Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Charlie Hebdo Seminar in Queens University Belfast Cancelled Amid Fears for “Reputation” and “Security”.

with 14 comments

Can we Laugh About Everything? Not if Universities Have their Way.

This story broke yesterday but just how rotten the reasons given by the ‘University’ are are only just sinking in.

The decision to cancel a conference in Belfast on the fallout from the Charlie Hebdo murders in France has been labelled “a bitter irony”.

The event had been scheduled for Queen’s University, Belfast, in June.

Vice chancellor Patrick Johnston said he cancelled because of the security risk and concerns for QUB’s reputation.

But two academics who had been booked to speak said it was ironic that an event about free speech should be called off in this way.

Self censorship was one of the themes of the conference.

Professor Max Silverman from Leeds University told BBC NI’s Good Morning Ulster: “It is deeply ironic that what was going on in Paris this year to do largely with freedom of speech is actually being replicated by the university itself.

“There is a bitter irony in that the ability to discuss these topics has been taken away from us by this university decision.

“If you cannot discuss these sensitive issues in a university then I don’t know where you can discuss them. I do fear for what we value most in our democracies.”

Prof Silverman said the cancelled conference was now getting much more publicity but “for all the wrong reasons”.

‘Baffled and dismayed’

“Queen’s University has a wonderful reputation. It is a very prestigious institution. I don’t think this is going to enhance that reputation at all,” he said.

Dr Brian Klug from Oxford said he was both “baffled and dismayed” by the decision to cancel.

“Organising this was an admirable initiative and I cannot understand why the university has pulled the rug out from under their feet,” he said.

“We really don’t know what the vice chancellor was worried about. We haven’t been told what that security risk consists of. I think we are all owed an explanation.”

Dr Klug said that not only was it not the role of the university to stop freedom of speech, but it was “the responsibility of academia to respond to complex international conflicts in a constructive analytical way”.

The symposium: Understanding Charlie: New perspectives on contemporary citizenship after Charlie Hebdo, had been due to be hosted by QUB’s Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities.

Twelve people died when two brothers, Said and Cherif Kouachi, fired on the journalists on 7 January at the satirical magazine’s offices in Paris.

Five others were killed over the two following days by one of their associates.

Padraig Reidy in Little Atoms provides essential background.

The Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, Patrick Johnston, was today criticised after the cancellation of an academic symposium on the fallout from the Charlie Hebdo murders.

The symposium: Understanding Charlie: New perspectives on contemporary citizenship after Charlie Hebdo, was due to be hosted in June by QUB’s Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities. But delegates, including Oxford University philosopher Brian Klug were informed via email on Monday (20 April) that the event would not go ahead.

The email informed speakers: “The Vice Chancellor at Queen’s University Belfast has made the decision just this morning that he does not wish our symposium to go ahead. He is concerned about the security risk for delegates and about the reputation of the university.”

Doctor Klug said this morning he is “baffled” and “dismayed” by the decision.

“I don’t understand either of his concerns. The second – the reputation of the university – strikes me as ironic, as his action does not exactly reflect well on Queens,” he told Little Atoms via email.

More on Little Atoms.

Nick Cohen has commented on this story,

The Vice Chancellor at Queen’s – one Paul Johnston –  cancelled the discussion yesterday because he was “concerned about the security risk for delegates and about the reputation of the university.”

What to make of his cowardice?

The most obvious point is that senior academics now see suppression of debate as a means of protecting “the reputation of the university”. Freedom of thought and open argument, once the best reasons for having universities, are now threats which must be neutered.

Second, it is now not only difficult or impossible to satirise Islam because of fear of violence, it is becoming difficult or impossible in British universities to discuss the actual violence. Not only can you not show Charlie Hebdo cartoons, you cannot talk about the motives of the men who murdered the cartoonists. Third, although he cannot prove this, Walsh suspects that there was no real security risk, just the possibility that someone’s feelings would be hurt when he and others unequivocally condemned the murderers of cartoonists and Jews. The possibility that someone will or may hear an argument he or she does not like is now enough to justify censorship.

Finally, Queen’s has made the vice-chancellors and academics protesting against the Conservatives’ plans to ban Islamists look like perfect fools and utter hypocrites. If universities censor learned debates on Islamism, how can they possibly deny the state the right to censor Islamists?

The beloved martyr Charb’s book Lettre aux escrocs de l’islamophobie qui font le jeu des racistes has been extensively commented on in the English speaking media.

There is a very fine article today in the Independent today:

Charlie Hebdo editor’s final book: ‘Letter to the Islamophobia Frauds Who Play into the Hands of Racists’.

This is worth underlining,

Stéphane Charbonnier was a cartoonist and writer. He was a supporter of the French Communist Party. And while, under his editorship, Charlie Hebdo aggressively poked fun at Catholicism and Judaism as well as radical Islam, his book – published in France last week – is a passionate rejection of the allegations that, under his editorship, Charlie Hebdo was “racist” or “Islamophobic”.

In the book, Charb, as he was always known, defends his publication of cartoons mocking radical Islam and caricaturing (but never mocking) the Prophet Mohamed. He argues – from a left-wing, anti-racist, militantly secular viewpoint – that the word “Islamophobia” is a trap, set by an unholy alliance of Muslim radicals and the unthinking, liberal Western media. The real issue, he says, is racism and Charlie Hebdo was never racist…

The Indy’s article is essential reading.

And in French there’s more: EXCLUSIF. Le testament de Charb

Tué il y a trois mois, le directeur de “Charlie Hebdo” venait d’achever un livre où il répondait aux accusations d’islamophobie pesant sur son journal. “L’Obs” en publie aujourd’hui les extraits.


