Timeline of the University College London (UCL) Debate Debacle

I’m setting up this timeline as a reference of sorts for anyone who needs the information collected in one spot. Ophelia Benson started it off, so a huge, huge thanks goes to her. In fact, most of these links will be going to posts by Ophelia, since it was through her that I followed this story. So if you want to thank anyone for the information I’m providing here, please thank Ophelia.

The summary is basically this: University College London (UCL) allowed the Islamic Education & Research Academy (IERA) to set up a debate between Hamza Tzortzis and Lawrence Krauss. The debate was called “Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?” The title itself is asinine as all hell, and why Krauss agreed to the debate I’ll never understand. The debate almost didn’t happen, however, because the IERA enforced gender segregation. Krauss had to threaten to leave three times before they finally “caved”, except they didn’t really cave at all.

Timeline with links and such after the fold:

February 17 – The debate gets an event page on Facebook and on Eventbrite

Things are quiet until…

March 8 – Chris Moos alerts Ophelia Benson to the event and the fact that it will be segregated by gender.

That same post was updated twice, as you can see. The first update was simply that Chris had contacted Lawrence Krauss, who told the organizers that he wasn’t doing the debate unless there was no enforced segregation. The second update involves Chris being told by UCL that no gender segregation would be allowed… and, as we’re about to see, that was patently ignored.

March 9 was the debate. And it was not good. Turns out that a lot of people, including Chris and Lawrence himself, were lied to. Dana Sondergaard posted video of Lawrence Krauss rightfully leaving (though, sadly, not for good) on her Facebook page.

Ophelia Benson highlighted some tweets about the debate on March 9, as well.

On March 10, Richard Dawkins put up an article explaining everything. I’ll quote a few points here, but the whole thing needs to be read:

Lawrence Krauss has told me of a remarkable meeting at University College, London last night  (March 9th) where he had a debate with a Muslim spokesman.

A few days ago, I had received a tip-off from somebody who had made an inquiry about tickets: ‘We contacted the organizers today and learnt that “as for seating, it is according to when the ticket was booked and gender”.’

“Gender”?  Seating at a public event in UCL organized by gender?

I passed this on to Lawrence, with the suggestion that he might consider withdrawing from the whole affair. He immediately asked the organizers, who assured him that the audience would not be segregated by sex, and Lawrence agreed to go ahead.

When he got to the meeting he discovered that actually the seating in the auditorium was indeed segregated by sex. There was a men’s section, a women’s section, and a “couples” section. Did the “couples” have to produce a marriage certificate, one can’t help wondering? And, while wondering such things, what would have been the reaction of the audience if they had been segregated, as in apartheid South Africa, into a black section, a white section and a “coloureds” section?

When Lawrence realised that he had been duped, he immediately secured permission from the organizers to announce that – contrary to previous instructions – people could sit wherever they wanted. Three young men, described by Lawrence as nice gentle guys, then got up and moved to the women’s section in the back. “In the back”, by the way, may resonate with those who remember Rosa Parks in Alabama in 1955. Security guards then tried to eject the three young men. Lawrence went to find out why, and the guards told him the three were a “threat”. Threat to whom, one wonders?

Lawrence then packed his bag and walked out, explaining why he was doing so, and this part of the evening’s events was filmed by Dana Sondergaard on a smartphone.

Lawrence did in fact return, after being told that the segregation would no longer be enforced, but all they did was allow those three men to sit in back.

I want to note the fact that women were asked to “sit in back”. Anybody remember Rosa Parks? If you do, then this should seem familiar to you.

Also on March 10, Chris Moos wrote a letter to UCL. That link is to Ophelia’s post, which includes the letter in full. Please read it.

Later on during the day, concerned UCL students wrote a press release. Here’s the text at Ophelia’s blog.

The story also made The Guardian on March 10.

On today, March 11, Abishek N. Phadnis put up a guest post at Ophelia’s blog giving a lot more background and information about this event and quite a bit of history that puts it into a rather dim perspective.

Also today, UCL themselves posted about this whole mess on their own news site. They note that they have banned the IERA from doing any more events at the UCL campus.


