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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Muting of the university campuses across Canada

Some of you who's following the cartoon fiasco in Canada probably know that University of PEI's student newspaper, The Cadre, gotten nearly 2,000 of its papers pulled off by the university administrators. Now, the only newspaper agency that has the guts to reprint the caricatures and spark debates on this controversial issue is the Western Standard. But due to the incendiary nature of this issue, many magazine retail outlets, including Chapters, refused to carry the Western Standard, fearing it would ignite strong oppositions and boycotts on their products. Even Canada's newly elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper bowed to this issue.

I received this comment from Pat Srebrnik today morning and I think it's worthwhile to let everyone know. It is an open letter written to the administrative staff at UPEI regarding the publication ban on academic freedom and the debate of sensitive materials:
SOCIETY FOR ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND SCHOLARSHIP (SAFS)

OPEN LETTER

February 13, 2006
Dr. Wade MacLauchlan
President, University of Prince Edward Island
Charlottetown, PEI
C1A 4P3

Dear President MacLauchlan:

I am writing to you as president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship. We are a national organization of university faculty members and interested others who are dedicated to the defence of academic freedom and reasoned debate. For further information, please visit our website at www.safs.ca.

We are writing to strongly protest the actions of the UPEI administration in seizing copies of the student newspaper, The Cadre (issue dated February 8), and preventing their distribution. UPEI's public statement of February 8 that censorship of The Cadre can be justified "on grounds that publication of the caricatures represents a reckless invitation to public disorder and humiliation" is contrary to the duty of all university presidents to maintain their campuses as places where debate of controversial issues may take place. Fear of possible ‘mob action’ must not be allowed to dictate to UPEI or any other Canadian university what ideas its students and faculty may express, disseminate and debate. By censoring this debate at your campus rather than taking the necessary steps to provide appropriate security to allow debate to happen, you have encouraged the view that the threat of violence, real or imagined, is an effective way to challenge ideas with which one disagrees.

The decision as to what is to be included in a newspaper must be made by the editorial board, based on their understanding of the newsworthiness of the story. Those who disagree with the newspaper's coverage or viewpoint can register their opposition through writing letters to the editor, demonstrating, or simply by refusing to read the paper or to advertise in it. Disagreeable speech should be countered by opposing arguments. Censorship is not an acceptable response to the expression of contrary opinions, and especially not on a university campus. Sending the campus police to confiscate copies of the student newspaper is an overreaction and a victory for potential censors who seem to have intimidated the administration of UPEI.

UPEI has given the impression that vigorous debate is to be avoided whenever offence may be taken, or at the very least that such debate is to occur only on terms decided by the university administration. Surely, this is not the image of UPEI that you want to promote.

We call on you to reverse your decision and to let The Cadre do its job.

Sincerely,
Clive Seligman
President
CC: Ray Keating, Editor, The Cadre

This letter should open mine and your eyes on how Canadians, particularly the Canadian student body, value its freedom of press, expression and free speech. Like I said in many of my previous posts, including this one:

The people of Canada, are liberal, judgemental and opinionated on all fronts. We can no longer claim our innocense by being a bystander while critical events pass us by. Especially the Canadian bloggers, we should speak out and voice our concerns against any wrongdoing, at anytime!

For more of my previous posts, they can be found at:
Caricatures hit Canada
Freedom of speech doesn't mean hate speech
Freedom of speech debate
The freedom of expression and speech in turmoil

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

If we let the Muslims control what we publish they in effect become our editors. Is this what we want? Do we want those, to put it crudely, "crazies" to start telling us what we can and can't say? If we let them get away with this then who will be the editor next time…the Jews …the fundamental Christians…the Gays…the police (not that there is anything wrong with any of these groups)?

I vote no. Like the line in the Eagles song says...tell them … "get over it". And in time they will begin to see it as “normal”. After all we aren’t really doing anything to them. If they don’t like something then don’t read it. That’s what I do. Let them adjust to the western standard rather than the other way around. It is a slippery slope to let a religious group control us through fear.

In time, if the Muslims are subjected to this sort of thing long enough they will start to accept it as normal. Change takes time and old habits can't be thrown out of the upstairs window. They must be coached down the stairs one step at a time

Bread

speed_demon said...

I agree with you. No religion should play a role in the political arena and government affairs. However, we must respect other's belief and the vice versa.

