Britons afraid to challenge radical Islam, says former Obama adviser
British people are too afraid to offend a "vocal and aggressive" section of the Muslim community who demand that their cultural values are accepted by wider society, according to a former adviser to Barack Obama.
Photo: Professor Krauss, left, was taking part in a debate entitled: "Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?"
By John-Paul Ford Rojas
10:15AM GMT 15 Mar 2013
Professor Lawrence Krauss said he had been shocked when taking part at a debate hosted by an Islamic group at a leading British university to find that men and women were segregated.
The professor, a leading physicist and prominent atheist, threatened to walk out unless organisers agreed to let men and women sit together, which was eventually agreed - but was then astonished to find himself being accused of intolerance by angry members of the audience.
He said there had been no such problems when he recently took part in a similar debate in Australia.
But he suggested in Britain people were often too polite to object to such practices as well as being cowed by those eager to protest whenever they felt "their cultural norms are not being met".
He said: "People are not only afraid to offend, but afraid to offend a vocal and aggressive group of people.
"There is a segment of the Islamic community that is very vocal about this."
The professor said: "I think the notion that these cultural norms should be carried out within a broader society that not only doesn’t share them but that is free and open is a very serious problem."
Authorities at University College London have launched an investigation into the event last Saturday, at which people who attended were separated into men, women and coupled seating areas - with women at the back.
Professor Krauss said he was later told by one woman who attended that she went into the lecture theatre holding hands with a male friend and pretending he was her boyfriend to be able to sit in the mixed section.
Video shows Prof Krauss leaving the event in protest
Richard Dawkins, the prominent British atheist, has claimed that the university allowed "sexual apartheid" to take place and said "heads should roll".
The event was organised by a group called the Islamic Education and Research Academy, which has now been banned from holding events on the UCL campus.
Professor Krauss, who served on Mr Obama’s science policy committee during his 2008 election campaign, was taking part in a debate entitled: "Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?"
Footage posted online showed him saying "quit the segregation or I’m out of here" after security staff tried to throw out three men who had gone to sit in the women’s section of the audience.
Eventually his request was met and the event continued but some members of the audience were upset with him. One even shouted "intolerant" as he left, which he found "remarkable".
A woman who spoke in the debate said she was uncomfortable sitting among men.
Professor Krauss said he told her that he respected her feelings but added: "You are in a public arena and not in a mosque, not in a private event."
He told the Daily Telegraph: "The notion that because these cultural norms make some people feel uncomfortable in broader society, that broader society should accommodate that discomfort, is complete nonsense."
It was "vitally important" that institutions such as universities were secular and avoided segregation of any kind, he added.
"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.
"It is not cultural racism. For better or worse, we live in a free society, and we live in a secular, open society."
Professor Krauss said it was the first time he had experienced such segregation.
"I did a debate with an Islamic group in Australia which worked out fine. There were no issues and there was certainly not even the proposal that there should be segregation."
The IERA has admitted seating areas were separated by gender at the UCL debate but said that it did not enforce segregation and had launched a "thorough internal investigation" into what took place.