De facto blasphemy laws in Great Britain

February 27, 2023 • 9:15 am

According to Wikipedia, at least, blasphemy laws were enforced at a very low level in the UK until they were recently repealed in England, Wales, and Scotland—though they remain in force in Northern Ireland. I’ve left the links in the excerpt below in case readers want to check.

England and Wales abolished their blasphemy law in 2008. On 24 April 2020, the Scottish Government published a new bill that sought to reform hate crime legislation to provide better protection against race, sex, age and religious discrimination, and also decriminalised blasphemy. This bill was approved by Holyrood on 11 March 2021 and the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021[149] received royal assent on 23 April 2021.[150] The abolition of the common law of blasphemy will take effect when section 16 of the Act is brought into force by commencement order[151] Humanists UK, that had been campaigning for repealing Scotland’s blasphemy law since 2015, welcomed the bill.[152]

Yet prohibitions against blasphemy are apparently still being enforced in England—but only in defense of a single religion, and in schools, not the courts (though the coppers get involved). Guess which religion?

Yes, you’re right. Here’s a BBC article about it, sent in by a British reader. Click to read:

An excerpt:

Four pupils have been suspended from a West Yorkshire secondary school after a copy of the Quran was damaged by students.

Wednesday’s incident at Wakefield’s Kettlethorpe High School happened when a copy of the Islamic text was brought in by a Year 10 pupil.

Head teacher Tudor Griffiths said the book remained intact and there was “no malicious intent” from those involved.

He held a meeting with concerned community leaders on Friday.

He said reports the Quran had been burnt or destroyed were untrue, and he had inspected the book himself during the meeting.

Independent councillor for Wakefield East, Akef Akbar, called the meeting after being contacted by people calling for more information.

Mr Akbar said he had been told the book had been taken to school as a dare by a pupil who lost while playing a Call of Duty videogame with other students.

While at the school it sustained a slight tear to the cover and smears of dirt on some of the pages.

Mr Akbar said he understood it had been kicked around on the school premises – a claim denied by the school.

Head teacher Mr Griffiths said in a statement: “We would like to reassure all our community that the holy book remains fully intact and that our initial enquiries indicate there was no malicious intent by those involved.

According to The Critic piece by Ben Sixsmith, here’s how the damage to the Qur’an occurred:

Apparently, one of the pupils [JAC: later described as “highly autistic”] brought the Quran into school after losing a bet. (This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me but kids make odd decisions.) According to the school’s investigation, it appears that one of the students dropped the book after being collided with. It also picked up a smudge of dirt — which will surprise no one who is familiar with the hygiene of teenage boys.

Somehow, rumours spread. Activists came to believe that the Quran had been kicked or spat on, which inflamed a “huge uproar” in the Muslim community. Some even suggested that the Quran had been torn up in front of Muslim students.

Had that taken place it would have been deplorable. (Just as if a Bible had been torn up in front of Christian students, or a Torah in front of Jewish students.) As far as I can tell, though, there is no evidence that it did.

But activists were unsatisfied — elected officials among them. Usman Ali, for example, a local Labour councillor, announced that the Quran had been “desecrated” and that the school, the police and local authorities should be taking “swift and appropriate action to deal with this grave situation”. “We all need to work together to make sure that this terrible provocation does not set back community relations,” Ali wrote — blissfully unaware that the people endangering community relations were those, like him, who were treating an incident of teenage rambunctiousness like a school shooting.

Here’s the damage that the kerfuffle caused: a slight smudge (from the BBC article):

More from The Critic (yes, they editorialize), which adds two more things. First, the police were involved—twice (in bold below).  Second, the autistic boy has received death threats.

The school, after liaising with the police — because of course the police have nothing better to do than investigating slight cosmetic damage to a book — and “community leaders” — whoever the hell they are — suspended the boys.

Independent councillor Akef Akbar is playing the peacemaker in this situation. He has emphasised that “absolutely nobody should engage in any violence”, and that the kids who have been suspended should be “protected and safeguarded”. Well, that’s good.

But while I think Mr Akbar is sincere in his desire to stabilise community relations, the premises he works from need interrogating. He is asking local Muslims to be magnanimous enough to tolerate an outrageous provocation — when in reality it was a non-event that should not have caused a scandal to begin with.

In one video released on his Facebook page [see below], he addresses Wakefield residents alongside a woman who he introduces as the mother of the boy who brought the Quran into school. The boy, it turns out, was “highly autistic” — yet more reason to sympathise with him! But while Akbar is preaching peace — certainly better than the alternative — he is still behaving as if the boy committed some sort of monstrous crime. He was “rightfully expelled”, he says. His mother has “of course shown her remorse”. “Of course”! What do you mean “of course”!? Why should she feel remorse because her son brought a book into school?

