25. An Open-Letter to the LSE’s ‘Anti-Racism’ Officer about Palestine, Racism and Injustice

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Dear Ms Gross

Let me introduce myself, I am Zena, I was the first speaker at the LSE event on Tuesday night about gender and resistance in Palestine. I have written this blog in response to your article and I have a few questions for you.

First, do you realise that the woman you described as delivering an ‘appalling attempt’ lost her husband and countless other family members in Gaza? Do you realise that the student you accused of ‘condoning the indiscriminate killing of Israelis’ has her entire family in Gaza and is not allowed to go back?

I ask you this because I’m curious as to whether or not you realise that by taking this stance you have explicitly aided the oppressor. The LSE is a University; therefore a plurality of voices should not only be encouraged but actively sought out. Even if the event was all that you said it was (it wasn’t, but let’s pretend), shouldn’t the critique be more holistic in its approach, rather than slanderous and personal?

There are two sides to every story and allow me to tell you of my experience: a man called Richard Millett infiltrated the safe space of the LSE lecture theatre, took unofficial photographs and wrote a scathing, inaccurate article about us. In it, Mr Millett accuses me of urging the audience to see ISIS in a different light – an accusation made all the more hurtful given that my cousin was killed by ISIS activities in Baghdad six months ago and my family is still in mourning. (Incidentally, as a side point, his WordPress is titled “If Carlsberg did blogs” – I can imagine Carlsberg saying a lot of daft things but it adopting an over-zealous Zionist voice did make me chuckle.) But Mr. Millet went one step further, Ms Gross: he filmed me – without my permission – and uploaded a video onto YouTube with the title: “Zena Agha sickeningly portrays Israelis as rapists”. The content of the video itself disproves the inflammatory, click-bait title. I’m assuming you’ve watched it? Content aside, the purpose of the video was to undermine my credibility, to attack me. Mislabeling a video amounts to slander. It’s libel.

Did I say anything in those four minutes that justified the writing of an open letter of condemnation by the LSE’s ‘Anti-Racism’ Officer? Indeed, if Mr Millett would only correct the title, I would circulate it far and wide: I have no qualms about my speech. War is perpetually sexualised and rape is frequently weaponised: these are neither new nor polemical ideas. All the examples I gave in the speech were factually correct, backed by credible sources that I will gladly pass on to you, Mr Millett, and anyone else who might care to know more. After all, it wouldn’t be very ‘nice’ if anyone accused you of injustice would it, Ms Gross?

We live in this Internet age where anyone can write anything. It takes integrity to distinguish abuse from critique. Instead of defending me, and the others being attacked, you have instead chosen to side with those who have the express intention of vilifying healthy debate. Three-quarters of the way through Mr. Millet walked out the theatre, having got what he came for. Yesterday, when I logged onto Facebook there was a barrage of abuse waiting for me. Between YouTube, WordPress and Facebook, I was targeted in what can only be described as a cyber-bullying attack. Is this what freedom looks like? Will you give me some ‘reassurance’ following this ‘gratuitous violence’?

I can only guess as to why you have adopted this stance, Ms Gross. What I inferred from your article was that you are blind to the plight of those oppressions you claim to defend. All the women on that stage were women of colour. We were hosting the type of representative event that parliament and boardrooms can’t seem to emulate. And yet without even attending the event in question, you have delegitimised our right to engage with the very real threats facing women, and Palestinians in general, in the face of Israel’s de facto apartheid and settler-colonisation. I appreciate your desire to create a safe space for the LSE’s diversity, but I don’t think that tweeting about the ‘glorification of terrorism’ fulfils that aim somehow.

The LSE has a great reputation, a good faculty and good resources. But a University is nothing without students. Those with whom one interacts on a daily basis. I would not attend a University that did not uphold my rights: a university where my position as a woman of colour would be represented by officers who lie about basing their evidence on an SU investigation. That you cannot see the racism at play against us is telling and hurtful. As I said at the event, we are the future leaders. We are privileged students, attending prestigious institutions, in preparation for a journey down the corridors of power. The best way to acknowledge this privilege is to give back. To recognise oppression for what it is. To encourage freedom of speech, expression and debate and to engage with the political cleavages that will come to shape our future. I realise Palestine is a hot potato. As an all-Palestinian female panel we know this better than most. But if you are going to write an open letter decrying an event that explicated varying viewpoints and was warmly received by its audience, please do your research, and at the very least attend the event. You have abused your role as anti-racism officer with your article and you have fanned the flames of bigotry and injustice in doing so.