But we aren’t done. Today brings about more disturbing news, as Students Rights noted in their own post on this issue that it was not a one-off thing, but in fact seems to be the MO of the IERA. They also published an opinion piece written by a student who was at the debate.

And finally, Ophelia Benson has a nice round-up of commentary on this whole mess, including a statement by the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (hosted on Maryam Namazie’s blog) amongst other great commentaries. Please read through that post and the links therein for any more information.

What we’ve seen here is complete and total gender apartheid. When are these Muslims going to learn that they do not have the right to force their bullshit on the rest of us?

A lot of people defending the segregation are saying quite stupid things like “if women don’t want to sit with men, what’s the problem?” The problem is that there was no choice. The segregation was enforced. They actually asked people their gender (specifically: man or woman… note the total binary they operated on there, utterly ignoring the transgendered) when they bought tickets, then assigned seats accordingly. That is not choice; it’s force.

Forced gender segregation. In London. In 2013.

Please post any other links and information I may have missed or that comes out in the near future. Thank you.

About Nathan Hevenstone

I'm an SJW, Socialist, Jewish Agnostic Atheist, Foodie, and Guitarist. Hi! https://allmylinks.com/jimmyrrpage
This entry was posted in Activism, Agnosticism, Atheism, Atheism+, Feminism, Freethought Blogs, Islam, Misogyny, Morality, Religion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Timeline of the University College London (UCL) Debate Debacle

  1. Thetar says:

    Hi Nate, I appreciate your comments. I don’t see why those in so called leadership roles can be as tolerant and engaging as you’re being in our convo. There are much more points of agreement, but those interested in furthering the rift choose to focus disproportionately on the differences.

    I don’t post at the pit, but I have been following this whole thing for some, it’s better than a soap opera. The members of the pit do occasionally call out those who do really stupid things like photoshopping OB’s head onto a naked old woman, or when someone who had posted there made a very poor taste joke about OB and acid.

    I started out neutral in all of this, had only vaguely heard of Rebecca Watson. Pharyngula was the 1st thing I read each morning. Then i started to realise what a schmuk PZ really was over time. My respect for him plummeted and he’s done nothing to change my opinion. He misrepresents others, even his own such as Julian, accusing him of being a slympitter, wtf?

    Led Zep is one of my favourite bands, just recently watched the 2007 reunion concert, Jimmy Page still has it.

    • We’re having a civil discussion because I don’t think you’re arguing in bad faith. I disagree with you about the Horde, but you’re being civil, intelligent, and arguing in good faith. We really don’t get that a lot at Pharyngula.

      I actually agree that this is better than a soap opera, but probably not for the reasons you do.

      As for PZ… I’ve actually been reading this whole thing about Julian, but I have no idea who that is or the context surrounding it. What happened there? Any links?

      What, exactly, made you pin PZ as a schmuck? What sort of things lowered your opinion of him?

      • Thetar says:

        I agree it is a civil discussion, mainly because you chose to answer my 1st comment in a good light, even though you could have dismissed me as just a troll. This is what is a big problem at Pharyngula, where a lot of commenters choose to take the most uncharitable view possible of someone disagreeing with them.

        The first thing that tainted my view of PZ was over the dictionary atheist thing. I couldn’t understand why he was so agitated over it. To me, atheism is just lack of belief in god or gods. The way he had criticised other atheists for being accomodationalist with christians was a reasonable stance but his juvenile style of putdowns became grating to me. I’d always liked Thunderf00t, so that whole fiasco with PZ banning him sealed it for me, especially when the reason given was “poor writing”. Does PZ ever read comradde physioproffe? His blog is full of dreck and poor writing. Hypocrisy for the win.

        Regarding Julian, http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2013/03/22/adria-richards-did-everything-exactly-right/comment-page-3/#comment-587251

        Julian commenta later: “You are not a compassionate group of people. You are hateful, bitter and cruel. I came here thinking this was just the slympit exaggerating shit to drum up hate against you guys. I see they’re exactly right. God damn, fucking fix yourselves.”

