My weekend column mentioned en passant the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, and indeed took its title from one of his inspirations. A proponent of the separation of church and state and a believer in equal rights for women, Bentham is regarded as the “spiritual founder” of University College, London, which among other Benthamite characteristics was the first such institution in England to admit men and women on equal terms.
That is, until Saturday night, when the college hosted a debate called “Islam And Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?”, and the women were obliged to sit at the back:
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”.
At least they didn’t divide the females into menstruating and non-menstruating, as the celebrated Toronto middle-school mosqueteria does.
This is Britain’s future unless so-called liberals are willing to stand up for liberal values. In this case, they did, and they persisted, and University College appears to have been forced to take action. UCL can claim among its alumni the thwarted Pantybomber, who was president of the Islamic Society there. But the savvier Islamic supremacists have no desire to self-detonate over Detroit, not when so many in the West are eager to accept their central argument — that Islamic law now applies to believer and infidel alike. Hence, sex-segregated public meetings in the heart of London in 2013.
Jeremy Bentham bequeathed his body to University College, intending for it to be displayed in a Chàvez-like manner. Unfortunately, Maori mummification techniques weren’t quite up to snuff, so what survives is a skeleton padded with straw like the scarecrow in The Wizard Of Oz with a wax head, on display in the South Cloisters (plus a real head, available for inspection upon request). A man of straw with a bland rictus grin: That seems kind of emblematic of the British establishment as it assures everyone there’s nothing to see here.