Follow @Zena_Agha

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3 thoughts on “25. An Open-Letter to the LSE’s ‘Anti-Racism’ Officer about Palestine, Racism and Injustice

  1. Amen!! I’m sick and tired of Zionist apologetics. In the 21st century colonialism should be condemned in every manner! Have we not learned from the past?

  2. It is interesting to read the differences of opinion that you and your colleague have. How do you each define “racism”?

  3. Zena,

    First of all, nobody needs permission to film a public speaker in the UK, it’s in the law, which in turn accords with common sense understandings regarding the nature of what it is to speak in public. Moving on: why does someone have to attend an event to express an opinion (or even condemnation) regarding statements purportedly made there? Your own personal history suggests your time spent in the middle east is actually extremely limited, but that in no way can or should be used to undermine the legitimacy of any justifiable and legal statements you make regarding Palestine and its relationship to Israel. That being said, the partial video recording of your speech at the LSE would almost certainly have earned you a hate speech charge (under the Public Order Act 1986) in view of your statement that “for Israelis, rape is almost a site of war”. If it is not immediately obvious to you why that statement is illegal, couch it in language that might better trigger your sympathies by replacing the word “Israelis” with “Muslims”; now consider the implications of the resulting statement being made via a public announcement system to a crowded theater. If you feel that your own statement was justified via reference to a (misquote) from Mordechai Kedar and reference to a sign you saw in a protest march, consider again the appalling and offensive statement “for Muslims, rape is almost a site of war”, now justified via reference to the sexual slavery practice of ISIS (which, unlike rape by the IDF, does actually take place, although to be clear it would still be an act of evil to generalise from the actions of ISIS to Muslims in general ). So, in view of your own recorded speech, why should the LSE student have been expected to disbelieve other statements conveyed to her regarding extremist comments purportedly made at your meeting? And – not wishing to sound callous – of what relevance is the personal suffering of the speakers at the event? Their histories are undeniably tragic and in other contexts are absolutely worthy of consideration, but they have no bearing on the statements made by the LSE anti racism officer, and there was no reason or need for her to be informed of their backgrounds when she wrote expressing concern regarding statements purportedly made at the event. Jewish/Israel socs could easily fill up a stage with terror victims, it would not lend any special validity to their broader claims about the conflict or defend them in any way from charges of illegal hate speech were they to utter the (ludicrous and offensive) phrase “for Palestinians, rape is almost a site of war”.

    Consider events from the perspective of the LSE anti racism officer: she had received complaints from other students about statements made at the Palestine / FemSoc event. In her role as anti racism officer it is her duty to respond to these complaints. All she had to go on was (1) the word of others and (2) the fairly damning video of your speech at the meeting. She had to make a decision to act based on the balance of probably that hateful things were said at the meeting. It is absurd to think that on the basis of the evidence presented to her at the time she should have refrained from commenting (I want to emphasise how important your own recorded hateful statements are in relation to a reasonable assessment of this balance of probability). She would have been in dereliction of her own responsibilities in her capacity as anti racism officer not to comment on the matter. Since then the argument has descended into a he said/she said regarding what was said at the meeting (with several people who were actually there still supporting the anti racism officer’s version of events), however it ridiculous to suggest that she shouldn’t have made an initial comment on the matter. Moreover, her response was limited solely to criticism of statements she had been told were made at the event; she did not personalise her attack by providing the names of speakers, only identifying one of the speakers via reference to their work at the LSE. She focused her own comments on statements that were purportedly made at the event. Since her own letter was published in the student newspaper, she has received several moderately lengthy blog or student newspaper posts (including your own) which have used her name repeatedly and have castigated her on a personal level in condescending, viscous and, at times, misogynist tones, some even demanding her resignation. Much like your illegal and hateful comments made at the LSE meeting, the response to her initial open letter does not seem reasonable or proportionate.

    Regards,

    Tom Simpson
    MSc Finance & Economics (LSE 2013-14)

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