Akbar tells us that the autistic boy has been receiving death threats and threats to beat him up. You might think this would be cause for fierce condemnation. “Passions do flare,” says Akbar, “And sometimes we let them out in the wrong manner.” Passions do flare? We’re talking about death threats — not someone using the f-word. Imagine the uproar if a Muslim child received death threats and a white politician shrugged “passions do flare”.

The mother has had to inform the police,” Akbar says, but “to her credit” she doesn’t want the children to be prosecuted. Why shouldn’t she?

The video with the lucubrations of councillor Akbar is embedded in one of the tweets below. As the British reader noted:

 There was a farcical “hearing” at a local mosque about it that tried hard to make itself look like a court, even though it’s no such thing and has no formal power [JAC: the FB page, which has sound, is here and in the tweet below.]
Notice that the mother of the autistic student has donned a hijab for the mock hearing!

I’m told that the mainstream British media haven’t covered this much, apart from The Critic and The Spectator, both of which, I’m told again, “lean to the political right”. That, of course, would probably be considered “centrist” in the U.S., but I am not a regular reader. I think they’re more like Quillette than The Daily Wire.
It’s ridiculous that the students were suspended, it’s ridiculous, given the circumstances, that the Muslim community is incensed (many of them are the Professionally Offended), it’s ridiculous that the “mock court” was convened, and it’s ridiculous that the police were involved. What’s most ridiculous—but there’s nothing to be done about it—is the reverence conferred on a bundle of paper containing fictitious words.  I think Britain would be better off if it adopted America’s construal of the First Amendment, for the ludicrous way they treat these “hate crimes” wouldn’t occur. The kids may have been warned by the school not to cause a commotion, but they certainly would not have been suspended; and if they had been, there would have been a First-Amendment lawsuit. The British police have better things to do than soothe the feelings of the offended or threaten people by interviewing them after “hate speech” reports.
The reader rendered his/her own opinion, which I quote with permission:
Personally I think this is crazy – my country doesn’t have blasphemy laws, I’m glad it doesn’t have them, I don’t want them introduced by the back door, and I’m amazed at how quiescent politicians are on this sort of thing. It’s cowardly, and the four kids clearly don’t deserve any kind of punishment at all. And of course some of the people who ARE willing to talk about the story are the skinhead brigade. Vacating the field like this seems both morally wrong and highly irresponsible. 

Hamline University faculty calls for their President to resign

January 25, 2023 • 12:30 pm

I saw this tweet early this morning, and was surprised (Hamline University is a small—ca. 2000 student—private liberal arts school in St. Paul, Minnesota:

I was surprised at the vote because up to now the faculty, after the “Muhammad’s Face Affair”, haven’t openly criticized Hamline University’s president, Fayneese Miller, for firing an art-history instructor, Erika López Prater. Prater was dumped by Miller after the instructor showed her class a 14th-century painting of Muhammad that clearly revealed the Prophet’s face. (See my posts on this issue here.) Some—though not all—Muslims think that it’s blasphemous to show any depiction of the Prophet, but other existing sects have no objection, and showing a full-on Muhammad was quite common in older Muslim art.

But even though López Prater put a trigger warning about this painting in her syllabus, and also mentioned it in class so that students didn’t have to look, she was still fired—or rather, Miller didn’t renew her contract. López Prater has since filed a lawsuit against Hamline, the incident has gotten national publicity, and Miller has dug in her heels instead of backing off. I’m certain Hamline will have to pay big time for what they did to the instructor. Meanwhile, the Muslim students are still disaffected and angry.

The two articles below, from the newspaper Sahan Journal, a Minnesota news site catering to immigrants and people of color, show how the faculty has lined up to give Miller (Hamline’s first black president, and a woman) her pink slip. The second piece shows that the students are ticked off that the faculty is upset at the firing. To the students, Miller is a hero.

Click on either headline to see the data, and note that the paper is generally supportive of the Muslim students who were upset.

As the tweet above notes, the faculty voted en masse ask President Miller to resign:

Full-time faculty at Hamline University voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to ask the school’s president, Fayneese Miller, for her resignation. The vote marked the latest turn in the crisis that has embroiled the school for weeks.

“The reputation of Hamline was deeply tarnished, and I think it’s clear the majority of the full-time faculty do not believe that Fayneese is the one to carry us forward,” said Jim Scheibel, the president of the Hamline University Faculty Council.

Miller did not immediately respond to a Sahan Journal request for comment.

