A renowned American physicist created a row at University College London last weekend when he stormed out of a debate hosted by an Islamic group because men, women and couples in the audience were segregated.
The physicist, Lawrence Krauss, is a professor at Arizona State University. Krauss is a noted atheist who served on President Barack Obama’s science policy committee during the 2008 presidential campaign.
The debate, sponsored by the Islamic Education and Research Academy, was entitled: “Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?”
A YouTube clip posted by Stand for Peace, which brands itself as a Jewish-Muslim interfaith organization, reveals the meatiest part of the kerfuffle.
According to The Daily Telegraph, security staffers had attempted to escort three men out of the event after they endeavored to sit with the single women in the audience — far in the very back of the auditorium.
The clip begins with some applause.
“I’m sorry,” the professor then says, gathering up his things as if preparing to leave.
His next several words are not audible.
“Quit the segregation or I’m outta here,” Krauss demands, his voice firmly rising and his hands animated.
After some brief cross talk, Krauss gets up and storms out, to a smattering of applause.
Apparently, Krauss came back at some point after the recorded exchange.
The organizers of the debate eventually acquiesced to Krauss’s ultimatum. However, irate audience members accused him of anti-Muslim bias. One spectator yelled that Krauss was “intolerant” as he left, says The Telegraph.
At some point in the debate, a woman told Krauss that she felt ill at ease sitting among men.
“You are in a public arena and not in a mosque, not in a private event,” Krauss said he told her, according to The Telegraph.
The professor said gender segregation during debates was a first for him.
“I did a debate with an Islamic group in Australia which worked out fine,” Krauss told The Telegraph.
Krauss theorized that people in Britain could be overly courteous when Islamic gender segregation is at issue.
“People are not only afraid to offend, but afraid to offend a vocal and aggressive group of people.”
Krauss also told The Telegraph that he believes secular institutions such as University College, a public research university, should avoid every kind of segregation.
“It is the obligation of people who don’t feel comfortable with that to decide how they are going to mesh with broader society, not the other way around,” he said.
The school has since banned the Islamic Education and Research Academy from holding events on campus.
The IERA told The Telegraph that it had organized seating areas separated by gender but did not make the divided seating compulsory.