11 March 2013
A debate held on the campus of University College London (UCL) and hosted by the Islamic Education and Research Academy (iERA) between Professor Lawrence Krauss, a leading atheist, and Hamza Andreas Tzortzis, a lecturer on Islam, sparked controversy when event organizers instituted a gender-segregated seating policy, though the specifics of this policy are contested. The debate was held on 9 March and was entitled, “Islam or Atheism: Which Makes More Sense?”
Reports indicate that Professor Krauss, upon seeing women directed toward the back of the auditorium and three men being removed from the women’s section, threatened to walk out of the debate. This apparently prompted event organizers to abandon the seating policy and the event was held as scheduled.
Accounts differ as to the nature of the seating policy, with one member of the iERA claiming that women attendees merely had the option to sit in a women’s only section and were not forced to do so. The arrangement was instituted to respect those Muslim women who desired to “adhere to orthodox Islamic principles” by sitting in their own section. The member further emphasized that the seating arrangement, consisting of one all-male section, one all-female section, and one mixed section, was approved by UCL representatives prior to the debate.
For its part, UCL has launched an investigation into the issue to determine whether any university policies had been violated.