An overwhelming number of the 92 full-time professors at an all-faculty meeting Tuesday voted to adopt a statement asking President Fayneese Miller to resign, said Jim Scheibel, president of the Hamline University Faculty Council. Scheibel said turnout at the meeting was strong, with about 70 percent of the university’s 130 full-time professors in attendance.

“We are distressed that members of the administration have mishandled this issue and great harm has been done to the reputation of Minnesota’s oldest university,” the statement reads. “As we no longer have faith in President Miller’s ability to lead the university forward, we call upon her to immediately tender her resignation to the Hamline University Board of Trustees.”

The statement also expresses support for academic freedom, an inclusive learning community, and due process.

The faculty vote does not bind Miller to any course of action, as only the board of trustees can remove the president from her position. Ellen Watters, the chair of Hamline’s board of trustees, declined to comment. The first Black president of Hamline, Miller has held the position since 2015.

But with so many faculty calling for her resignation, the academics have lost all confidence in Miller. It would be a miracle if the trustees keep her in office. My bet is that Miller is as good as gone. As I wrote earlier, I usually don’t call for someone’s job in a situation like this, but Miller refused to back down several times and clearly lacks any understanding of academic freedom. She doesn’t deserve to remain as Hamline’s President.

But, as the article notes, the students are on the side of Miller, not the faculty. They wanted the faculty to support the offended students, including the Muslims, and they didn’t. The faculty finally spoke with their votes. And that poured gasoline on the fire:

On January 22, a group of anonymous Muslim students sent an email to faculty, criticizing professors for their response to the crisis. “While we have been getting threats and targets on our backs, what hurts the most is knowing our faculty members don’t care much for us,” reads the letter. “Additionally, they are willing to go to the extent of going after and blaming President Miller who has been supportive throughout this difficult time.”

Returning to campus Monday for the first day of spring classes, several Muslim students told Sahan Journal they appreciated the administration’s support throughout the crisis. “I think our admins have been nothing but wonderful, actually,” said Ubah, a senior public health major. Administrators had reached out repeatedly to check on Muslim students, she said. But she criticized faculty members for using this crisis to target Miller.

“The worst-case scenario would be if the president gets overthrown,” Ubah said. “It leaves people that look like us vulnerable.” Without Miller, she said, the next campus incident might leave marginalized groups on campus to fend for themselves.

The students are as clueless as President Miller; they don’t want academic freedom, but someone to hug them and hold their hands. And I’m sorry, but the President will be overthrown and it will NOT make Muslims look vulnerable. It will make them look fragile, which they are—at least the ones who made a fuss after getting a trigger warning. I’m convinced that a big part of the “offense” is ginned up as a way to gain power.

A sign of the website’s political affiliation is that this second article, about the hurt Muslim students, now extra fearful after the faculty vote, is three times as long as the article above, which in terms of University governance is far more important.

A few quotes from students:

Many Muslim students, who had unexpectedly found themselves at the center of the storm, felt mixed emotions: Excited to be back. Overwhelmed by their new syllabi. Tired of the debate about academic vs. religious freedom.

. . . “It’s obviously really hard,” said 18-year-old Edna, a freshman education major, at the campus’s Anderson Center on Monday. “I’m just trying to take it day by day.”

For Edna, the hardest part of the firestorm was the threats her classmates received in light of the incident’s international media attention. (Some students and staff received death threats from people outside the Hamline community; at least one email address was temporarily disabled in an effort to curb harassment.) Overall, she found the media reaction “extreme.” She wished people could understand how much the incident had affected Muslim students.

Still, she said, “I’m glad to be back.”

But for some students, the return to class prompted another painful question: can I trust my professors?

“It’s great to be back because it is my last semester,” said Ubah, a senior public health major from St. Paul. “But it’s also the worst-case scenario that you could ever walk into.” The worst part, she said, was fearing that professors would not understand or support her.

The faculty also issued an earlier statement of support to Muslim students, so I don’t think the students should worry about a lack of concern from faculty, though I can see how the students would be distressed since their President is on the ropes and will likely be fired.

But one set of statements implies that the students want the faculty to understand how valuable Islam is to them, and that that’s why the students protested. In my view, the faculty shouldn’t care about what the students believe by way of religion, for that’s the students’ business, not the faculty’s. The faculty’s concern here was academic freedom, which they clearly value above any religious offense claimed by the students.

In a Sunday email to faculty from Muslim Student Association members, students expressed disappointment that many professors had stood with López Prater. Since the letter was unsigned “because of concern of retaliations from faculty members or others who don’t support our cause,” it’s not clear how many students endorsed the letter.

