How much do you know about your lecturers? You probably know their name, their preferred apparel, their accent and therefore perhaps even their home town. You probably don’t know anything about their domestic life (spouse/screaming kids/cat/dog) or their favourite food. Even if you did it wouldn’t be because of a personal relationship you’d managed to build with them in the last five minutes of the lecture but as the result of a passing comment to a hundred other people. But how would we feel if we discovered our lecturers were members of controversial societies or radical religious groups? Would we embrace them as humans with individual opinions or reject them as dangerously influential on students minds?
Students at the London School of Economics were faced with such a dilemma as they discovered one of their lecturers, Reza Pankhurst, was tenuously linked to a suicide bomber and revealed to be part of the Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), an organisation involved in promoting the creation of an Islamic government to rule the whole of the Arab world. But students at LSE have not been concerned by the announcement, some even writing Pankhurst emails of support, while the outside world has reacted with horror. I’m sure several LSE students received annoying phone calls with blubbering mothers pleading to their perfectly raised children not to be influenced by such an man. These parents seem to have forgotten, along with the rest of the “adult” world, that even students have their own brains and inside those brains a sense of individual choice.
Furthermore students are a lot more likely to be influenced by the friends they keep, the media they indulge in or the parental eyes guiding them than by a figure they meet once a term or, at the most, once a week. If a lecturer did digress so dramatically as to start posting terrorism as the best next career path, I’m pretty sure most students would ignore them, passing them off as a raving lunatic. With all the scandal around Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the student who attempted a terrorist attack on Christmas Day, the University authorities seem to have gone into overdrive to track down any lecturer with any controversial beliefs in the fear that they might be ramming it down their innocent student’s throats.
Pankhurst is just like the lecturers we all see before us everyday, a human being with experiences, with beliefs, with a purpose and a desire to teach and inspire young people. Just because his beliefs are more controversial than the average women’s rights activist there is no need to bombard him with ridiculous accusations.