The Verrekijker is an autonomous collective, residing on the campus of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The members of this collective stand for values such as transparency and freedom of speech, especially in an academic context, even on controversial political and ideological topics. Therefore we host discussions and talks on all kinds of topics, but also movie nights and yoga.
Labeling ideas negatively throughout media, shutting down valid arguments and oppressing their expression has been common practice to deal with uneasy topics in society for a long time. This behavior neither leads to the oppressed ideas disappearing, nor does it leave room for an open discussion, independent opinion making or solutions in the common interest. It is increasingly eradicating the chance of a peaceful coexistence, which can and will not be tolerated! An important tool to proactively prevent the aimed dictation of thought, is the academic freedom of speech, giving room for a safe, reflected and constructive discussion. Therefore, it is important, that these discussions take place, now more than ever!
Rasmieh Yousef Odeh is a controversially discussed Palestinian activist, who struggled with racism, colonialism and the Israeli occupation for over fifty years. Because of her political activism, she became the target of an at least questionable conviction. Earlier this week, she tried to share some of her thoughts in a safe and open setting, here in Amsterdam. Unfortunately, her talk had to be relocated due to a conflict of interest of her opinion with the original hosts’. Therefore, the Verrekijker answered the last-minute call and invited the discussion to happen here, in a center of education and freedom of speech. The full video of the event can be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/revolutionaireeenheid/videos/892146274292885/. That being said however, this discussion is not believed to be about a specific person or a specific political opinion, but about the possibility to get first hand information from all available sources to be truly “looking further”.
The Vrije Universiteit as an educational institution, without officially agreeing to every idea publicly expressed on campus, still has the obligation to encourage an open discussion on delicate subjects in a productive manner. Controversially however, the official administration seems to not agree with the importance of this discussion and refuses to actively stand for the aforementioned supposed core values of western society, as they decided to shut this place down for good. They have also admitted that some funding comes from sources, that might not be happy about the content of the discussion. This resembles a classic conflict of interest. While we acknowledge that opposing opinions exist, we will not approve that shutting down the talk about the respective topics is acceptable. What message is the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam sending by shutting down this transparent approach to let people talk, that otherwise are given no voice, while addressing an important issue? Let us answer that question for you – it is not good. Especially not for an institution that claims to educate towards critical and independent thinking!
We understand that the University must be conscious about its’ image and has to address public concerns, but we hope can be conducted in a more reflected manner, and if anything, is protective for its values and students. The decision of the University to oppress their own students by closing down their safe space for discussion is outrageous and will not be taken lightly! All we ask for is that the free academic speech is possible in this safe on-campus environment, without letting funders and third parties dictate the voice heard by the students and people. As responsible members of society, we refuse to drop our values overnight and will keep running this place as usual. This matter deserves further attention and we are convinced a solution in everyone’s favor can be arranged. We hereby invite the official administration of the Vrije Universiteit to a transparent and open discussion on Friday, later this week, of which the outcome may of major public importance. However, as long as this is not possible, we consider ourselves victims of strategical censorship.
“After all, we are students - and we like to talk about things.”