On Friday 2 February Clareification, a weekly publication produced by students at Clare College, printed a cropped copy of the cartoon of the prophet Mohammed, first published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005.
On the back page of the publication, in a satirical “look-alikes of the week” feature, the cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed was placed next to a photo of the President of the Union of Clare Students. The caption below the cartoon of Mohammed bore the President’s name, and vice versa. Underneath the captions was a supplementary comment insinuating that one was a “violent paedophile” and the other was “a prophet of God, a great leader and an example to us all”.
The edition of Clareification, produced by a guest editor, had been re-titled Crucification and was largely devoted to religious satire. The front cover included a stand-first stating “Ayatollah rethinks stance on ‘misunderstood’ Rushdie”. On page six an article described the reaction to the publication of the original cartoons around the world, likening it to the reaction to the Pope’s speech at the University of Regensburg in September last year, which has been accused of inciting anti-Islamic religious hatred. The piece was accompanied by a photo of people holding placards reading “Behead those who insult Islam” and “Freedom to go to hell”.
The publication of the cartoon provoked anger in Cambridge. The Union of Clare Students has been receiving letters of complaint throughout the week from enraged students. The Vice-President of the University of Cambridge Islamic Society reacted to the publication’s content with indignation. Speaking to Varsity, he said, “I found the magazine hugely offensive. Cambridge has a well founded reputation for diversity, tolerance and inclusiveness and I was surprised to see such crude and unabashed prejudice. Freedom of expression does not constitute a freedom to offend and this clearly crosses the boundary of Islamophobia”. A second year Clareification reader said “I can’t believe anyone would be so stupid. They are some of the most offensive things I have ever seen.”
Clare College yesterday issued a statement. 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.”
Speaking on behalf of the Union of Clare Students, President Calum Davey expressed his “deep regret” for the inclusion of such a provocative feature in the student publication. “This material does not reflect the views of the Clare Students. We offer our sincere apologies for the offence caused,” he said. The guest editor was unavailable for comment.
The cartoons have continued to cause worldwide controversy since their 2005 publication, sparking riots in some Muslim countries and leading to the death of at least four people. The French weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo is currently defending its publication of the cartoon in court. The editor, Phillippe Var, could face a six-month imprisonment and a substantial fine.
The only other British publications to have printed the cartoons are Y Llan, the magazine of the Church of Wales and Gair Rhydd, the Cardiff University student newspaper. Two hours after Gair Rhydd was printed, all copies were withdrawn from circulation and the editors responsible were suspended. The Cardiff paper had printed the cartoon to illustrate a serious discussion of the impact of the riots in Denmark.
Clareification is one of many college student publications produced in Cambridge. It is distributed within Clare College and has a limited print-run. During Lent Term, Clareification is run by a different guest editor each week in order to broaden the opportunities for journalistic experience. A student who had previously worked on the publication said “in this case, this has worked out for the worse”. When asked how the cartoon could have evaded censorship, he said “it was irresponsible of him and it was an overnight job… it’s nothing to do with the publication”. The College has now cut the paper’s funding.
The guest editor was called before the College authorities on the afternoon of Thursday 8 February, where the President of the Clare Union of Students spoke on his behalf. At time of going to press, the outcome of the meeting remained undisclosed.
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