A guest lecture by a controversial libertarian was disrupted yesterday (March 30) evening by student activists.
Dozens of student members of the University of Bristol Liberty Society gathered in a lecture room of the Wills Memorial Building for a talk entitled “The Roots of War”, organised by the society. Shortly after the lecture began at 6pm, eight activists, part of newly formed group Student Action Bristol, played loud music, sang and chanted to disrupt the event and blockaded a door to the lecture room.
The speaker was Yaron Brook, former executive director, and now chair of the board, of the Ayn Rand Institute, who holds a number of controversial views on Islam, Israel and global conflict, including that states like the US and Israel are morally justified in bombing their enemies. Brook’s public appearances have been the subject of protest before.
The activists said they took action because Brook is, they allege, Islamophobic, saying his presence on campus makes other students less safe and that they don’t believe he should be allowed to speak.
They say they were acting in solidarity with University of Bristol Friends of Palestine society, whose members could not participate in the action for fear of reprisals. The Friends of Palestine society did not plan or participate in the action but said they support it.
Security arrived swiftly to the disruption and in unedifying scenes attempted to remove the protesters by force, which they were unable to do. Police were later called and made efforts to liaise with the protesters but made no further effort to remove them.
Protesters remained until 7.45pm when the lecture, which the organisers had attempted to continue, ended and those inside left by another door.
On their website, Bristol University Liberty Society describe their purpose as promoting “classical liberalism and wealth creating ideas among UoB students and beyond”. They hold regular events for students and the public.
In a statement, available in full on Facebook, the Liberty Society called the protest ‘attempted censorship’ and a ‘direct assault on free speech.’
They said: ‘This event, as all LibSoc events, was meant to be academic, philosophical, and open to criticism. We not only welcome disagreement but encourage it, as ideas cannot be fought except by means of better ideas.’
They go on to say ‘the UoB Liberty Society will continue to champion free speech and pursue our goal of providing an outlet for the free and open exchange of ideas.’
Student Action Bristol are a newly formed group, consisting of students, some of whom took part in last month’s occupation of the Wills Memorial Building, opposed to the marketisation of education.
They have three demands of the University of Bristol: equal pay for staff and an end to race, gender and disability pay gaps; to cut all ties with arms companies on campus; and, to provide affordable student accommodation.