After coming under intense scrutiny, Queen’s University Belfast has reneged on its decision to cancel an upcoming conference entitled ‘Understanding Charlie: New Perspectives on Contemporary Citizenship After Charlie Hebdo’. The university called off the conference last week, citing security concerns. The original decision to cancel the conference was met with widespread condemnation, with philosopher Brian Klug, one of the prospective delegates, saying he was ‘baffled’ and ‘dismayed’ by the decision.
Clampdowns on university debates about Islam have become common in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Last month, Iranian-born human-rights activist Maryam Namazie was due to speak about Islamism and apostasy at Trinity College Dublin (TCD). However, TCD’s security services imposed restrictions on her talk at the last minute, fearing that the event would be ‘one-sided’ and ‘antagonising’ to Muslim students. Security insisted that there be a moderator at the talk and that only members of the student society that had organised the event would be allowed to attend. Namazie rejected the restrictions and the event was called off. In a blog post she wrote after the incident, she claimed that Islamist speakers who advocated the killing of apostates had previously been able to speak at TCD uninhibited.
The cancellations at both Queen’s and TCD reflect a broader post-Hebdo concern among university bureaucrats that hosting anti-Islamist speakers will stoke-up tensions within the university. The implicit assumption here is that Muslim students simply can’t handle having their religion critiqued. This is all, of course, in spite of the fact that universities play host to debates about God, Islam and religion on an almost daily basis, and the vast majority of Muslim students are more than capable of taking part. The great irony here is that, while university authorities are bending over backwards not to be seen to be denigrating Muslims, the decision to pull these events on the basis of ‘security concerns’ portrays Muslim students as uniquely violent and belligerent. That’s pretty Islamophobic if you ask me.
Robert Dunne is a student based in Dublin.