A British student has found himself in serious trouble for reprinting one of those Mohammad cartoons that caused a worldwide stink last year after being published in Denmark.
The offending student was guest-editing Clareification, the student magazine of Clare College, Cambridge. He retitled a religious satire special of the magazine Crucification. Alongside mocking various religious beliefs, the magazine reprinted a derogatory cartoon of Mohammad next to a picture of the president of the Union of Clare Students. Readers were invited to suggest which was a ‘violent paedophile’ and which a ‘prophet of God, a great leader and an example to us all’ (1).
Many Clare students reportedly complained to the college authorities. Muslim organisations within and without the university complained, too. The university authorities acted swiftly, with seemingly scant regard for freedom of speech or academic freedom: they reassured complainants that the material published in Crucification was totally unacceptable and that the student responsible for publishing it would be punished.
Senior tutor Patricia Fara said: ‘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. Reflecting the gravity of the situation, the college immediately began an investigation and disciplinary procedures are in train.’ (2) Calum Davey, president of the Union of Clare Students, offered sincere apologies for any offence caused by the magazine. The student responsible has now been disciplined by the college and even questioned by the police (3).
Thankfully, there has been some outcry over the university’s and the union’s censorious response to the controversy. Satire of all sorts has long been pursued on college campuses. Consider, for example, those Oxbridge students who went on to produce Monty Python. Various commentators, including in the New Statesman and the Guardian, some motivated by their respect for satire and hostility towards religion, have rushed to defend Crucification against the Clare authorities.