The Sunday Leader

The Oxford Union: Freedom Of Expression In Universities

I trust that all right thinking people will condemn the security threats that led to the cancellation of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s invited speech at the Oxford Union.

Universities are sacred precincts where all sorts of ideas are discussed and dissected to permit the expansion of knowledge. As such censorship, especially under threat, is anathema and counterproductive to ideals of free thought.

The threats against the President were organised by an assortment of Tamil and Sinhalese political activists opposed to President Rajapaksa. I am aware that activists from all over Europe were bussed to converge in London, making one doubt if it was a true exercise in democratic protest involving the British public.

The Oxford Union, after inviting the President had an obligation to allow the event to proceed. Now through the cancellation, they have failed to stand up for free speech and energised extremist forces, both Sinhalese and Tamil. The government too must note that by delaying a solution, liberal Tamils in the UK, considerable in numbers, were made to sit by passively during this sad episode and have been weakened.

What have these protestors really achieved? They might have humiliated their opponent but that is neither here nor there in the long term. But more substantially, they have prevented President Rajapaksa from expressing his own views. And, most saddening, they have prevented others who might have had serious issues with him from engaging in a dialog with him at the lecture. They have also vitiated the strength and prestige of the Oxford forum in that only speakers who are “acceptable” may now speak, thereby giving currency to the idea that there are those who can judge who is acceptable and who is not. Never in a university!

There are many lessons for us in Sri Lanka. People of all hues here have tended to use labels to impose censorship against those whom they do not like, not realising that the same censorship can be used against them one day. I am reminded of how I was prevented from working at University of Jaffna by the same forces that obstructed the Oxford Union speech simply because they did not like how I thought. At Ruhuna it was once said that the first Dean of Engineering had to be a Sinhalese. The Asian Tribune, with links to the government, has editorialised that at Jaffna the Vice Chancellor has to be a Hindu. Universities, not least the Oxford Union, must assert that we judge only ideas and not personages.

S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole, D.Sc. (Eng.) Lond.
Coordinator for Engineering, University of Jaffna, Former Member of the UGC

9 Comments for “The Oxford Union: Freedom Of Expression In Universities”

  1. P.L.J.B.Palipana

    Thanks lot Pro.Hoole for your free & fair expression. The rights of the Visible Minorities should be protected by the “Law”. In Srilanka we have a mixed Nation sexually over centuries. Only a fool could tell I am Sinhala, Tamil or Sinhala. So a Solution means the strict ” Law” enforcement eliminating useless Institutions like Provincial Councils. Please remember the incident in Kandy for a Muslim school girl.

  2. mikew

    Mr. Hoole do you believe that war crimes were commited by the Army towards the last days of the war ??. I have never seen the likes of you condeming or calling for an inbestigation for these crimes commited against civilians and surendered tigers ?… in otherwards do you justify these crimes ?. I would say Oxford Union had the guts to cancel this war criminals speech . I know you had issues with the tigers and thats why you were forced to leave Jaffna. You might tell me that tigers also commited serious crimes against the civilians – however – remember tigers are a proscribed terrorist organisation & also they have paid the ultimate price. Where as the SL army is supposed to be a army of a democratic country …. You seriously should be ashamed of calling yourself a tamil and that too “an educated one” perhaps too much of education must have made your memory very selective.. MR might throw you some bones pls. collect and store it and you would need it.

  3. Peter

    President Rajapakse expressing his views! Has he not expressed his views back home by killing Journalists,political opponents and making Fathers , Brothers, Sons,Daughters,Sisters and Friends to disappear and end up as dead bodies all over the country, and adamantly refusing for an independent inquiry. A person who tramples others rights to express their freedom of expression has no right to express his views. And engaging in a dialog! What a joke. Hello writer when did you last see him engaging in a healthy dialog and do you know that his condition was that he will not answer any question from any free international reporters. Besides a thugish leader like this will ruin the very santum of the Oxford by his mere presence. Bussed from all over Europe in this freak and harsh weather condition! Yes it shows how they feel about their own kind appearing as mutilated and dead bodies on TV screens and so on. Did you not feel any pain when you saw these pictures? Sorry! your President wouldn’t allow you see them in Srilanka, so much so for his freedom of expression. You must be ashamed of yourself.

  4. The protesters at Oxford were mostly those who lost kith & kin, friends, acquaintances etc. to the sri lanka armed forces.
    You knew this very well as you were in jaffna but you criticised ony the LTTE.
    This is why you were chased out. Now dont try to go back.
    Of three nominees for the post of vice-chancellor of Jaffna University, one from the medical faculty has 14 votes, and the other two, 4 votes each, in the senate.
    Do not try to upset this by your sycophancy to the president.

    • mikew

      Well said gamarala the likes of Hoole are nothing scavengers. He is a shameless person. Well this is their time but rememeber life is a circle – what goes around comes around. So Hool the Coolie will be chased out of Jaffna soon.

  5. They deserve no better!

  6. N K Ratnam

    “But more substantially, they have prevented President Rajapaksa from expressing his own views”

    He hasn’t expressed his views to the people who were battered. He hasn’t expressed his views to the people at home. He was savouring his views to deliver it in Oxford, was he? Now that he has been denied that opportunity, he is not going to tell anyone of his views. Is that your argument?

    He was not going to answer any questions. He had his entourage of nearly 100 people to ensure that no dissenting voices were present amongst his audience. Why can’t he say what he has to say in Ottumadam? Why does he have to go to Oxford? Who is he kidding? Or who are you kidding?

    Come on Prof Hoole do not insult the inteligence of the rest of the Tamil people.

  7. Hooole,
    Do you really think that Rajapakse would have written a speech, or he is capable of a dialog after making that speech???

    Why are you trying to placate him, is it because of the Vice Chancellor post?
    Tamis will never run out of traitors.

  8. Lankey

    Hoole the MR coolie! My god, London educated buffoon!

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