“While we have been getting threats and targets on our backs, what hurts the most is knowing our faculty members don’t care much for us,” read the letter. “Additionally, they are willing to go to the extent of going after and blaming President Miller who has been supportive throughout this difficult time….Your silence shows us as students that Hamline is not a place for us, and in your classrooms, we don’t feel safe, welcomed, or belong.”

Although Hamline is a small school, Ubah said, few professors had taken the time to get to know her or understand her religion.

“You have to know who your students are in the class, more than just the name and the pronouns or what their major is,” she said. “Even asking little things like getting to know their religion. That will give you what they value as a person. Then incidents like that wouldn’t even take place, because then you know that a Muslim student values their Prophet so much, you understand that you should not be showing a picture.”

Ubah is wrong.  Academic freedom is the principle at stake, not the students’ religious feelings, and López Prater did warn the students about showing Muhammad’s face. Since she was making a point about art history with that famous painting, she had a genuine didactic purpose, and that trumps “feelings”.

These students need to learn two lessons: one is about academic freedom and the other is the fact that if you’re getting properly educated, you will come across things that you find offensive.  Religion is only one such topic; others are politics, sex, and race. Offense, which students must learn to deal with, is an inevitable byproduct of the clash of ideas that you encounter at a good university.

h/t: cesar, Luana

Hamline University reconsiders its stand on academic freedom; fired instructor sues the school

January 18, 2023 • 10:00 am

At the same time, academic freedom does not operate in a vacuum. It is subject to the dictates of society and the laws governing certain types of behavior. Imara Scott, in an April 2022 article published in Inside Higher Ed, noted that “academic freedom, like so many ideological principles, can be manipulated, misunderstood, and misrepresented…academic freedom can become a weapon to be used against vulnerable populations.”

—Fayneese Miller, President, Hamline University

The statement above was issued by the President of Hamline University in Minnesota after she fired an instructor, Erika López Prater, who showed the students in her art history class an ancient painting of Muhammad. The problem was that the painting, shown below, depicted the Prophet’s face. Different sects of Islam take different positions on whether showing Muhammad’s face is blasphemy, and there are many paintings, old and new, showing his face. The one López Prater showed, from the 14th century, is considered a masterpiece of Islamic art. (It shows the angel Gabriel dictating the Qur’an to Muhammad.)

Despite the instructor’s warning on the syllabus and also in class that this picture would be shown, some Muslim students, claiming that they were offended, objected, and López Prater was let go (rather, her contract was not renewed).  There were many objections to the firing, including from FIRE, PEN America, and lots of individuals (including Muslims), for Hamline had clearly violated the instructor’s academic freedom. The case is clear cut, and FIRE wrote the University taking them to task.  Hamline refused to re-hire the instructor or admit that it had erred, and Hamline’s President, in a statement excerpted above (see below the fold for her entire statement), dug in her heels.  See here for my previous reports on this shameful episode, including a video in which López Prater explains why she showed the painting and how the University reacted.

FIRE then reported Hamline University to its accreditation agency, and, according to the NYT article below, López-Prater sued the University. Further, as Inside Higher Education reported yesterday (second screenshot below), the University’s trustees issued a statement walking back what they did to the instructor.  For some rea$on they’ve had second thoughts.

Now, because the administration caved into the “offended” students, the school is in a whole heap of trouble. This is the second time the NYT wrote about the school, and Hamline is looking bad. What parent would want to send their kid to such a Pecksniffing school?  As I’ve said, it should be renamed Hamhanded University.

I suspect that the two articles that you can read below will lead to the instructor either being rehired (though she’s apparently had other job offers), or, more likely, a fat monetary settlement. And Hamline deserves to pay big time for firing someone who was not only doing their job, but doing it well—warning students in advance.

From the NYT:

And from Inside Higher Ed:

On January 13, Hamline’s board of trustees, clearly having rethought the actions against Lopez Prater, issued this statement:

As Minnesota’s first university we’ve learned a lot in our nearly 170 years. Recent events have required us to look deeply into our values. We are a beautifully diverse community committed to educating our students and ourselves, and sometimes that means we need to make space for hard conversations and serious self-reflection. This is one of those times. We are listening and we are learning. The Hamline University Board of Trustees is actively involved in reviewing the University’s policies and responses to recent student concerns and subsequent faculty concerns about academic freedom. Upholding academic freedom and fostering an inclusive, respectful learning environment for our students are both required to fulfill our Mission. We will move forward together and we will be stronger for it.

They are listening and learning, and now they have to pay. The statement clearly shows that they are “rethinking”, but they still refuse to admit that they violated academic freedom and that López Prater DID provide a respectful learning experience for her students.