We should know when and where to draw the line and not intentionally provoke the boundaries. It's when the line is crossed that we venture into the unknowns (i.e. alienation, racisim and violence).

It's a complex issue and I don't think there's a readily available solution that could resolve and calm both sides.

Pat said...

update:
Although there is no indication on the official website of the University of Prince Edward Island that President MacLauchlan has received or responded to the letter from SAFS, this letter has been posted there:

http://www.upei.ca/letter/




In the name of God, the most Gracious, the Most Merciful

A Letter of Thanks

February 15, 2006



H. Wade MacLauchlan, President
University of Prince Edward Island
550 University Avenue
Charlottetown PE

Dear Mr. MacLauchlan,

With my utmost sincerity and deep appreciation, I, Koli Hoogeveen, of Prince Edward Island, on behalf of all Muslims and non-Muslims alike, who are deeply moved and grateful along with me, take pleasure in expressing gratitude and extending my heartfelt thanks to you. I commend you in recognition of your quick action to remove from circulation, the recent edition of The Cadre, which was also followed by the offering of apologies by the Student Union of UPEI. It was an honourable response at a time of crisis, which currently shakes the world with unrest, mistrust and even death.

Mr. MacLauchlan, I congratulate you for taking a giant step and making a significant contribution towards promoting compassion and peace through your thoughtful, prompt and very timely intervention to prevent the circulation of the controversial cartoons depicted on the University's student newspaper, The Cadre. It was very honourable on your part to stand up to do what is right. Your action has set a great example of integrity, courage, justice, and wisdom, as befits a strong chief administrator of an educational institution.

I am a widow and a mother, living in Prince Edward Island for the past 25 years. I am a pious Muslim woman who is peace-loving and cares for humanity. I was suffering the pain in silence, inflicted upon me by the acts of slander, discrimination, ridicule and insults involving the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, who had passed away more than fourteen hundred years ago. As according to 'The Quran', the unique book of revelation from our Creator, Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) was sent by God as a total embodiment of mercy. He was like a lamp for all the oppressed and lost people, sunken in darkness, without any hope, faith, fairness, equality and justice. Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) was obedient and dutiful to the Creator. He strove hard and persevered to carry out the messages of God to all, which was entrusted on him. He crossed many barriers, struggled very hard to reach out to all with kindness, compassion, honesty and with wisdom. He had denounced all acts of violence, imprudence and discrimination by the leave of God. He had persevered to bring the assurance and glad tidings that indeed, there is one God, a divine superpower, who loves and cares about His creation, Who has enjoined all that is good and forbade what is bad and harmful. As God says, "Verily, My mercy prevails over my wrath."

Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) lead people towards the light of hope for a wholesome happy life with peace, purity, harmony and justice.

He is no longer with us, but he has left a great gift of knowledge, the book of 'Quran' for us, which was revealed to him by God. We, the Muslims of the world, hold fast onto this great gift very faithfully, as we hold Mohammed (pbuh), the Prophet of God, in our heart very dearly.

Portraying demeaning cartoons of such great human beings, be they Mohammed, Jesus, Moses, John, David, Abraham, Noah, and all the God's chosen messengers, Peace and Blessings be on each and everyone of them; lacks taste, is hurtful and definitely not amusing or right. What purpose do cartoons such as these really serve, but to promote hate, contempt, and discrimination, to insult and to offend the people who love and trust those great prophets and follow their paths?

The purpose of a cartoon as understood, is to make clean fun using good taste and humour, to give amusement, bring laughter and to make a very subtle, educated, and witty statement. But surrounding these cartoons, do we see any one of the billion of Muslims of the world, laughing? On the contrary, it has hurt the feelings and offended billions of people of the world, including even those who are not of Muslim faith, but those who are decent and peace-loving, simple human beings, as are Muslims.

It was claimed that these cartoons were depicted to exercise freedom of expression and freedom of the press. But, can these freedoms be justified, while they violate the freedom of rights of billions of people of the world? And these rights are -- rights to live in peace with humility and respect, rights to live with security, as a Muslim, without being discriminated or portrayed unjustly and falsely, and the right to recognize that the meaning of Muslim is not 'terrorist' but is 'those who willfully submit to the will of God'.

I was hurting, and wondering with all those questions as to how can we find hope and means to build a bridge of trust to bring about understanding, compassion, and closer ties between the people who are waiting at the opposite ends of the bridge?

