a lot of pain. A third great desire is for freedom, privately and in a homeland. Respect and self-respect, a human standing, are another great good. So too are relationships with others, say a person and your people. There are also the goods of culture, including knowledge and religion.
You may arrange our fundamental needs a little differently. But we will not diverge much.
We will not diverge much, either, over what a bad life is and what a good one is. A bad life is one that does not have enough of the great goods in it.
The Principle of Humanity, the principle of rightness to which we are committed by our natures, is that we must take rational steps to get and keep people out of bad lives. This other rationality consists in taking actually effective means to the end, not pretences, and means that do not do more harm than they prevent. Bad lives have to be changed that only give still better lives to people who already have good ones.
The principle is related to common ones, indeed principles that litter our lives, some of them declared even by New Labour. Some are religious. One difference is in spirit, in the resoluteness of the Principle of Humanity.
Consider 4 million Africans now alive, the poorest tenth of population in a few countries. They are losing 20 million years of living time. In Palestine a people are losing more of what remains of their homeland. A wall is going up that takes their water. They may in the end not be free in any of their homeland.
How are we to judge our omissions and acts with respect to Africa or Palestine? Some judge by the political tradition of conservatism. This analysable tradition, which includes New Labour, is as self-interested as democratic socialism. It is different in that it lacks a moral principle to support its self-interest.
Some think we can decide what is right by going by democracy. They forget that the recommendation of democracy is that it is a decision-procedure where the participants have an approximately equal say. Talk of our hierarchic democracies as approximately equal is ludicrous. Think of talk of treating your children ‘approximately equally’, or women ‘approximately equally’ with men, where one share is thousands of times smaller than another.
Shall we decide about Africa and Palestine by means of a morality that does not make right actions a matter of their consequences, does not take some ends to justify some means? Well, would such a thing be a morality? Suppose I say my gift to somebody is right because she is my daughter, and that is not a consequence of my action. Am I not just being self-concerned, maybe too much, in my consideration of consequences? So with such actions on behalf of my people. To say ‘Our lives come first’ may not be morality.
Still, hierarchic democracy and maybe even conservatism and pretend-morality are not such that your disrespect for them should be absolute. What is indisputable is that these decision-methods can go wrong. Hitler was elected. So were others. Hierarchic democracies also go wrong persistently. How are they to be judged, then?
The answer to which we are all committed, I take it, is that we are to judge by way of humanity, by the Principle of Humanity.
That is not to say that it produces ready answers. The hard part of morality is not morality, but facts. With Palestine, to my mind, some overwhelm all others. After the Holocaust in 1948 when the state of Israel was founded in a part of Palestine, rightly, and partly by way of terrorism, that part had in it as many Palestinians as Jews. The other part of Palestine had in 80 times as many Palestinians as Jews. The rapacious violation of a people and their remaining homeland continues.
Do you say this is not a satisfactory response to stuff to the effect that defending a Palestinian moral right to terrorism against ethnic cleansing and state-terrorism is ‘sick’, harms race relations, gave rise to a torrent of protest, and is anti-Semitic? A student newspaper and a student union can lose sight of the fact that they are in a university. In one, it remains possible to think about important things.
This response is a sketch. But universities have books in them. I take this opportunity to advertise some. After The Terror (revised edition 2003), Political Means and Social Ends (2003), Terrorism for Humanity: Inquiries in Political Philosophy (2003), Conservatism: Burke to Nozick to Blair? (2005).