Yesterday at UCL

Richard Dawkins has a fuller account of what happened yesterday at the “Islam or Atheism?” debate at UCL, via Krauss himself.

A few days ago, I had received a tip-off from somebody who had made an inquiry about tickets: ‘We contacted the organizers today and learnt that “as for seating, it is according to when the ticket was booked and gender”.’

I’m guessing that somebody was Chris Moos, since he’s been all over this and I don’t know of anyone else who has. Chris does great work.

I passed this on to Lawrence, with the suggestion that he might consider withdrawing from the whole affair. He immediately asked the organizers, who assured him that the audience would not be segregated by sex, and Lawrence agreed to go ahead.

Yes indeed. I reported that here, on Friday. I updated my post on the subject twice to report that the organizers had agreed on no gender segregation. Well guess what: they had their fingers crossed behind their backs. In short, they lied to Krauss to get him to show up.

When he got to the meeting he discovered that actually the seating in the auditorium was indeed segregated by sex. There was a men’s section, a women’s section, and a “couples” section. Did the “couples” have to produce a marriage certificate, one can’t help wondering? And, while wondering such things, what would have been the reaction of the audience if they had been segregated, as in apartheid South Africa, into a black section, a white section and a “coloureds” section?


When Lawrence realised that he had been duped, he immediately secured permission from the organizers to announce that – contrary to previous instructions – people could sit wherever they wanted. Three young men, described by Lawrence as nice gentle guys, then got up and moved to the women’s section in the back. “In the back”, by the way, may resonate with those who remember Rosa Parks in Alabama in 1955. Security guards then tried to eject the three young men. Lawrence went to find out why, and the guards told him the three were a “threat”. Threat to whom, one wonders?

Ah-ha – remember that tweet from Mo Ansar yesterday? About the big atheist meanies insisting on sitting with the “Muslim women” who didn’t want them to? How tf did he know? Since the seating was segregated, it’s not clear that the women in the back had a choice. [Which raises a new question. What about the “non-Muslim” women there? Were there any, and if so, did they object to being put in a “women’s section”? Perhaps they didn’t realize it was one at first. The segregation was stealthily done via assigned seating on the tickets.]

Lawrence then packed his bag and walked out, explaining why he was doing so, and this part of the evening’s events was filmed by Dana Sondergaard on a smartphone. She sent the film to Lawrence and has said that I can re-post it here. Her own eye-witness account of the event is on her Facebook page.

And on Krauss’s Facebook page, eleventy hundred times. I saw her tweets yesterday – I wondered if she was the only secular woman there. She may well have been.

It is unclear whether the UCL authorities were aware that sexual apartheid was being practised in one of their lecture rooms, but we may hope that a full inquiry will be launched.

University College, London is celebrated as an early haven of enlightened free thinking, the first university college in England to have a secular foundation, and the first to admit men and women on equal terms. Heads should roll.

Ah, the authorites were aware. Chris Moos told them, and they responded to him, as we saw on Friday.

The plot thickens.


  1. deannajoylyons says

    Thank you, Chris Moos, and Richard Dawkins for keeping us informed about this. Such regressive sexism needs to be recognized and reported on. I’m very happy Lawrence Krauss left (even though he did come back) and was very pleased to hear the applause for his decision.

    Your link to B&W in the comments of the article on Dawkins’ site says removed by moderator. Is that standard practice there? I don’t normally go there.

  2. says

    What the actual fuck?!

    If someone can’t be arsed to follow through on a promise to not actively and unabashedly engage in sexual segregation, then why believe that they’re an honest interlocutor at all?

    Fuck that noise.

    The next time Tzortzis wants a debate, he should be told to piss up a rope.

  3. says

    Indeed. Chris has written to them again. They did a HORRENDOUS job of enforcing their “no gender segregation” promise to Chris in response to his concerns. Post on the way.

  4. says

    Deanna, I don’t know. If it is standard practice it’s odd, because there’s nothing about removing links to blogs in the Terms & Conditions. And even if it is standard practice, they ought to be intelligent and flexible enough to make exceptions for actual information. The post isn’t just me gassing, it has information.

  5. says

    The next time Tzortzis wants a debate, he should be told to piss up a rope.

    Every skeptical/atheist woman who fancies a debate should challenge him. Immediately, loudly, and often.

  6. says

    He walked out, so they did a token re-arrangement, and he came back and the event did take place.

    Richard says he wishes Krauss hadn’t returned, and I agree, but it probably wasn’t easy to tell how token the arrangement was.

  7. Wordling says

    Maybe it was removed because your post that you linked to was mostly a copy of Dawkin’s article, with a couple of sentences by you sandwiched in between. Otherwise known as blogspam. It certainly didn’t contain any new insights or added information.

    I wouldn’t be too keen on promoting a blog written by a person who sat on a panel that called me a white supremacist either…just sayin’.

  8. crowepps says

    The claim that ‘this was what the segregated women wanted’ is obviously bogus on its face. People buying tickets were asked ‘are you a man or a woman’ and assigned seats accordingly, NOT ‘do you want to sit in the women’s section, men’s section or mixed section?’ Personally, if I were booking this kind of event at a university, I would insist that the protocol for the event be filed with the university ahead of time, and to say the least would be uneasy with the idea of participants in a debate ignoring the university staff present and using their own private enforcers.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ophelia Benson @ # 10 – Quick! James Randi’s foundation offers a big prize for that sort of thing!

  10. says

    @ Marcus Ranum

    Every skeptical/atheist woman who fancies a debate should challenge him. Immediately, loudly, and often.

    You’re absolutely right, of course, Marcus Ranum.

    Sunlight being a disinfectant and all.

    I spat that sentiment out rather hastily in a moment of irritation, and will now withdraw it.

    *shakes fist at throbbing, stupid, knee-jerking reaction gland*

    Thanks, Marcus.

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