Thank you very much Mr. MacLauchlan for shedding light onto the answer. Your stand on the issue, which is lurking to destroy the peace and sanctity of humanity, and your attempt and performance to put a stop to it, is commendable -- there is still the chance, and hope, for peace and humanity after all! I hope we all can take steps in that positive direction. I also congratulate the Student Union of UPEI for taking a very positive step by offering their apology. Thank you all very much, you have set an incredible precedence of wisdom for the whole world!

Thanks to you all who strive and make an effort to find a way to peace.

With regards,

S. Qudsia (Koli) Hoogeveen

Pat said...

UPDATE: President MacLauchlan of UPEI has sent the following response to the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship:

February 21, 2006

Dr. Clive Seligman, President
SAFS

University of Western Ontario

By email: safs@safs.ca

Dear Dr. Seligman,

The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship misjudges
or deliberately minimalizes the harm arising from the
publication of the controversial cartoons of the Prophet
Mohammed.

SAFS favours publishing the cartoons despite the fact that
there have now been almost 50 deaths world-wide, including
more than 25 on the weekend of February 18. SAFS would say
these events are far removed from UPEI’s campus -- in
effect, that we are free to engage in reckless free speech
in Canada because we have a tolerant, civil society.
Perhaps that was the thinking of the Danish cartoonist.

How would SAFS respond to a PEI Muslim woman who describes
the hurt caused by the cartoons to be “as if I had been
raped out on the street while the people surrounding me
watched.”? I expect SAFS would say that she should develop
a thicker skin. UPEI takes seriously these feelings of hurt
and humiliation, as well as those of Muslim students and
colleagues at UPEI and the broader Muslim community on PEI
and across Canada.

The SAFS letter fails to credit the UPEI Student Union with
a leadership role in the withdrawal of the Cadre. The
Student Union withdrew support for publication of the
cartoons and, as owner of the paper, asked for its return,
acknowledging Awe must take into account the overwhelming
reaction that these cartoons have caused worldwide.

While SAFS appears to prefer an academic environment where
shouting and disorder are barometers of freedom, I believe
we must continually strive for an engaged and positive
learning environment. Universities must become ever better
and richer places of learning and animated debate. The
discourse on our campuses, including what we model for our
students and future leaders, should include speaking and
listening (which includes respect), courage and curiosity
(which includes humility), discretion and a sense of
proportion.

At UPEI, there are ongoing animated debates about the
cartoons, about press freedom and responsibility, about the
intensely integrated nature of our global community, and
about the quality of the tolerant, dynamic and robust
community that we enjoy and must continue to build. Today,
in the aftermath of the cartoon controversy, Muslim
students at UPEI tell me that they are engaging with other
students about their religious beliefs. The Cadre will
appear this week with a full debate (including an interview
with myself). Students will hold a colloquium to reflect on
issues of expression and diversity raised by the
controversy. Professors and students are actively talking
about all of the issues, in and out of class.

I am absolutely convinced that the climate on campus at
UPEI and the quality of our debates are much the richer
today than they would be if the cartoons were still in
circulation. Apparently, SAFS would say that I am
overstepping my bounds as president to act to support this
safe and positive learning climate. With respect, I
disagree.

Sincerely, H. Wade MacLauchlan

President and Vice-Chancellor

University of Prince Edward Island

dontaxe said...

The correspondence between Hoogeveen and MacLauchlan, along with correspondence between MacLauchlan and the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, has also been posted, and can be commented upon, at http://dontaxe.blogspot.com/

speed_demon said...

Hi dontaxe and Pat,

Thank you very much for keeping me up-to-date!

Anonymous said...

First he hid behind a pious Muslem woman. Now he hides behind a UPEI student officer:

http://www.upei.ca/president/html/the_cartoon_controversy_and_th.html

FFebruary 28, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

The subject of this newsletter is the decision of The Cadre to print the now-notorious 12 Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, the response of administration and the Student Union, and the debates that have resulted.

I expect that by the weekend of February 5th most colleagues were following the reactions around the world to the publication and re-publication of the caricatures. When the news broke on CBC that the cartoons were in the February 8th issue of The Cadre, making it the first Canadian paper to publish them, I was shocked. Why should we choose to repeat an act that had caused so much offence and trouble around the world, and that was considered a religious insult by Muslims everywhere? I said to the editorial team at The Cadre: “This is jumping on a bandwagon that has already run over the cliff.”

