In Depth

Brits too afraid of 'aggressive' Muslims, says US academic

Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss shocked by men and women being segregated at London uni debate

lawrence-krauss-grab-150313.jpg

ATHEIST Richard Dawkins has accused a leading British university of "sexual apartheid" after men and women were forced to sit separately at a debate hosted on its premises by an Islamic group. 

Dawkins said the "segregation" of the audience at the University College London debate entitled: Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense? was intolerable and “heads should roll".

One of the speakers at last Saturday's debate, the high-profile American physicist and atheist, Professor Lawrence Krauss (pictured above with Dawkins a year ago), threatened to walk out over the issue. A video clip (see below) posted online shows him saying "quit the segregation or I'm out of here" after security staff tried to throw out three men who had gone to sit in the women's section of the audience.

Krauss’s angry demands that men and women be allowed to sit together were met, but he was "astonished to find himself being accused of intolerance by angry members of the audience", the Daily Telegraph reports.

Krauss told the paper the incident highlights a wider problem: many British people are too afraid to challenge "a vocal and aggressive" section of the Muslim community. The former advisor to President Obama said Britons were often "cowed" by those eager to protest whenever they felt "their cultural norms are not being met".

He told the Telegraph: "People are not only afraid to offend, but afraid to offend a vocal and aggressive group of people. There is a segment of the Islamic community that is very vocal about this."

Authorities at UCL are investigating the event at which the audience was asked to sit in sections reserved for men, women and couples. The women's section was at the back of the auditorium.

The university says the group that organised the event, the Islamic Education and Research Academy, has been banned from holding events on the UCL campus.

Writing in The Times, David Aaronovitch, says the word 'segregation' has "horrid" associations. "My immediate and visceral reaction to the UCL story was to wonder what people would say if we instituted blacks-only, Jews-only, gingers-only, Catholics-only, Liberal Democrats-only seating and entrances for public events," he writes.

Aaronovitch believes Islamophobia is a "genuine problem", but "bending over too far to show that they [those who attack Islam] are wrong, however, presents its own dangers. There are lines that we cannot allow ourselves to cross. A small meeting in a London college tells us where one of the most important of those lines is to be found." 

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