n Monday October 24th, The Undergraduate Live Journal hosted a lecture by Dr. Yaron Brook titled ‘Free Speech and the battle for Western Culture’. Dr. Brook has been invited to Exeter University multiple times, including to speak about his book ‘Equal is Unfair’.
Dr. Brook is an objectivist whose beliefs about the superiority of Western Civilisation have led to some incredibly violent statements about people of colour and more specifically about Muslims and Palestinians. Dr. Brook’s rhetoric employs the same language that has been used for centuries by Europeans to absolve themselves of the obliteration of indigenous cultures. With this rhetoric, he attempts to conceal systems of oppression with claims of “western higher morality”.
on Exeter University Campus there is serious opposition to Dr. Brook’s fascist views and we will not let them go unchallenged.
In this context of Dr. Brook’s violent remarks and racist beliefs, a group of students of colour and their allies, including Palestinians, Kurds, Algerians and Jordanians, decided to disrupt Monday’s lecture. Disruption as a method of protest may be relatively new to Exeter University campus, however it has been used for decades by many student political activists and more recently by the Black Lives Matter movement.
The aim of disruption as a political activist tactic is to open the conversation to include voices that are often marginalized because they go against the grain of the hegemonic discourse. This is crucially relevant in a context such as the one of Exeter, where conversations on racism and white supremacy, and their relevance in informing Western foreign policies rarely take place. When they do they are based on the false premise that all voices deserve to be heard, even when they incite racial hatred, in the name of ‘free speech.’
Public opinion is not shaped in a void, but depends on the power relations that exist and that perpetrate inequality, thus rendering speech ‘free’ and effective only for those in power. In these cases disruption becomes a necessary tactic for rebalancing power relations and make the voice of the powerless heard. Such was the case with Dr. Brook’s lecture. We wanted and succeeded in making it very clear that on Exeter University Campus there is serious opposition to Dr. Brook’s fascist views and that we will not let them go unchallenged.
As Dr. Brook began his lecture, students took turns to interrupt him by reading out statements explaining why we opposed his presence on campus. Eight students read out statements, whilst others stood in solidarity. We then proceeded to chant and make noise until the talk was eventually moved to another room. As such we achieved our aim of making very clear our position on hosting such a speaker on our campus. We also believe our action had the positive outcome of sparking a conversation that would have not otherwise taken place.
The topics of our statements that we read out are summarized below.
In 2002, Dr. Brook published an article online about Israel’s morality. In it he states the following;
“The land Israel is “occupying” was captured in a war initiated by its Arab neighbors. Like any victim of aggression, Israel has a moral right to control as much land as is necessary to safeguard itself against attack. The Palestinians want to annihilate Israel, while Israel wants simply to be left alone. If there is a moral failing on Israel’s part, it consists of its reluctance to take stronger military measures. If it is right for America to bomb al-Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan — and it is — then it is equally justifiable for Israel to bomb the terrorist strongholds in the occupied territories.”
In this short paragraph, Dr. Brook manages to not only support international law violations (the occupation of the West Bank), he also manages to criticise Israel for being too lenient with its military “measures”. Israel’s military “measures” in the Occupied Territory are daily and relentless violations of international law. These measures have included various bombing campaigns on the Gaza Strip including in 2008 and 2014, which the UN and Amnesty International have suggested could amount to war crimes.
More recently Dr. Brook has also made Donald Trump-like Islamaphobic comments about Muslim immigration in Europe, claiming that, along the lines of his objectivist political beliefs, Muslims should be banned from entering European countries:
“[An Objectivist government] would basically ban the immigration of Muslims into the country, basically as an act of self-defense and in particular in Europe where terrorism attacks [are committed] by Muslims who are not coming in from the outside but either have lived in the West for many years or grown up in the West and where radical mosques exist.”
Dr. Brook has also made some seriously dangerous comments about America’s invasion of Iraq. On the O’ Reilly Factor show in 2004, he said the following:
“I would like to see the United States turn Fallujah into dust, and tell the Iraqis: If you’re going to continue to support the insurgents you will not have homes, you will not have schools, you will not have mosques.”
Collective punishment is illegal under international law, and yet Dr. Brook supports and advocates this not only in Iraq but also with the bombing of Japan after WWII, where he argues for bringing cultures opposed to Western democracies to their knees:
“How did we end World War II, by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. We did not create more enemies, we actually created friends and we created ultimately a free Japan. We brought the Japanese people to their knees and that is the only way you can establish a democracy in a culture which is so opposed to freedom, is bring their culture to its knees.”
Dr. Brook has also made some seriously dangerous comments about America’s invasion of Iraq.
The reaction to our protest from other students were varied. Several sat silently, some also stood in solidarity whilst others decided to engage in opposition to us. One particular notable moment was when two students shouted at us to “go home”. In light of the recent racist scandal at Exeter with a ‘white t-shirt social’ in which two students were photographed wearing t-shirts making light of the holocaust and stating “Don’t talk to me if you’re not white”. This is not particularly surprising, however, it is still upsetting and worrying.
Dr. Brook responded by calling us Hamas supporters and anti-semites. We of course reject both of these claims vehemently. Firstly, essentialising a group of students, where the majority come from the Middle East, as “Hamas supporters” is both racist and derogatory. Secondly, our protest of Dr. Brook’s talk hailed from his beliefs, which perpetuate violence against people of colour and not from his own cultural or ethnic background.
It is a shame that The Undergraduate Live Journal felt this man was an appropriate speaker to invite to our campus. We believe there is a clear distinction between debate or dialogue and giving a platform to a speaker who incites racial hatred and publicly calls for committing war crimes against civilian populations. To conclude, I would like to adopt the slogan that Dr. Brook heard directly from us: Yaron Brook (and any other white supremacist speaker), you are not welcome on this campus.