As I returned from the Student Centre and my visit to The Cadre offices, the CBC cameras were already in pursuit demanding a comment. I said I needed some time to think; fortunately I had a lead on them. The media are not in the business of giving one time to think. My assessment was that there were great risks for UPEI and for our learning environment, and that the publication of the cartoons was a reckless invitation to disorder and humiliation.

Based on this assessment, it was decided not to permit the distribution of The Cadre on UPEI property. Fewer than 100 copies of the paper were gathered up by UPEI security personnel. There were approximately 200 in circulation by that time. 1700 copies of the paper remained in the hands of The Cadre or the Student Union. By late Wednesday, the Student Union, as owner of The Cadre, indicated its opposition to the publication of the caricatures and requested the return of the papers. The Student Union issued the following statement:

While the Student Union supports the freedom of the press, there is also a sense that with that freedom comes the responsibility to balance freedom and responsibility effectively, a consideration that we feel was not accommodated in this case. While these cartoons were reproduced in The Cadre to inform students of the issues at hand and were in no way meant to inflict any further injury, it is now apparent that we must take into account the overwhelming reaction that these cartoons have caused worldwide and therefore we must react accordingly. It is also to be noted that there is a great deal of sensitivity involved with this contentious issue, a fact personified by the recent outrage and riots that were sparked in direct result of the publication of these cartoons. In consideration of this, in respect to those significantly affected, and for the overall well being of the UPEI community, it is felt that this action was essential. We reaffirm that despite this action, no further insult was ever intended by the publication of these cartoons in The Cadre.

We would like to extend apologies to all members of the Islamic community on PEI and across Canada who have, in any way, been detrimentally affected by The Cadre's original decision to print these cartoons.

In the three weeks since the events of February 8-10, there has been time for reflection and comment. There has also been time to interact with students, colleagues and members of the wider community. At a February 13th meeting with Muslim students and with our colleague Mian Ali, who showed such leadership through this matter, I asked the students how they felt on campus in the aftermath of the controversy. They responded that, for the first time since they had been at UPEI, other students were asking them in an engaged way about their faith. I cannot believe that these would be the conversations if the cartoons had remained in circulation. I had the same thoughts at our International Students Luncheon on February 10th, which is one of the most remarkable events of our academic year, with 300 people gathering to support international students and to celebrate the richness and diversity they represent at UPEI.

I was especially proud of the leadership shown by the Student Union in addressing a situation that was obviously not of its choosing. After initially taking a position favouring the editorial autonomy of the paper, the Student Union moved to demand that the remaining copies of the paper be returned.

We can all be impressed by an interview that Student Union President Ryan Gallant gave to the CBC on the Thursday morning, offering a sophisticated explanation of the decision of the Student Union to withdraw its initial support of The Cadre. Ryan described the Student Union’s “evolution of thought” in the following terms:

“Well it was sort of an evolution of thought yesterday and I am sure everyone can appreciate it was a fairly stressful day in dealing with this situation. First of all it was seen flat out as a freedom of the press, freedom of speech kind of thing but as the day progressed and facts became more apparent we became aware that that wasn’t perhaps the most accurate way of depicting the situation” .......

“There is definitely an evolution of thought like I said. I guess it is a fine line that we are looking at on a very complex issue and I find myself I guess straddling that line in some ways. I guess the limitation that we came to was the idea that freedom of the press is not absolute and I disagree with the notion that the press has absolute control over everything at press. There is also a responsibility to balance it with justice, to portray things properly. So there is a level as a liberal democracy in Canada of having freedom to express what we want to but there is also a level of control and in terms of the ethical side, I think that was the part where we came in where, you know, if you are balancing the publication of a cartoon versus people who had real concerns about their safety and really about offending the entire Muslim community which I thinks is 1.1 to 1.3 billion people around the world, that the frivolous publication of a cartoon that has little or no value is definitely not enough to outweigh those other consequences. ”

This is a wonderful demonstration of the abilities of a UPEI student and of our student leadership, to articulate on public radio how one set of ethical considerations outweighs another, and to reach that decision in a time-limited, stressful situation. Even in the face of such a sophisticated explanation, the CBC persisted in implying that the change in position by the Student Union had been arrived at because of my influence. On this question too, the Student Union showed offered a straightforward, subtle response:

MAIR: “Now I understand you met with the university president Wade MacLauchlan, is this right, four times?”