1o0 Lashes of the Whip if you don’t just Die Laughing.


14 Responses

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  1. Guardian hints at the real reason for decision. Comments at Slugger O’Toole underline:

    “Ulick • 33 minutes ago

    Queen’s is all about the money and far be it for anyone to put any research funding at risk.

    Thomas Paul Burgess • 18 minutes ago

    The University system -both in UK & ROI – has been filleted by the managerial and commercial classes, masquerading as ‘Vice President’ for this and ‘Registrar ‘ for that. Any concept of success is predicated on fees generation and university league table status. Having said that….in this particular instance QUB have proved themselves to be beneath contempt. The proud radical dissenter tradition of my home town lies in tatters at their lick-spittle feet.”

    Paul Canning

    April 22, 2015 at 4:40 pm

  2. Paul, that was my thought and that of other people on Facebook.

    This stuff about ‘reputation” sounds the kind of managerial cack a dim and money-grubbing VC would come out with when he couldn’t think of anything else.

    Surprised he didn’t mention ‘ealth and safety, or simply safe spaces.

    I got suspended from the Dole after this Blog carried a piece attacking one Training scheme (run by the YMCA), and the manager of said scheme said it was because of ‘Health and Safety’.

    Andrew Coates

    April 22, 2015 at 5:03 pm

  3. Have seen the Slugger piece – spot on!

    Andrew Coates

    April 22, 2015 at 5:04 pm

  4. Slugger is always excellent!

    Odds shortening for Naz Shah http://www.oddschecker.com/politics/british-politics/bradford-west/winning-party

    Paul Canning

    April 22, 2015 at 6:53 pm

  5. Gets worse:

    “The Gown can reveal that the School of Law is hosting an event on similar themes surrounding the Charlie Hebdo murders and freedom of expression.

    Students in the School of Law are invited to a talk by Rt Hon Lord Justice Girvan, judge of the Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland, on 30th April 2015 entitled: “Charles, Charniers and Charlie.”

    Mr Girvan’s talk will address issues of free speech and freedom of religion. It is being hosted by the Franco-British Lawyers Society.

    There is speculation that the VC’s decision links to economic factors.

    On 27th January QUB announced a partnership with Dubai Healthcare City (DHCC), to develop the Mohammed Bin Rashid University of Medicine and Health Sciences (MBR-UMHS) and its College of Medicine.”


    Paul Canning

    April 22, 2015 at 7:03 pm

  6. Universities are fast becoming businesses, and their names are becoming brands. They are still trading on what they used to be, and to an extent this restrains the speed at which they can commercialise. But all the institutional pressures – from government, funding models, real and artificial “competition” and all that are pushing them in the same commercial direction. Expect the politics of what is and is not discussed at different institutions to be increasingly determined by their global business interests. The process will be gradual, and may pass unnoticed by many for a long time. But unless there is a huge change in the way they are funded, the change will be inexorable.


    April 22, 2015 at 7:43 pm

  7. Jason Walsh, who would have spoken at the event, gives his thoughts in an angry piece at ‘Little Atoms’: http://www.littleatoms.com/society/tragic-irony-censoring-queens-universitys-charlie-hebdo-discussion

    Jim Denham

    April 22, 2015 at 9:27 pm

  8. There has been a proliferation of ‘schools’ of non-academic subjects while science faculties and other not dor profit disciplines have suffered and it has been going on for decades.In the 70s, academic subjects were being criticised as a waste of time and money – while accounting was held up the epitomy of a fit and proper discipline — like you really need a four year degree course for book-keeping yeah? It has become much worse, with many trades such as journalism, which were open to working class kids now the preserve of poshies with deep pockets.

    Completely off topic ….

  9. @Redkorat – I’m intrigued as to what the students there do. Do they protest the guy who decided this? Do they dig deeper on any UAE connection? Et-cetera.

    We can guess how the ‘jazz hands crowd’© react, what about actual socialists on campus? Does QUB have any? What are their thoughts?

    On the Harbour Bridge tweet.

    a/ Why are you posting this here!? Was there some point attached?

    B/ Look. That is fake, like the one of someone surfing next to the Opera House. But, the country has extreme weather. Brits, try imaging 45 degrees centigrade. Or a storm of flies. Or a sandstorm. Or a hailstorm which destroyed cars. Heck, once there were fires fifty miles away dropping embers in the centre of the city. No shit. Experienced all that when I lived there but it happened then it was over. Shock. Rich country can cope with extremes (not).

    Paul Canning

    April 23, 2015 at 12:26 am

  10. Paul, are you now a site admin? Thanks for the information about Sydney though, saves me looking out the window.

    Andrew – apologies if I was being a bit random. Defunding scientific research (incl CC research) and promoting bullshit ‘studies’ and corporate ‘partnerships’ are of a piece with the frenzy of rent-seeking, profit-taking, monetisation of everything we are experiencing living in the ‘end times’. Nothing can be allowed to interrupt the flow of capital.

    redkorat☭ (@red_korat)

    April 23, 2015 at 3:19 am

  11. Sorry if came across as patronising @Redkorat. Didn’t mean to.

    Paul Canning

    April 23, 2015 at 12:03 pm

  12. @ Paulo – just as I didn’t want to appear overly sarcastic.

    Anyway, there’s no way I would look at a humanities degree now. Would have to be something in the ‘hard’ sciences. A mate asked me to help him with part of his doctoral thesis (in one of the social sciences) a few years back, and ‘mumbo jumbo’ doesn’t get withing cooee of describing the pile of bollox he was required to produce.

    redkorat☭ (@red_korat)

    April 24, 2015 at 4:40 am

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