        Myers later calls him a slymepitter then banhammers him, comment 1388 lol. PZ misinterpreted Julians words, like he often does.

        I see you don’t post at A+ forum now. Any reason, particularly when you were such an enthusiast when it all started?

      • Knowing what I do about the past of Pharyngula, I’d actually say that the Horde is well-justified in being defensive and suspicious. In fact, if you want to see evidence against, a new poster came in to the lounge, and another poster made this one feel unwelcome. The rest chastised the second poster, because the new poster came in feeling vulnerable and admitted some harsh things. Everyone except for one person was very welcoming to the new poster.

        As for the Dictionary Atheist thing… this is a point where you and I will disagree. When I lost my faith, I also rejected religion. Many of the things that I rejected included Biblical bigotry, conservative values, etc. So My becoming an atheist forced my slow transition to feminism and Social Libertarianism and so on. I’m a social justice advocate because I’m an atheist. They are, for me, at least, inextricably linked. I would not be a feminist, a Social Libertarian, a social justice advocate, and so on if I wasn’t an atheist.

        Atheism simply cannot be the dictionary definition. If we want to actually win our social justice fight, and get atheism more accepted and normalized in global society, insisting that atheism is just the lack of belief in a higher power will doom us to failure. That doesn’t mean the dictionary definition isn’t useful. Indeed, that dictionary definition is why I don’t think agnosticism is a middle ground between atheism and theism (specifically as it relates to the differences between knowledge and belief).

        Thunderf00t was kicked out because he used his post at Freethought Blogs to bully Freethought Blogs. Rule number of getting a new job: Don’t, on the first day, unfairly criticize you’re bosses over how they do their job. That’s going to get you fired.Thunderf00t was a fiasco that FtB didn’t deserve. He is not an innocent victim, here. He made some incredibly stupid choices with regards to how to introduce himself to his new readership on FtB.

        Ah… that’s julian. Okay… here’s julian’s very first post in the thread (and, presumably, the blog):

        Just read he first two pages. You guys are a bunch of callous assholes, you know that? How’s about not looking for an excuse to beat on someone for a change?

        I’m not sure how that can be misread…

        I don’t spend a lot of time on forums in general like I used to. I’m mainly not posting there much because of time. A+ is blossoming into a fine new group; give it time.

        Also, I really do relish good debate, and I’m more likely to respond to people I disagree with, so I spend more time in places where I <i.can debate… I have a particular painful (and unfortunate) love of taking on Creationists. Not sure what drives me to do that, but… yeah…

        There isn’t much of that at the A+ forums. Which is totally fine. Those forums as a safe space. It needs to stay that way. I just like debate.

      • Thetar says:

        There’s this thing called Humanism, that atheists can identify with if they want to. Adding political and social issues to atheism is a recipe for disaster, as we have seen over the past 2 years.

        Thunderf00t was told by PZ that he had complete freedom to write aout what he wanted. He was gotten rid of because he held a different view to the one Peezus is trying to evangelise.

        On A+, the mods are on a power trip, so it isn’t that safe for noobs or even regulars now it seems. A+ as a movement is dead. Remember how excited you were on Blaghag when it was forming? You were gonna get an A+ logo tattoo. Thankfully you didn’t. Even it’s creator dropped it almost completely soon after.

    • As for Led Zeppelin… I’m rather obsessed with them. I have at least one recording of every live show they’ve ever played that got recorded (both officially and unofficially), as well as a good amount of memorabilia. Jimmy Page is why I started playing guitar. To me, LZ is the top… 😀

  2. Thetar says:

    Hi Nate, first I am glad you responded, I shouldn’t have followed up my question in tems of creationist tactics. You claim the pit applied the sooper genius moniker to you. I did some google searches and couldn’t find that but I am not disbelieving you. What I found were some rather mocking comments directed at you which you probaly would have found unpleasant.

    I think the reaon you get this heat is because of the style of your posts at time, comes across as excessively fawning or emotional. Also those wanky usernames you and some of your ftb cohorts use is ripe for mockery.