The New York Times quotes a stronger “walkback” statement” from the head of the board of trustees:

Like all organizations, sometimes we misstep,” said a statement from Ellen Watters, the chair of the university’s board of trustees, and Fayneese S. Miller, the president. “In the interest of hearing from and supporting our Muslim students, language was used that does not reflect our sentiments on academic freedom. Based on all that we have learned, we have determined that our usage of the term ‘Islamophobic’ was therefore flawed.”

The statement added, “It was never our intent to suggest that academic freedom is of lower concern or value than our students — care does not ‘supersede’ academic freedom, the two coexist.”

At least Watters admits that there was a misstep. She still doesn’t realize, however, that academic freedom results in some students being offended or disturbed. You can’t always have both, and when they don’t coexist, academic freedom almost always takes precedence over “offense”, real or pretended.

Inside Higher Ed didn’t mention the lawsuit yesterday, so it must just have been filed because it’s described in today’s NYT:

University officials changed their stance after the lecturer, who lost her teaching job, sued the small Minnesota school for religious discrimination and defamation.

. . . The lawsuit, in Minnesota district court, states that Hamline’s actions have caused Dr. López Prater the loss of income from her adjunct position, emotional distress and damage to her professional reputation and job prospects.

In a statement, David Redden, a lawyer for Dr. López Prater, said that having had her actions labeled Islamophobic would follow her “throughout her career” and hurt her ability to obtain a tenure-track position.

According to the lawsuit, Ms. Wedatalla [an “observant Muslim student” who complained] “wanted to impose her specific religious views on López Prater, non-Muslim students and Muslim students who did not object to images.”

Mr. Redden said that the university’s new stance would not affect the lawsuit.

The lawsuit added that Hamline treated Dr. López Prater negatively because “she is not Muslim, because she did not conform her conduct to the specific beliefs of a Muslim sect, and because she did not conform her conduct to the religion-based preferences of Hamline that images of Muhammad not be shown to any Hamline student.”

As for American Muslims, they’re divided, though I’m heartened by reports that other Muslim groups had no objection to López Prater’s showing the painting, since not all Muslims object to depictions of Muhammad and because the instructor did provide a warning. From the NYT:

Muslim groups are also divided over the Hamline controversy. Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), believes that showing the image was Islamophobic. But the national group disagreed.

“Although we strongly discourage showing visual depictions of the prophet,” the group said in a statement, “professors who analyze ancient paintings for an academic purpose are not the same as Islamophobes who show such images to cause offense.”

Finally, IHE gives two statements supporting the instructor:

The president emerita of Hamline, Linda N. Hanson, weighed in with a letter to the editor of The Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

“I am concerned about the effect on Hamline’s reputation from the recent incident in which an art professor’s contract was not renewed and the missed opportunity for students to understand and expand their knowledge of Islamic art and history,” the letter said. “This decision has sent the wrong message to Hamline faculty, alumni and the communities it serves. Since Hamline’s founding in 1854, faculty have taught within the principle of academic freedom and examined subjects through the lens of open inquiry and respect for the beliefs, rights and opinions of the students they teach. Generations of Hamline faculty have taught with the belief that adhering to the bright line of academic freedom and supporting students are not mutually exclusive.”

And the Hamline chapter of the American Association of University Professors this morning released a statement that said, “We deeply regret that a colleague was unjustly accused of being ‘undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic’ in a fall semester class. We reject this divisive public statement that has exacerbated the incident, and we call on the administration to do the same.”

The statement added, “To preserve the vibrant environment for open inquiry and free exchange of ideas that Hamline values, we also affirm the primacy of faculty discretion to choose how classes are taught, free from interference by administration. Such administrative respect for faculty judgment is essential to faculty being able to continue to provide innovative and challenging student learning opportunities, consistent with Hamline’s long history.”

The only people siding with the firing of López Prater, then, are University President Miller, who pretends that she didn’t fire the instructor (LOL: she didn’t renew her contract) and Jaylani Hussein of CAIR. Everybody else, clearly including the timorous trustees, seem to realize that letting the instructor go was a huge mistake—a violation of academic freedom that besmirches Hamline’s reputation.

Oberlin College in Ohio did a similar thing when it besmirched the local Gibson’s Bakery by defaming it with accusations of racism. Gibson’s asked for an apology an Obelin refused. The case went to court, an it cost Oberlin $36 million in damages.  López Prater is clearly entitled to a big chunk of change because her reputation has already been damaged, and even if she gets another job, she’ll be demonized by a subset of students. She won’t be able to stay at Hamline, because all those offended students are still there.

The only thing that would have made Hamline back off, as it has done, is a lawsuit. The next headline we’ll see is probably “Money talks, Hamline squawks.”