GALLANT: “Several times, yes. Some were discussing a few issues but yes, it was four times yesterday.”

MAIR: “Now was he trying to influence your thinking on this at all?”

GALLANT: “No certainly not. We just had a frank discussion on what we both thought about the issues and while I think we were fairly close together in terms of our opinion but like I said, it is a fine line that separates people on this issue. So no, he wasn’t trying to influence our decision. We were just trying to sort of discuss it and see where our concerns would be.”

Neither the Student Union nor the UPEI administration would have chosen or expected on the Wednesday morning of February 8th prior to the release of The Cadre to be in the situation presented by the publication of the cartoons. But, once the paper was out and the cartoons were in circulation at UPEI, and once the national and international media jumped on the story, all of which takes place in the space of minutes, one has no choice but to respond. UPEI could defend the editorial autonomy of the student newspaper, or it could take a stand that we would not permit the circulation on our campus of images that have caused religious offence and significant disorder all over the world. It is not an easy call: press freedom versus public disorder and religious humiliation. But, it is a call that had to be made, even though we didn’t choose to create the situation.

Some will say that we made the wrong call. It has been said that the role of the University should be limited to providing security to control against any violent reactions. That would be similar to the view taken by The Western Standard in its decision to publish the cartoons. I believe the University has a broader set of responsibilities and considerations to bear in mind. The ultimate obligation of a university is to provide and continually enhance a positive and dynamic learning environment. Universities must become ever better and richer as places of learning and animated debate. Yes, those debates should be robust and fully engaged, and we should be testing controversial ideas. But, our openness to controversy is not a licence to jump on bandwagons that have already caused enormous insult and disorder all over the world. And, with all due respect to the autonomy of the editorial team at The Cadre, we cannot avoid the fact that, while they are owned by the Student Union, they operate under the banner of the University of Prince Edward Island.

Is UPEI a more positive, dynamic and animated learning environment today than we would be if the cartoons had been left in circulation for the intervening three weeks, and their publication defended by the University as free speech? That is the core question. While I respect others who take a different view on this, I am absolutely convinced that our learning environment is better for having limited the publication of the caricatures. Students and colleagues are talking, in and out of class, about religious beliefs and differences, and about press freedom and responsibility. We are more alert to how intricately UPEI and PEI are laced into the global context, and to the incendiary nature of our world. However we come out on the publication or non-publication of the caricatures, we cannot avoid the conclusion that things are very fragile. In a context of such fragility, we do not have the luxury of justifying every act by saying: “Let the chips fall where they may.” As Student Union President Ryan Gallant put it so eloquently, we must take account of “the ethical side”.

I was truly proud of how Ryan articulated the situation, and how he openly acknowledged that we were dealing with a “fine line”. He showed that speech has to be more than insisting on something, or making an argument. He modeled speech and a thought process that combines courage and humility, with responsibility and a sense of proportion. As a university community, we continue to engage with these issues. Next week, there will be two high profile lectures. On March 7th, international journalist Gwynne Dyer will speak at 7 pm in the Duffy Amiptheatre, and on March 9th, Riad Saloojee of the Council of American-Islamic Relations (Canada) will give a lecture, also in the Duffy Ampitheatre at 7 pm.

The measure of whether we are doing the right thing is not the heat of the controversy, but whether we are continually building an active, engaged, dynamic and robust learning environment. As these debates go on, we can be proud that this is precisely what we are doing at UPEI today.

Sincerely,

H. Wade MacLauchlan
President and Vice-Chancellor
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Anonymous said...

The current issue of US News and World Report includes these paragraphs on the controversy at UPEI:

• After the student newspaper at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada decided to publish the Danish cartoons, University President Wade MacLauchlan stepped in and announced that "it was decided not to permit the distribution" of the issue on campus. In fact, he thought the campus environment was better for halting publication of the cartoons. He wrote: "Why should we choose to repeat an act that had caused so much offense and trouble around the world?"

The president of the student union, which owns the campus paper, fell in line with a mealy mouthed statement: "I guess it is a fine line that we are looking at on a very complex issue ... . Freedom of the press is not absolute ... . There is also a responsibility to balance it with justice, to portray things properly."

Read the whole story at http://www.usnews.com/usnews/opinion/leoblog/archives/060308/postcartoon_censorship.htm

speed_demon said...

Thank you very much anonymous. I'll keep that in mind.

Sincerely,

speed_demon

Anonymous said...

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