    It’s interesting that you disagreed with PZ in some way, of course you didn’t get piled on like Ellen Beth Wachs did. That was disgraceful and all condoned by Myers. Did you state you disagreement on that thread? How about Julian and his treatment?

    In summary, it shouldn’t be up to you to protect the hypocrites getting “triggered” at pharyngula. No one even thanked you, they don’t need a white knight. I can understand why you don’t like the slymepit, but they are fun and they don’t turn on their own like the piranahs at ftb.

    • Here’s where they label me a “sooper genius”:

      NateHevens – A+Theism’s pet SOOPER-GENIUS, with a greater soaring scientific intellect than Einstein, superior oratory than Christopher Hitchens, wittier than Oscar Wilde, and with bigger tits than Dolly Parton.

      I think the intellect thing comes from a post I did at A+ basically saying that, if I could have ever done the math, I would study Theoretical Physics, with a focus on String Theory (or, at least, the Theory of Everything). I love that stuff, and find it fascinating. But greater than Einstein?

      Is that even possible? Not for me, at least. My intellect soars about as high as a fly with a broken wing…

      I have no idea where they got the “superior oratory than Christopher Hitchens” thing. I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Hitchens, but he was an amazing orator and writer. I still hold up his debate alongside Stephen Fry on Intelligence Squared against Anne Widdecombe and John Onaiyaken(sp?) about the Catholic Church being a force for good in the world as the absolute greatest debate of the 21st century, all because of Hitchen’s and Fry’s performances. The two of them were beyond awe-inspiring in that debate. And his book “The Missionary Position” was eye-opening and amazing.

      I also don’t know where the “wittier than Oscar Wilde” thing comes from. For one thing, I don’t think there’s such a thing as “wittier than Oscar Wilde”; he was pretty much the god of wit. For another, I’m not witty at all. And when I try to be, I fail miserably.

      I’m ignoring that last part because it’s both misogynistic and misandrist, and thus not worth my time.

      I think the reaon you get this heat is because of the style of your posts at time, comes across as excessively fawning or emotional. Also those wanky usernames you and some of your ftb cohorts use is ripe for mockery.

      My username has always been NateHevens. It used to be jimmyRRpage (the RR standing for Randy Rhoads) when I was more worried about anonymity than I am now. I started using the “Sooper-Genius” thing because of the Slymepit.

      As for the overly-fawning; perhaps. That could very well be a legitimate criticism. But I’d argue that a lot of you on the other side can be overly-fawning of Dawkins and Hitchens and Shermer and so on, who, for a lot of people, it seems, can do no wrong and/or are otherwise above/beyond criticism.

      Also, I’ve always been an emotional person. I suffer from a number of issues, including rather extreme (though thankfully not physically violent) anger management issues, insomnia, and depression. It’s not that hard to bring me to tears, either. That blog post I did on the Comfortably Numb solo? It brings me to tears every single time I listen to it. Another song that brings me to tears is Led Zeppelin’s Since I’ve Been Loving You. Good music does that to me.

      So yes, I can be overly emotional. But I should note that I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s much less healthy to teach boys that “real men don’t cry” and that they should express themselves through violence and penis-size contests and so on.

      It’s interesting that you disagreed with PZ in some way, of course you didn’t get piled on like Ellen Beth Wachs did. That was disgraceful and all condoned by Myers. Did you state you disagreement on that thread? How about Julian and his treatment?

      EllenBeth got piled on for calling Matthew Best, who was severely triggering people, a “rational” poster. I have to say; I think EllenBeth could have been treated a little less viciously… she’s a boon for Florida atheists; we need her for both her atheist activism and her feminist activism. EllenBeth is amazing. But she did make a mistake, and I was sorry to see her double-down on that. Matthew Best was couching some actually rude and shitty points in “rational” language. EllenBeth the conference organizer seemed unable to see that, which I found quite strange since as a feminist she’s always been so much more aware than that.

