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UK Uni Caves To Jihadis, Cancels Charlie Hebdo Conference

A university in Northern Ireland has canceled a planned conference discussing the Charlie Hebdo magazine massacre over concerns about security and the university’s “reputation.”

In January, Al-Qaida-aligned gunmen stormed the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris and murdered 12 people. This June, Queen’s University Belfast was scheduled to host a conference on the implications of that attack, “Understanding Charlie: New perspectives on contemporary citizenship.” Earlier this week, however, conference organizers announced those plans were being canceled. An email to invited delegates placed the blame with the school’s vice chancellor Patrick Johnston.

“He is concerned about the security risk for delegates and about the reputation of the university,” the email said, suggesting that university administrators may have been worried the conference would offend the sensibilities of donors. The decision is especially ironic because the university has already had to weather bloodshed related to The Troubles. In 1983, faculty member Edgar Graham was publicly assassinated by Irish nationalists over his support for continued union with the United Kingdom.

Since the cancellation, the university has tried to deny that it constitutes any kind of restriction on academic freedom, and has instead insisted organizers didn’t complete “risk assessments” required of all significant events.

“As part of managing the health and safety of the institution it is a requirement for all major events to have a full risk assessment completed prior to them going ahead on the campus,” a school spokesperson said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, the proposed symposium organised by the institute for collaborative research in the humanities did not have a completed risk assessment and as a result the institute has cancelled the event.”

Some of the delegates the University is ostensibly protecting, however, are having none of it. Alan Munton, a research fellow at the University of Exeter and a scheduled speaker at the conference, slammed the decision as a “disgrace.”

“It shows an appalling lack of solidarity with the ‘Je suis Charlie’ movement, in which people said the open and free discussion of controversial ideas should never be closed down,” Munton said, according to Times Higher Education.

Robert McLiam Wilson, a Belfast-born writer who writes for Hebdo, said that he was ashamed of his native city for surrendering to the threat of Islamic terror.

“Cancelling such an event in the face of putative menace in a city that endured a 30-year torture of self-immolation seems worse than pusillanimous,” Wilson said, according to The Guardian. “Belfast? Seriously? This is not the city I remember. This cancellation says, with trumpeting clarity, that there is no debate because there can be no debate. There is a big boat that can’t be rocked.”

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