Best of luck to Professor López Prater! Many of us support you, and not because you’re “Islamophobic”, but because you were doing your job and suffered greatly for it.  As to the firing, the person who should really be fired (and perhaps will) is President Miller. I rarely call for someone’s job, as I believe in second chances, but in Miller’s case her second chance involved digging in her heels and mischaracterizing academic freedom. Having clearly misconstrued the nature of a University, Miller should get her pink slip.

h/t: Wayne. Greg

Click “read more” below to see the statement from Hamline’s President, Fayneese Miller:

Continue reading “Hamline University reconsiders its stand on academic freedom; fired instructor sues the school”

Minnesota art-history faculty, as well as a Muslim organization, support fired instructor who showed her class a painting with Muhammad’s face (and a new video with the instructor)

January 14, 2023 • 10:45 am

As I’ve written about several times, Erika López Prater, an instructor at Hamline University in Minnesota, was fired by the school for showing a 14th-century image of Muhammad’s face in her art-history survey course. (She also showed a painting of the Prophet with his face veiled but rest of his body complete). The instructor warned the students, both in the syllabus and before the class, that they didn’t have to go to the class or look at the image of this famous painting (TRIGGER WARNING: MUHAMMAD FACE):

López Prater’s warning didn’t matter: some offended Muslim students (mostly black Muslims but probably not from the Nation of Islam) complained, and the instructor’s contract was not renewed. The story made the NYT and Hamline got some severely bad publicity, but their President, Fayneese S. Miller, signed a statement that prioritized student comfort over academic freedom, and argued that the instructor was not “fired”—her contract simply wasn’t renewed. That is a distinction without a difference.

FIRE reproduces Miller’s statement, which includes this (scroll down on the FIRE page to see it):

Prioritizing the well-being of our students does not in any way negate or minimize the rights and privileges assured by academic freedom. But the concepts do intersect. Faculty have the right to teach and research subjects of importance to them, and to publish their work under the purview of their peers.

At the same time, academic freedom does not operate in a vacuum. It is subject to the dictates of society and the laws governing certain types of behavior. Imara Scott, in an April 2022 article published in Inside Higher Ed, noted that “academic freedom, like so many ideological principles, can be manipulated, misunderstood, and misrepresented…academic freedom can become a weapon to be used against vulnerable populations. Why? Because on the other end of a professor claiming academic freedom may be a student — a student who lacks tenure, who must rely on that professor for a grade and who may be emotionally, intellectually, or professionally harmed by the professor’s exercise of the power they hold.”

Well, clearly López Prater was not using her academic freedom as a weapon to demonize Muslims or make fun of Islam. Miller was simply out to lunch here, trying to confect reasons for violating the instructor’s acemic freedom.

According to the NYT, Miller also said that “respect for the Muslim students ‘should have superseded academic freedom.’ ” Clearly Miller (below) has no idea what academic freedom really means, and now I do think she should be fired—for complete cluelessness. Nobody should be President of a university if they think that student complaints like the ones leveled against López Prater are grounds for dismissal.

As FIRE said, Miller has “tripled down,” refusing to reconsider her decision and making even more extreme statements defending the firing (i.e., not renewing a contract). FIRE wrote Miller asking her to reconsider (she didn’t respond), and then reported Hamline University to its accrediting agency.  Fortunately, López Prater seems to have several other job offers.

President Fayneese Miller

Another reason Miller should go is that she’s lost the confidence of the entire Art History faculty of the University of Minnesota, which issue a unanimous statement (with an emeritus signing on) supporting the right of López Prater to have taught about that painting. Here’s the statement.

You can read it for yourself, so I’ll provide just one excerpt. Note the sarcastic subtitle, as the statement shows a painting of Jonah, a big fish, and the angel that resembles the Muslim painting above:

Jonah and the Whale,” Folio from a Jami al-Tavarikh (Compendium of Chronicles), ca. 1400, Metropolitan Museum of Art (

The big support is here:

In its removal of Dr. López Prater from its teaching roster, Hamline’s administration took an explicit stand against higher education’s longstanding tradition of instructional prerogative, compromising the freedom of college-level instructors to make individual selections and decisions in presenting expert knowledge of all stripes (factual, theoretical, interpretive, editorial). This prerogative goes by the term “academic freedom” and it is an extraordinary privilege. As faculty, we cherish this privilege as necessary to our scholarly enterprise and earned through our pursuit of scholarly inquiry, knowledge, and insight. We take the responsibility that comes with this privilege seriously, practicing it within the social contract of the university classroom and the responsive learning communities we seek to forge there. Academic freedom, too, is a privilege we fear is currently under threat, a precarity made worse specifically by the casualization of academic labor via the underpaid adjunct gig economy and the disposability of expertise in pursuit of rising revenues.

