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Universities shouldn’t censor satire of Islam

Sensitivity only reinforces stereotype of Muslims as violent


 

The Woroni (ABC)

An event that has become all too common in our benighted century is the suppressing of anti-Muslim sentiment over fears of retribution. Canadians will recall it happening, for instance, at the University of Prince Edward Island in 2006.

More recently, the Australian National University made international headlines, when the student newspaper there was barred from running a satirical graphic about Islam.

The Woroni had already skewered other religions, but when it got to Islam, university officials stepped in, saying that the piece might gain “traction” in social media and could spark violent protests. The university’s vice-Chancellor called the graphic “offensive and discriminatory” and hinted that the Koran should be off-limits because of “very unfortunate side effects.” Even Civil Liberties Australia defended the Uni. Crikey!

Reaction elsewhere, however, has been critical as one might imagine. That criticism has largely, and rightly, been along the following lines: universities should not censor free speech, particularly at a university, where students should be encouraged, not prevented, from thinking and expressing controversial ideas. Friendly Atheist called it “foul and yellow-bellied” (I wonder what the unfriendly atheist is like).

Besides, the kinds of people who would do violence over student satire are not the sort, regardless of their religious or political views, who will be peaceful in the absence of such satire. Fanatics can always find an event or perspective to justify a bomb or a bullet. And if no real slight can be found, one can always be imagined. Crazy people are good at that.

But there is another point—mentioned in passing by FA—that has received too little attention, and I would like to develop it here. Censoring anti-Islam messages is offensive to Muslims.

This sounds counter-intuitive, of course. Isn’t such censorship done out of respect for Muslims? No, not respect. Fear. Fear of violence. Fear of bad press (how’s that working for you now ANU?). Fear of—well, who knows, exactly, but fear in any case. And there’s the rub.

Refusing to allow a student paper to mock Islamic beliefs about women (or anything else) is to assume, first, that Muslims are incapable of taking criticism, or, God forbid, even laughing at themselves. Still, worse, it assumes that Muslims are violent extremists that will blow up any institution that dares offend. Of course, there are violent extremists out there, but as we have been told repeatedly and rightly, those are a small minority, and those small groups of crazies are bound to exist in any sufficiently large group.

In a strange way then, exempting Muslims from our normal satires of religion singles them out as being uniquely irrational and dangerous.

To this the reader may respond, “that’s all well and good for you, a white non-Muslim, to say. You don’t know what its like to have your deepest beliefs mocked and belittled.”

“Ah,” I respond, “but I do.”

My deep and abiding belief in the vital importance of the arts is as profound as any religious belief and it is routinely mocked. The arts are denigrated as useless, silly, or inapplicable to life.

Do such critiques hurt me? Sometimes. Do they offend me deeply? Sometimes they do. Do I need to be shielded from them? Never. Because I am a grown man and I can take it. Sometimes, if the critique is well done, I can even tip my cap and note that we humanities scholars have our failings too. And, what’s more, I can respond, defending my beliefs and my values against those who scorn them. That’s what intelligent, civilized men and women around the world have done for millennia.

We must presume that Muslims are just as civilized as anyone else.


 

Universities shouldn’t censor satire of Islam

  1. News:

    Universities shouldn’t censor satire of Islam (June 3)

    http://oncampus.macleans.ca/education/2013/06/03/universities-shouldnt-censor-satire-of-islam/

    Lead: “An event that has become all too common in our benighted century is the suppressing of anti-Muslim sentiment over fears of retribution. Canadians will recall it happening, for instance, at the University of Prince Edward Island in 2006.”

    Response:

    Wit or short on wit?

    Only people from Mars will applaud a fist fight between faithful believers and atheists. There are so many serious challenges
    that face humanity like hunger, disease, lack of healthcare and on the other hand there is so much food for thought for creating satire, let alone “Islam”.
    Its the same world as that of Bernard Shaw or Shakespeare – the sharp wits; then why should university wits use their freedom of speech against Muslims or Jews?
    If we dont live good and let others live good we are perhaps encouraging ‘personal likes’ over ‘public likes’? and isnt that another form of bigotry or extremism ?

  2. The fact that people have begun making stereotypes in this day and age is laughable. One is not violent for what religion they follow, violence is usually a reaction that is often shown by people who have been raised or have had experienced to make them act like so. Therefore, labeling a certain ethnic or religious group as “violent” is highly incorrect.

  3. It’s unnerving to think that we, as a culture and society, have discounted Muslims as being unable to take a joke. In all fairness, the international community has seen it’s fair share of violent antics in retaliation to comedic representations of Islamic ideals but to censor post-secondary level publications as a precautionary means seems a bit farfetched. You would like to think that Islamic extremists have better, and more pressing, issues than to pick fights with third-year English majors. Nonetheless, Mr. Pettigrew does raise an interesting point when he highlights that by “exempting Muslims from our normal satires of religion singles them out as being uniquely irrational and dangerous.” Not only is this a perspective shared by, in my opinion, the majority but acts as a sad testament to the state of Islam as understood by the world. Instead of creating divisions between different faiths and exploiting the beliefs of any one religion, it is important to recognize that this type of treatment is a part of our society and it is a method that shows no signs of slowing down. Perhaps if these students try hard enough, they may even garner a couple slow claps from the larger Muslim community

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