      I did actually state that I think Adria handled the situation poorly on the thread. The problem is this:
      Had the reaction to what Adria did largely been constructive but respectful criticism, none of this would have ever happened. Had Adria never received the rape and death threats, I’d be willing to bet that even PZ would have been a bit more critical. The reason we say that she “did everything exactly right” is because of the response she received on Twitter and elsewhere. It basically just proved everything feminists have been saying for years, now. If Adria had been a man, none of this would have happened. She never would have received the backlash if she was a he. That backlash really is reserved for women who dare to speak out.

      That was the context that the so-called “critics” of Adria in the thread (like Matthew Best) utterly refused to acknowledge. It was always about the response she received, not how she handled the initial situation.

      I honestly think that Adria’s a bully. She has a bad habit of picking fights where they simply don’t need to be picked (like American Atheists going after the WTC cross and “Seven in Heaven Way”… both fights not worth fighting). But she never “asked for” the responses she received. I would defend Wooly Bumblebee, and Renee Hendricks, and Sarah Mayhew against rape threats, and I promise you that every single blogger and commentator on Freethought Blogs and in A+ would, too. We would defend them against such threats loudly and proudly and with as much viciousness as we attack bigoted notions. Yes, I disagree quite strongly with Sarah and Wooly and Renee, and yes, I do think all three of them are bullies. But no one deserves the kinds of threats Adria received.

      How Adria handled the initial situation stopped being relevant when she started getting graphic depictions of the thing these unhinged people wanted to do to her, with her home address attached to the threats. In the absence of those threats, yes, it would be a relevant discussion, and you’d probably find me on your side of it. But in the face of the threats and blatant misogyny that Adria received in response, her handling of the initial situation no longer matters. And that’s the point we’ve all been trying to make this whole time.

      In summary, it shouldn’t be up to you to protect the hypocrites getting “triggered” at pharyngula. No one even thanked you, they don’t need a white knight. I can understand why you don’t like the slymepit, but they are fun and they don’t turn on their own like the piranahs at ftb.

      See, it’s comments like this I find insulting.

      a) Why is it assumed that because I ally myself with these people it’s because I’m “white-knighting” in the hopes of “getting laid”? Isn’t it entirely possible that I ally myself with them because I’m a decent human being who thinks they’re right?

      b) I’m not looking for any kind of thanks. I honestly don’t think I deserve any thanks from them. I’m not doing it for praise. I’m doing it because I think it’s the right thing to do, and that’s enough.

      The Pharyngula Horde only turn on those who show themselves to be a lot less introspective than it was initially thought. In other words, when you actually read the threads, you find that there’s good reasons for it. There are some times when I really wish the Slymepit would turn on some of “their own”, because some of “their own” are absolutely disgusting people who don’t deserve the platform the Slymepit gives them. To be clear, I’m not tarring the whole Slymepit with that. I don’t read the forums, so I don’t know all the personalities that post there. I don’t consider you, for example, to be one of those “disgusting” people. But there are people that decent human beings just shouldn’t be associated with… like, for example, anyone who claims to be an “MRA”. But I’ve already talked about that in the past…

  3. Thetar says:

    Why did you delete my comment? Are you going the way of the creationist?

    • I’m sorry. I had received an influx of really nasty comments over the past two days insulting me and women. Yours got lost in there partly because it involved recent events at Pharyngula. I’ll try to see if I can restore it.

  4. Thetar says:

    Hey there Mr Soooper Genius, are you going to issue an apology for the Viking invasion of Britain? I think you should, because you are no more connected to that as you are to Matthew Best. You being sorry for for other posters disagreeing looks ridiculous to me. The only one who maybe should be sorry is PZ Myers who chooses to run his blog like a cesspool.

    • As for how PZ Myers runs his blog… you can think he runs it like a cesspool all you want, but it’s quite telling that victims of sexual harassment/assault feel safe to actually tell their stories on Pharyngula… which sort of undermines the idea that PZ Myers runs a cesspool, because if he did, it would not be considered a safe space for some victims.

      I also have no problem with the Pharyngula Horde being as vicious as they are (I wrote a blog post about it, in fact). First off, I have no respect for people who pull the “you should be more polite!” card. That’s bullshit. Would they tell Richard Dawkins to be more polite towards the religious? Of course not.

