The Cambridge Cartoon Crisis

claregate.jpgFor the past weeks, our very own cartoon crisis, here in the academic bubble of Cambridge, has been rolling. In the first week of February, the Clare College newspaper Clarefication put out a special satirical issue entitled “Crucification” that amongst other things printed one of the Danish Muhammed cartoons, which last year had people going apeshit all over the world.

I have unfortunately have not been able to locate a copy, but it appears Clareification published the cartoon in just about as moronic a way as Jyllands-Posten did in September of 2005. Apparently, it was part of a “look-alikes of the week” feature, where the cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, which I assume was the emblematic one of the Prophet with a bomb in his turban, was juxtaposed with a photo of the President of the Union of Clare Students. The caption below the cartoon of the Prophet had the President’s name, and vice versa. Underneath the captions was a supplementary text apparently insinuating that one was a “violent paedophile” and the other “a prophet of God, a great leader and an example to us all”.

This led to the uproar one could have expected – a couple of Muslim organizations complained emphatically, Clare College washed its hands of the situation, suspended publication of Clarefication, sent the responsible guest editor out of Cambridge as a safety precaution (he has since returned), and have set up a disciplinary committee that is looking into the matter. Last news is that it has spawned a criminal investigation where two people, members of Clare College, have been interviewed by the police and threatened with prosecution under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001, which rules against “intentional harassment, alarm and distress” such as that caused by “threatening, abusive or insulting words and behaviour”. (see more in the Feb. 22 issue of the Cambridge Student, downloadable in PDF here).

Despite the fact that “Crucification” seems to have been another one of these idiotic “Let’s give these religious nuts something to chew on while draping ourselves in the flag of free speech”-stunts (it apprently contained crass satire of all the major religions) we have been saddled with so many of here in Europe over the last years, there is to my mind no doubt about the legality of the matter. While obviously insulting and straight-up dumb, I find it hard to see what the people responsible did as something even remotely covered by the above-quoted clauses. This might very well have been a bunch of pampered Eton boys trying to be clever, but they were exercising their right to free speech. In a moronic and insulting way, yes, but nevertheless. If this goes to court, I sincerely hope this is recognized. Just as I hope that the French magazine Charlie Hebdo is acquitted of all charges in the ongoing trial in Paris.

What we need is to create a society where these kinds of provocations are ignored as the trash they are. To regulate against them is not only counterproductive, it is dangerous.

Read Rackhams coverage of the Cartoon Crisis in English here, and in Danish here. Image of the Clare College Gate, with King’s Chapel in the background, taken from the Clare College website.

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