Here we go again. Another student union at another UK university says another “no you may not have a cartoon of Mo on your table/Facebook page/stall” to another student union secular society. This one is Manchester.
Outrage has been sparked on Twitter this week in light of a tweet from the University of Manchester Free Speech and Secular Society (FSS) accusing the University of Manchester Students’ Union of unjust censorship in preventing them from displaying a copy of the Charlie Hebdo magazine at the Refreshers’ Fair last Tuesday.
That’s a woefully inelegant sentence, but you get the idea.
The reasons for the censorship of the Charlie Hebdo front cover were laid out in an e-mail from the Students’ Union General Secretary, Charlie Cook, and chiefly reflected the view that they found it “unsuitable for the event,” and that they “could see no benefit in allowing the presence of the magazine.
“There was genuine concern its presence may cause distress and insult to others,” she added.
Oh well if it’s genuine concern…
But of course they’re overlooking several things. There’s the fact that liberal Muslims are not distressed by cartoons of Mohammed, but are distressed by submission to the demands of Islamists. There’s the fact that it’s Islamists, not Muslims in general, who make fusses about cartoons. There’s the fact that a slew of people were just murdered over cartoons of Mohammed and that therefore it’s a really shitty idea to censor this cartoon at this time. There’s the fact that the cartoon represents a humane Mohammed.
A tweet posted by the FSS on the 27th of January contained the image of the Charlie Hebdo cover which they instead included on the stall, with the face of the Prophet Muhammad covered by a black square and the words “Censored by Students’ Union.”
Richard Dawkins retweeted it and commented in his usual style, and there was the usual arglebargle.
Since then the FSS has issued a statement to The Mancunion stating that they “don’t necessarily endorse the views put forward by the magazine, but we do think it is essential that every student be allowed to decide for themselves where to stand on this issue.
“After the tragic attack on Charlie Hebdo, a copy of their survivors’ issue is naturally relevant to free speech and is of interest to many, given the difficulty of obtaining a copy in the UK. We had decided to have a copy at the stand, among other things, for students who were interested.
“We were planning to focus on topics such as imprisoned journalists around the world. The SU’s prohibition of the Charlie Hebdo magazine forced us to focus on this issue.
“If we now acquiesce to the de facto blasphemy laws the terrorists want to force on us, we are sending one message: violence works. We want to make clear, vocally and firmly, that censorship via violence does not work, or, at least, it shouldn’t.
“It is a commendable goal to make people feel comfortable at university, but censorship itself is offensive. It is offensive to people who wish to commemorate the lives of the twelve people killed in Paris, [and amongst others] to those Muslims who do not condone violence and feel infantilised and patronised by the pre-emptive censorship.
“Discussion around the issue of freedom of speech and the limits of offence must necessarily include the object of the controversy. Without it, debate is stifled and discussion limited—the antithesis of what a university should promote.
“The fact that we are being censored shows just how important it is to counter those who want to treat students as children. We believe students can make up their own mind and decide for themselves where to stand on any issue.
“We value our right to freedom of speech and believe it is worth protecting. Current laws criminalise incitement to violence and slander. These are limits on free speech to prevent harm—and that is commendable.
“Ideas should not be protected from criticism. Bad ideas should be challenged and replaced by better ideas through dialogue. We therefore urge the Union to review their policy.”
I think that’s a pretty good statement.