Secularism

More Clareification

The Clare College Motoons affair rumbles on.

Student newspaper, Varsity, has published an article on the controversy which is somewhat less hysterical than that which appeared in the Cambridge Evening News.

It contains the following information:

1. The Clare student in question was indeed “asked to leave Cambridge temporarily for safety reasons”.

2. The “Crucification” edition of the magazine “included critiques of various religious passages and offered editorial opinion on the Koran and the Christian Gospels amongst other religious issues”.

3. The objection of Hicham Kwieder, Chairman of the Mosque Committee at the Abu Bakr Siddiq Islamic Centre in Cambridge, to the publication of the material directed at Islam was that it “deliberately insults the honour of the Blessed Prophet Mohammed”.

4. Varsity reports Acting Senior Tutor Dr Patricia Fara as having said that Clare College:

“has been in close contact with leaders of the local Muslim Community, and also with other religious leaders, to apologise for the offence that has been caused”.

5. Varsity also reports that:

Face to face apologies were made at the Cambridge Islamic Centre.

Here is the statement in full:

11 February 2007 / 23 Muharram 1428

PRESS RELEASE

In the name of Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful

The Cambridge Muslim Welfare Society, the controlling authority of the Cambridge Mosque, has made the following statement on behalf of the Mosque Committee and congregation:

With sorrow and anger the Mosque notes the publication, in the student newsletter Clareification, of material which deliberately insults the honour of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad (s.w.s.). Mindful of its duty before Almighty Allah and before humanity to defend the honour and good name of the Final Prophet, the Mosque condemns this provocation in the strongest terms.

We note with satisfaction the statement by Clare College in condemnation of the students’ actions. We accept that the College and University in no way bear responsibility for this publication and the views which it contains.

We hope and trust that the College’s view of the matter will be reflected in a statement from the students concerned, and that the students will offer a full and unconditional apology for their irresponsible action.

The University’s record of freedom of expression is a matter of record and of pride. However it is clear that incitement to religious and ethnic hatred is at all times immoral, and that its consequences for harmony between communities and nations can be grave. It is particularly important that the boundary between fair comment and hate speech be respected and understood at the present time, when misunderstanding and sometimes hatred directed against ethnic minorities of Muslim faith living in the West is on the rise, a process often exploited by far-right and racist groups whose political and social vision is abhorrent to all decent people.

Hicham Kwieder
Chairman of the Mosque Committee

I haven’t seen the edition of the magazine in question, and I would still like to do so. However, Hicham Kwieder’s response makes it clear that the central objection to “Crucification” was that it insulted the “honour and good name of the Final Prophet”. How insulting a dead religious leader constitutes “incitement to religious and ethnic hatred “ is not at clear to me. My strong suspicion is that Kweider is deeply upset to see unpleasant things said about a religious figure who he loves, but realises that nobody takes this sort of hurt seriously, and so has attempted to elide the issue into “hate speech”, which we do take more seriously. We should resist this transparent and self-serving sleight of hand.

My hope is that Clare College is acting out of fear, rather than a conviction that it is intrinsically wrong, or even racist, to polemicise about a dead religious figure or the tenets of a religion. The Varsity article indicates that the Senior Tutor rejects the latter suggestion:

“I have never accused the guest editor of being a racist”. She added “I have been personally accused of calling Muslims ‘a race’ when they are not”.”

If this is an accurate summary of the whole business, then it would be a terrible outcome were the undergraduate editor to be disciplined by Clare College, or be punished at all, for what he has done.

Nevertheless, I do understand the actions which Clare College has taken. In the past, when muslim religious leaders have declared the “honour of the Blessed Prophet Mohammed” to be insulted, violence has ensued. If the College authorities believed – as it clearly did – that the institution and the student editor was likely to be attacked by vicious religious fanatics, then I can see why they spirited the student off into hiding, and made a face to face apology to the religious institution which demanded it. Colleges have limited budgets. They cannot, standing alone, absolutely protect their property and students from the threat of violence. A apology, withdrawal of the magazine, and a generally low profile response to the affair, in the expectation that it would eventually die down must have seemed the only prudent response.

I’d like to say that the College over-reacted and wrongly assessed the danger it faced. However, I don’t think that it did. It is a matter of concern that a Cambridge College should be forced into this position.

I’d like to tell the following story by way of an analogy. A few years ago, a couple of old ladies came into my old college. By the time the porters had caught them, they’d caused about £10,000 worth of damage. It turned out that they were “animal rights” terrorists, who were upset about the new Oxford medical research labs.

The response of the Government to the threat of “animal rights” terrorism at Oxford has been to subsidise the additional costs of security. The new labs are being built.

The point is this. If an institution, with limited resources, faces a real threat, then real and practical acts of solidarity are an imperative.

Oliver Kamm has a post on the subject of the French MoToons trial which makes a parallel point about the extent to which the progressive Left has lost confidence in its own secular values, in the face of an assault by religious militants.

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