Thursday, April 30, 2015

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The decision by a number of PEN writers to distance themselves from the declaration by the international writers group to bestow a Freedom of Expression Courage Award on Charlie Hebdo is symptomatic of the unchecked corrosiveness of a phobia which is not the one all too often rolled out in defence of censorship, Islamophobia. This particular muffler is more insidious to the artistic culture of ideational exploration, and is perhaps usefully, if clumsily, defined as offendophobia. 

If a cure is not found pretty quickly, this aversion towards offending those who strew public discourse with verboten notices in the name of religious dogma, will burrow even deeper into the heart of the artist, clogging the creative arteries through which ideas flow, disrupting the force and clarity with which they can be pumped as intellectual oxygen into society. 

Whatever else partition might affect, it has had no impact on the cross border unity displayed by Irish universities in their preference for the wrong end of the pencil, the eraser over the lead. 

Last month the Society for International Affairs at Trinity College Dublin spiked a speaking engagement by Maryam Namazie, titled Apostasy and the rise of Islamism on the grounds that it was not confident the discussion could take place “in a safe environment where individuals are free to express themselves without fear of being threatened after the discussion." 

This was followed by Queen’s University Belfast cancelling a conference planned to explore the implications of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris in January. The organisers said that:

The vice-chancellor at Queen’s University Belfast has made the decision just this morning that he does not wish our symposium to go ahead. He is concerned about the security risk for delegates and about the reputation of the university.

Security and offended are now the twin euphemisms for the censorship of our time. 

Queen’s, in the wake of much criticism from writers and artists, is now said to be reconsidering its decision. A risk assessment report is due for completion by tomorrow but this is PR gimmickry, crafted to allow it a soft landing from its forced climb down.

a number of academics at Queen’s contacted the Guardian to claim that an original risk-assessment form regarding security around the conference had been filled in properly several weeks ago.

In pulling the plug on the Queen's event the university’s vice-chancellor, Patrick Johnston, has inadvertently and paradoxically demonstrated the need for the conference that he scuppered. His cancellation, perhaps to an extent that the conference may not have achieved, showed that one major implication of the massacre in Paris is academic retreat in the face of menace.

This is what universities are contributing to public understanding, in a process once described by Terry Eagleton as the "death of universities as centres of critique..." in the urge to become centres of conformity.

Nor is the phenomenon restricted to Ireland. Unfortunately there seems to be little opposition from within. Something which promoted the novelist Glenn Patterson to say:

I am not sure what depresses more, that the symposium was cancelled or that most of the voices raised against the cancellation have come from outside the university.

With Ed Miliband undertaking to ban Islamophobia if he becomes British prime minister,  these islands can expect offendophobia to mushroom. Then we will truly be kept in the dark by law and fed dung.


DaithiD said...

Pat Condell had a good phobia term for this type of cowardice too: veritaphobia, a fear of the truth.

Anonymous said...

Offendophobia has been the greatest asset to almost all religions. For instance, the Religious have used 'offense' in order to create segregated schools in their own image. Thus exacerbating ethnic segregation on religious grounds.

No school would dare attempt to provide truly 'balanced' religious education -otherwise children would be taught the dangers of religious affiliation -for example, no girl will be told that by being part of a religious belief system she will have to forfeit many of her human and equality rights -and even possibly her life if she causes a dishonor to the religion.

These are the very things that children should be taught in national schools because for children indoctrinated and isolated within a devoutly religious family or community might otherwise never know they have the right to opt out when they become adults.

The paradox of religious organsations has always been how easily they can be offended while simultaneously they can be the most ruthless evil bastards on the planet.

AM said...


that is a better one - offendophobia rings clumsy even if it captures something

Malachi O'Doherty said...

An excellent piece, Mackers.