One of the most enjoyable videos to watch on YouTube features Colonel Gadafi. I am not referring to those snuff videos which cover the internet in which the Libyan leader is shown getting the sharp end of the Libyan peoples’ emotions. Rather I refer to the Colonel’s seminal, though too infrequently referenced, address to the academics and students of the London School of Economics in 2010.
On that occasion the Libyan dictator was given a truly magnificently fawning, indeed rather flirtatious, introduction by a female academic. She also read out a message of support from the then-director of the LSE who made some joshing jokes about how good it would be if Gadafi could only bring some Libyan weather to London. After this courteous badinage and a typically incoherent ramble by the dictator himself the students of LSE had the chance to question the Libyan dictator. And essentially they showed themselves most eager to bowl softball questions, such as asking Gadafi where he sees Libya’s place in the world. ‘Libya is in North Africa’ is one of Gadafi’s typical insightful replies.
Anyhow – I say that it is one of the most enjoyable videos on the internet because it reminds us of a few basic truths. Such as the truth that people who think they are clever can be awfully stupid; people who imagine they are good can nod along to extraordinary evil; and people who think they would stand up to dictators and despots can easily find themselves being distinctly courteous to them.
Yesterday Cambridge University provided the latest reminder of these truths. For last night the Union hosted Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. If there is one thing that has caused Mahathir Mohamad to make international headlines in recent years it is that he is an exceptionally happy and virulent anti-Semite. Which doesn’t mean he shouldn’t speak at the Cambridge Union, or anywhere else that wishes to invite him. But you would expect him to be asked about Jews. To the credit of the student interviewer, Mohamad’s past statements on Jews, the Holocaust and Israel were brought up and the Malaysian Prime Minister had this to say:
‘I have some Jewish friends, very good friends. They are not like the other Jews. That’s why they are my friends.’
The interesting thing about this – as video of the occasion shows – is not that Mahathir Mohamad would say this, but that the audience (or at least a significant portion of the audience judging by the audio) laughed along with this.
The critiques of this write themselves. Would any guest of the Cambridge Union have been so indulged if the above had been said about people of any other ethnic group? Or of any other minority? I would have thought not.
But that isn’t what is interesting. The interesting thing is that this happened (as with LSE in 2010) in the heart of an institution that is positively bursting with what used to be called ‘political correctness’ and has now become ‘wokeness'.
Indeed as I recently wrote in the Telegraph, Cambridge University is becoming a veritable epicentre of the wokeness epidemic. This is an institution which, under its lamentable new Vice-Chancellor (one Stephen Toope) has launched an inquiry into Cambridge University’s involvement in the slave trade, has repeatedly shown that it believes academic freedom should be adjudicated by mobs, and recently removed a bell from public display in one of the colleges because there was a chance that said bell might once have been rung on a plantation.
So last night’s events provide an almost beautiful demonstration of human idiocy. For while the students and authorities at Cambridge University are running around town trying to confiscate bells that might once have been rung in the wrong place, the hall of the university’s own union was ringing out with laughter at an ugly old anti-Semite being anti-Semitic. It’s almost as though all these attempts to pass judgement on the distant past and endlessly signal our outstanding virtue in the present do not in fact make us brave or decent people. Who could have guessed?