In response to Dr. López Prater’s non-renewal, we speak strongly against Hamline’s intertwined attacks on academic freedom, on the integrity and dedication of faculty (especially those vulnerable to dismissal), and on the related enterprises of knowledge dissemination and debate. We strongly urge Hamline’s administrative leadership to examine critically its approach to this instance and its broader policies and procedures, not only regarding student complaints and controversies, but also with respect to hiring, training, setting expectations for, and listening to adjunct faculty.

And kudos to the faculty who signed it (below):

The Tenure-Stream Faculty of the UMN Department of Art History
Dr. Jane Blocker, Professor
Dr. Emily Ruth Capper, Assistant Professor
Dr. Sinem Casale, Assistant Professor
Dr. Michael Gaudio, Professor
Dr. Daniel Greenberg, Assistant Professor
Dr. Laura Kalba, Associate Professor
Dr. Jennifer Jane Marshall, Professor & Chair
Dr. Steven Ostrow, Professor
Dr. Anna Lise Seastrand, Assistant Professor
Dr. Robert Silberman, Associate Professor

Co-signed by Dr. Catherine Asher, Emerita Professor, in her capacity as an expert in Islamic art

Wouldn’t it be lovely if the HAMLINE faculty issued a statement of support? One professor in another department has spoken out, but I suspect most of the faculty are cowed and chilled.

And, if you click below, you’ll see an additional statement of support from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, which seems to be a mainstream organization advocating for tolerance and understansing of  Muslims—much like the anti-Defamation League. And it’s firmly on the side of the fired non-renewed instructor.

Brief excerpt. The message comes right at the beginning rather than at the end:

It is with great concern that the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) views the firing of an art professor, Erika López Prater, from Hamline University on the grounds of showing a fourteenth-century painting depicting the Prophet Muḥammad. We issue this statement of support for the professor and urge the university to reverse its decision and to take compensatory action to ameliorate the situation.

. . . As a Muslim organization, we recognize the validity and ubiquity of an Islamic viewpoint that discourages or forbids any depictions of the Prophet, especially if done in a distasteful or disrespectful manner. However, we also recognize the historical reality that other viewpoints have existed and that there have been some Muslims, including and especially Shīʿī Muslims,  who have felt no qualms in pictorially representing the Prophet (although often veiling his face out of respect). All this is a testament to the great internal diversity within the Islamic tradition, which should be celebrated.

This, it seems, was the exact point that Dr. Prater was trying to convey to her students. She empathetically prepared them in advance for the image, which was part of an optional exercise and prefaced with a content warning. “I am showing you this image for a reason,” stressed the professor:

. . . The painting was not Islamophobic. In fact, it was commissioned by a fourteenth-century Muslim king in order to honor the Prophet, depicting the first Quranic revelation from the angel Gabriel.

Here’s a video that was just posted involving a discussion with López Prater, Christine Gruber (a Michigan art-history professor who defended her in an eloquent statement at New Lines), and several others (Mr. Salam Al-Marayati from MPAC, and Dr. Hyder Khan) who have also defended López Prater. The moderator is Muqtedar Khan, a professor at the University of Delaware. I found the video while looking for images of López Prater, which don’t seem to appear on the Internet. In the YouTube image below, she’s on the upper right. But she talks at length below, and do listen to hear her story.

The You-Tube statement:

Dr. Erika López Prater was fired from Hamline university after she showed classical paintings of Prophet Muhammad in her Art History class. She discusses the sequence of events, her syllabus, and her pedagogy. Dr. Christine Gruber explains that Islamic tradition is diverse and sheds light on the practice of painting Prophet Muhammad specially from the 13th to the 16th century in Iran and Turkey. MPAC President Salam al-Marayati shares the concerns that prompted MPAC to make the statement in support of Dr. Prater. Dr. Hyder Khan discusses the diversity of opinion in the Muslim Community of Minnesota. He feels the issue is not over and once the internal debates are over the community will take a more deliberated position on the matter.

And the video.  López Prater acquits herself well, and it’s outrageous that she was let go. Well, Hamline’s loss is some other university’s gain.

h/t: Luana, Colin

The NYT finally writes about the Hamline University/Muhammad story, and Kenan Malik offers his take

January 9, 2023 • 10:45 am

“Respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superceded academic freedom.”