      Rape is not an intellectual exercise. Bodily autonomy is not negotiable. And if you come even close to suggesting either, no matter how “politely” you do it, people are going to attack you for it.

      “You say you have the right to not be treated like a public toilet, I think that’s a contention up for debate. Surely it’s a discussion we can have in a polite forum.”

      Yes, that’s couched in nice, polite words with smiley faces and butterflies and rainbows n’ shit, but it is in fact extremely rude and dehumanizing. So I support the viciousness of the Horde for that reason, even if I myself can’t always be that vicious.

    • There you go…

      My moniker “sooper genius” was given to me by the ever-generous Slymepit.

      The reason I posted what I did to Matthew Best is because he was severely triggering people I’ve come to “care about” (insofar as you can reasonably care about people you’ve only ever known as nyms on the internet). These past two weeks (starting with Steubenville) have been utter shit for anyone who’s experienced any kind of sexual harassment/assault, and many of the regular commenters at Pharyngula have experienced such… quite severe in some cases.

      Matthew Best was triggering them quite badly (if you’d read the Thunderdome during that period, you’d see what I mean), and he didn’t seem to get that at all.

      I don’t have the same triggers myself (mine are more related to bullying and suicide… which, BTW, is why I avoid the Slymepit… having been driven to 3 suicide attempts because of bullying, the one time I waded into the Slymepit, it hurt like all hell; reading the thing about me being a “sooper genius” actually caused me to feel like I did back when I was suicidal… adopting that moniker in an ironic sort of way was quite helpful, but what works for me doesn’t work for everybody… this is why I’ll defend FtB from charges of bullying… because looking at both sides, it’s the Slymepit that reminds me of those kids who made me hate myself in grade school, not FtB), but I have always had (for a reason I could never really figure out) a severely averse reaction to rape. I can’t watch it in movies/TV shows or read about it in books (I never finished “The Book of Eli” past that scene, I can’t watch “Game of Thrones” or “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” or “CSI: Special Victims Unit”, etc). So reading Matthew Best’s posts, I could sympathize with those being triggered by him, which is why I begged him to stop.

      His response to me suggested that he did not realize he was triggering anyone, but I don’t consider that an excuse because he had actually been told it several times by others, and I’m disappointed that he listened to me, an open and obvious male online (since I’m not anonymous) and not the women and anonymous nyms who had been telling him that for a number of posts.

      The thread about Adria never would have devolved if people hadn’t screwed up the topic; it was about the reaction Adria received on Twitter and elsewhere. I actually do think Adria made a mistake; I don’t think she should have tweeted that picture.

      But that was never the point of the post and I honestly don’t care that I personally think she made a mistake in the face of the response she received. She does not deserve the rape and death threats (many of which had her personal address attached to them) that came her way. At most, she deserved a “yeah… you probably could have handled that a tad differently; it’s not the way I personally would have handled it” and then it should have died down with no big to-do.

      I don’t think her chosen method of calling attention to the comments was entirely her fault, though, as the conference should have provided either a number or an email address (being constantly monitored) that any of the attendees could use to send a message if needed.

      I do think she was right to report the “jokes”, however, partly because both the conference and the two guys making the jokes agreed they were against the rules and in poor taste, but also because they did, in fact, direct the dongle jokes to her. I should also note that Adria did condemn that man’s company for firing him, and noted that she hoped they reconsidered and re-hired him. But I also don’t think she should have been fired.

      These are all facts that a lot of the people condemning Adria seem to miss; specifically that both the conference and the two men shamed agreed that she was right to report them.

      Also… thetar, I’m happy to have this discussion with you, but be aware that I want this blog to be a safe space for victims and feminists and so on, so I am requesting that you think about what you post… if you want to be more free, we can talk on the Open Thread to my (apparently never-going-to-happen) discussion with Joseph Zhang, where I’m allowing these 101-level discussions.

      This is just a request, not a demand. I want this blog to be a safe space, so I’m trying to keep it that way. I hope you don’t mind that.

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