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Muslim student's victory against leading University

Chaminda Jayanetti | 15.11.2006 22:45 | Anti-racism | Education | Repression | London

Nasser Amin's long-running legal battle with the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London over free speech ends in victory

A Muslim student has forced his university's former principal into an embarrassing climbdown after winning a long-running dispute over freedom of speech.

Following a year of wrangling, ex-SOAS head Colin Bundy has retracted his claim in spring 2005 that he had reprimanded student Nasser Amin over an article Amin had written.

A SOAS statement dated November 6th read: "Professor Bundy sincerely regrets … the reference on the School's website to the author of the article entitled 'When only violence will do' in the spring 2005 issue of the SOAS SU Spirit magazine. He further regrets the use of the word 'reprimand', which he acknowledges was inappropriate."

The row began whilst SOAS was engulfed by allegations of anti-Semitism in early 2005, with the student union barring an Israeli official from giving a speech and electing Ken Livingstone as honorary president in the wake of his verbal attack on a Jewish reporter.

Amin's article argued with regards to Palestinian terrorism that: 'Those that benefit from the immoral actions of a colonial state in which they have chosen to reside cannot be considered as innocent.'

The article sparked thunderous criticism from commentators such as Melanie Phillips, whilst American websites made death threats against him. Labour MP David Winnick called for him to be prosecuted.

Bundy warned Amin that the article may have broken SOAS rules, but no formal sanction or reprimand was ever applied. However, Bundy then secretly wrote to ministers in the Home Office and Department for Education, as well as local MP Frank Dobson, saying that Amin had been reprimanded over the article. SOAS posted a similar statement on its website.

Amin told London Student in March that the episode left him suffering from depression and disrupted his studies. He also suffered racial abuse from other students following the controversy. When his lawyers first asked for a retraction and apology in summer 2005, Bundy replied: "I regret that Mr Amin feels that he has been treated badly by SOAS. However, SOAS has acted at all times in accordance with its disciplinary procedures."

In fact, Bundy had merely given Amin an informal caution, whereas a formal reprimand required a full disciplinary process. Bundy's retraction, following a formal grievance hearing and threats of legal action, represents a major climbdown.

Amin said in a statement to London Student: "I am pleased to say that the dispute between myself and SOAS has been resolved in a way I find to be highly satisfactory. A public apology has now been published on the official SOAS website.

"I hope that lessons have been learnt," Amin added, "and that no student will have to go through a similar ordeal for simply expressing opinions about topical issues which many people in wider society also have views on."

Amin told London Student in March that his article had been a response to a previous article that called on Muslims to 'categorically' condemn Palestinian terrorism in order to counter Islamophobia. He felt such condemnation was as unreflective as supporting a cause just because it affects your own people.

"The problem is these arguments are taken from their academic setting and thrown into the wider community," said Amin. He added that he did not support terrorism, including Hamas suicide attacks on non-combatant civilians.

SOAS' November 6th statement added: "Mr Amin sincerely regrets that his article unintentionally caused offence to certain members of the School and persons outside the School. His intention had merely been to discuss a difficult and controversial issue within the context of the School's Freedom of Expression policy."

SOAS' decision to publicly denounce one of its own students for his views drew strong fire from staff. Amin's tutor Mark Laffey said at the time: "It is part of the job description of an academic institution that you are willing to give offence. Our job is to seek out the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or unpleasant for various groups or interests."

SOAS academic John Game wrote in an open letter to Bundy: "If this student is to be subjected to investigation and harassment then so should I and so should many full time academic members of staff at this institution."

Game also wrote in Spirit: "Islamophobia in the wider society means that SOAS' 'reputation' is under assault. Either one aggressively stands up to such Islamophobia or one decides to sacrifice a few students to it."

Chaminda Jayanetti


SOAS's apology

16.11.2006 15:55


Clarification of SOAS Statement on Freedom of Expression

06 Nov 2006

Professor Bundy, the immediate past Director and Principal, sincerely regrets, in the context of allegations of anti-Semitism at SOAS, the reference on the School's website to the author of the article entitled "When only violence will do" in the Spring 2005 issue of the SOAS SU 'Spirit' Magazine. He further regrets the use of the word 'reprimand', which he acknowledges was inappropriate.