Letter: Fascism is not the alternative!

SOAS students protest against Gunnar Beck

The EU elections on 26 May highlighted the unwelcome presence at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) of Gunnar Beck, a lecturer in law, who successfully stood as a candidate for the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), and is now a member of the European Parliament. The AfD is violently anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, holocaust denying and climate-change denying.

Complaints by students about queer-phobic and anti-migrant remarks made by Gunnar Beck have been systematically disregarded by the university’s management. SOAS put out a statement protecting Gunnar Beck by claiming ‘Freedom of Speech’, and simultaneously ignored student initiatives such as Account4This that seek reform of the complaints procedure.

SOAS’ reluctance to acknowledge the voice of the students who are endangered by the narratives which Gunnar Beck repeats brings to light structural issues at SOAS, which had failed to deal with complaints of discrimination and harassment. The issue is not just specific to this or any other individual university and students have long been campaigning for anti-black and Islamophobic academic staff to be held accountable at universities across London. Goldsmiths University, students have been staging an occupation of the former Deptford Town Hall, which now forms part of the Goldsmiths campus, since 12 March to protest against the lack of anti-racist action from senior management. A statement from the occupying students says that they stand ‘in solidarity with students of colour on campus who face racism, especially anti-Blackness, on a daily basis in the form of micro-aggressions, insensitive lecturers and seminar leaders, readings that exclude our experiences, and lack of response from authorities concerned’.

These issues are representative of the efforts that liberal institutions make to protect perpetrators of discrimination long before they address the harm it causes. Focussing the conversation towards ‘freedom of speech’ rather than the repercussions of that speech, under the guise of individual liberty, endangers those who are most vulnerable. With the rise of far-right fascist groups globally, it is crucial to address not only the purveyors but also those who are complicit in protecting and validating such groups. The demand for Gunnar Beck’s dismissal goes beyond the individual, representing a stance against the systematic racism and discrimination at universities, especially in London, the imperialist core.

Lena K, SOAS student