Clare College Racism Row

Cambridge Evening News reports:

CAMBRIDGE University student is at the centre of a race-hate probe after printing anti-Islamic material in a magazine.

The 19-year-old second year student at Clare College was in hiding today (Friday, 09 February) after printing the racist cartoon and other vile material.

The article is said to be so inflammatory the undergraduate has been taken to a secret location for his own safety.

Today (Friday, 09 February), senior college officials were locked in urgent talks about how the material came to be published and what action to take against the student at the centre of the scandal.

A university spokesman said police had been made aware of the incident.

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire Police said: “This is a matter for the university authorities to deal with.”

He added that an investigation was not yet in progress.

The Cambridge Evening News report indicates that the following material was republished in the magazine:

– The student magazine, Clareification, printed a cropped copy of the cartoon of the prophet Mohammed next to a photo of the president of the Union of Clare Students. The cartoon was captioned with the president’s name and vice versa. There was also comment suggesting one was a “violent paedophile” and the other was “a prophet of God, great leader and an example to us all.” The cartoon was the same one which caused riots across the world when it was printed in a Danish newspaper.

– The front page included headlines stating: “Ayatollah rethinks stance on misunderstood Rushdie”.

– On page six, pictures were shown of Muslims holding placards reading: “Behead those who insult Islam” and “Freedom go to Hell.

The magazine was, apparently, renamed “Crucifiction”, and was a special edition on religious satire.

It is certainly upsetting to many religious muslims to suggest that his relationship with his youngest wife constituted “paedophilia”. Muslims are often baited, unfairly, by gratuitous references to Mohammed’s relationship with his young wife.
In some circumstances – for example, when discussing the religious basis for the low age of consent in Iran – the relevance of Mohammed’s intergenerational sexual behaviour is entirely on point.

I can see little objection to the reproduction of pictures of demonstrators calling for beheadings, nor spoofing on the subject of the fatwa on Salman Rushdie. Again, however, I would like to see the context of these pictures. For example, did the editor intimate that all muslims were bloodthirsty murderers, intent on killing “infidels” and apostate authors? Or were the articles aimed at needling the excesses of zealots and fanatics?

Generally speaking, satirising dead or mythical religious figures is something that ought to be protected, and even encouraged: not punished. That is particularly so, if the subject of the publication sets out to provoke, generally, on the subject of religious belief. The title of the publication – Crucification – suggests that religions other than Islam may have been lambasted. Was this magazine nothing more than a hatchet job on Islam and muslim generally? Or was it even handed in its offensiveness? It is impossible to tell from this report.

It is also possible that the magazine ran a “racist cartoon” – other than the cartoon showing Mohammed with a bomb in his hat – and “other vile material” which the Cambridge Evening News cannot tell us about. Having read this article, I cannot say.

The reaction to the publication of this material has been as follows:

“Clare College fellows have called a Court of Discipline which will sit in judgment on the youth “

– Clare College’s Senior Tutor has issued the following statement: “Clare is an open and inclusive college. A student produced satirical publication has caused widespread distress throughout the Clare community. The college finds the publication and the views expressed abhorrent.”

– The Clare College Students’ Union President has also “expressed his “deep regret” over the publication and offered his sincere apologies for the offence caused.”

– The college has cut the paper’s funding.

“For his own safety, the student has been taken out of his accommodation and put in a secure place.”

Here is some more reaction to the incident.

It would be helpful to know what the racist material contained in this publication was said to be. If any reader has friends or relatives connected with Clare College, could they find out?

Brownie adds:

Some background on Clareification, the college magazine in which the “offending” material was printed. It seems this student rag has a certain tradition….

Clareification is the weekly student newspaper of Clare College, Cambridge, a college of Cambridge University. One of the things that distinguishes Clare as a particularly friendly and informal college is the staff’s ongoing toleration of this publication. Every week in term, students write satirical articles mocking Cambridge traditions, report on silly student antics, and print college gossip in the infamous “Clareifornication” column.

Clareification evolved gradually in the mid-late 1990s as a newsletter of the Union of Clare Students. It was padded out with comedy articles, and gradually turned into a weekly 8-page comedy paper with only the occasional piece of real news. Spoof formattings of real-life newspapers and magazines are common. It is widely read by Clare students on Friday lunchtimes with fish and chips, but academic opinion of it is sharply divided. It was recently (affectionately) described by the Master of Clare, Professor Anthony Badger, as “an unholy cross between The Sun on a bad day, and The Daily Sport,” whilst an older description attributed to a well-known Fellow of the college held it to be “a squalid, pornographic scandal rag run off on a photocopier.” The paper remains extremely popular, and copies are picked up by students across Cambridge, and can be spotted being passed around lecture halls and numerous other colleges.

In 2005, it won the ‘Best College Paper’ award in The Cambridge Student


This is, apparently, an email from the Senior Tutor, sent to undergraduates at Clare:

“Because of the publicity that has arisen, I strongly encourage you to return any copies of last week’s Clareification so that I can destroy them. Please post them as soon as possible through the slot in the outer door of my room, E5.”

The National Secular Society has joined the fray:

Staff and students at Clare College should make a stand for free speech instead of backing those who would destroy it, says the National Secular Society (NSS).

Reacting to news that a student who published a satirical issue of the student magazine that poked fun at religion is to be disciplined, Terry Sanderson, President of the NSS said: “We are shocked that the staff and even the students union at this supposedly liberal college have joined the attack on this student because he had the temerity to poke fun at religion. Free expression is such a precious commodity and is under such ferocious attack at present from religious interests that it is disgraceful that no-one is standing up for this young man’s right to be rude about religion – even about Islam.”

Mr Sanderson has written to the master of Clare College, Professor Tony Bader and to the Senior Tutor, Patricia Fara as well as the president of the Students Union, Calum Davey, as follows:

“We write after seeing reports in the local Cambridge press indicating that a contributor to your student magazine Clareification faces disciplinary action for having printed items that some people thought were “offensive” or “inflammatory”.

“If these reports are true, we wish to register our profound disquiet that a supposedly liberal college has reacted in this way. The reaction risks undermining one of the most precious and important rights that we have in this country: freedom of expression.

“Satire aimed at religion is no different to satire aimed at any other ideas and should not be punished or restrained. The freedom to poke fun at those who take themselves too seriously is a time-honoured tradition in this country. Regrettably, it is rapidly being eroded by cases like this. We urge you to think again and stand four-square behind the satirists, instead of disciplining them.

We would like to remind all concerned that satirising religion – even if that religion is Islam – is not racism, as this episode has been dubbed. Religion and race have very different characteristics. We would have heartily joined the condemnation if the satire had been racially motivated, but according to the reports we have read, the issue of Clareification in question was devoted to religious satire.

“We would like to draw your attention to a case that is pending in France at the moment, in which a satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, has been brought to court by an Islamic organisation for re-publishing the Danish cartoons that are at the centre of so much controversy. In the French case, academics, artists and politicians of all hues have rushed to the defence of the magazine. Letters of support and statements defending free speech have been issued by some of the most influential people in the country – including Mr Sarkozy, who is potentially the next President of France.

“Your own reaction – as reported – does not bear comparison with the principled French reactions. It sides with the oppressors and censors who are doing so much to retard open debate in academe and elsewhere.

“We call on you to support the publishers of the magazine and to tell the would-be censors that their protests have been heard but that they will not prevail. Without the freedom to debate, discuss and, yes, mock, ideas and ideologies, there can be no informed political discourse. Satire is an indispensable tool in the operating of a truly free society.”