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.