—Fayneese Miller, President, Hamline University

And so Hamline University joins the Big Two of other liberal-arts schools that have embarrassed themselves via the administration’s defense of the indefensible: The Evergreen State College and Oberlin College. Evergreen defended thuggish students who were out to hunt down Bret Weinstein for saying he wouldn’t leave campus on the “Day of Absence,” while Oberlin defended three students who shoplifted wine and then beat up the store’s proprietor (Oberlin paid over $39 million for that unwise defense). Now, as I’ve written about twice, Hamline has gained the spotlight by firing an instructor who showed two pictures of Muhammed in an art class, one showing his face and the other his body with a veiled face. And the instructor, whom the NYT names below as Erika López Prater, warned the students before class about this so they didn’t have to come if they didn’t want to. But trigger warnings apparently don’t eliminate offense.

Further, as I mentioned before and as Kenan Malik notes below, it’s only a recent and more conservative strain of Islam that considers it blasphemous to show the Prophet or his face, so there’s a whole panoply of Islamic art showing Muhammad’s visage, something that art history professor Christiane Gruber, who specializes in Islamic art, pointed out while defending López Prater in New Lines Magazine. That didn’t matter, either.

Nevertheless, and even though the teacher apologized, the college President, quoted above, didn’t renew the instructor’s contract. Hamline and its administration are holding firm, even though FIRE has now reported the school to its accreditation agency and the school has been condemned by PEN America. Can a lawsuit be far behind?

Remember, you read it here first, and only now does the New York Times cover the story. Be aware, though, that the NYT’s coverage may be a good sign that it’s losing its wokeness, for it took ages for the paper to get interested in the Evergreen and Oberlin cases n. You can read the NYT story below by clicking on the screenshot:

Besides naming the victim as Erika López Prater, a name now all over the Internet, the paper gives a few facts I didn’t know (don’t expect a small website to have the investigating capacity of a huge newspaper!). Here are a few tidbits:

Officials told Dr. López Prater that her services next semester were no longer needed. In emails to students and faculty, they said that the incident was clearly Islamophobic. Hamline’s president, Fayneese S. Miller, co-signed an email that said respect for the Muslim students “should have superseded academic freedom.” At a town hall, an invited Muslim speaker compared showing the images to teaching that Hitler was good.

Remember: an invited speaker, clearly brought in to support the accusation of blasphemy. The President’s statement is beyond the pale.

This I’ve said before:

The painting shown in Dr. López Prater’s class is in one of the earliest Islamic illustrated histories of the world, “A Compendium of Chronicles,” written during the 14th century by Rashid-al-Din (1247-1318).

Shown regularly in art history classes, the painting shows a winged and crowned Angel Gabriel pointing at the Prophet Muhammad and delivering to him the first Quranic revelation. Muslims believe that the Quran comprises the words of Allah dictated to the Prophet Muhammad through the Angel Gabriel.

Note: earlier I said that the NYT didn’t show the picture at issue. I see now that it does, though you have to click on a dot to see it. (I missed that.) I’ve put the one that caused all the trouble below.

Here it is: the face that launched a thousand kvetches. You can see the picture and its painter here as well. It’s from the fourteenth century:

More from the NYT:

Omid Safi, a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Duke University, said he regularly shows images of the Prophet Muhammad in class and without Dr. López Prater’s opt-out mechanisms. He explains to his students that these images were works of devotion created by pious artists at the behest of devout rulers.

“That’s the part I want my students to grapple with,” Dr. Safi said. “How does something that comes from the very middle of the tradition end up being received later on as something marginal or forbidden?”

I wonder if Safi is now in someone’s gunsights. More from the paper:

Dr. López Prater, who had only begun teaching at Hamline in the fall, said she felt like a bucket of ice water had been dumped over her head, but the shock soon gave way to “blistering anger at being characterized in those terms by somebody who I have never even met or spoken with.” She reached out to Dr. Gruber, who ended up writing the essay and starting the petition.

And get a load of this forum set up by the University to justify their heinous actions. (Aram Wedatalla, a student, complained about the picture-showing in the student paper and also filed a complaint with Hamline’s admnistration.)

At the Dec. 8 forum, which was attended by several dozen students, faculty and administrators, Ms. Wedatalla described, often through tears, how she felt seeing the image.

“Who do I call at 8 a.m.,” she asked, when “you see someone disrespecting and offending your religion?”

Other Muslim students on the panel, all Black women, also spoke tearfully about struggling to fit in at Hamline. Students of color in recent years had protested what they called racist incidents; the university, they said, paid lip service to diversity and did not support students with institutional resources.

The main speaker was Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group.

The instructor’s actions, he said, hurt Muslim students and students of color and had “absolutely no benefit.”

“If this institution wants to value those students,” he added, “it cannot have incidents like this happen. If somebody wants to teach some controversial stuff about Islam, go teach it at the local library.”

The man is a peabrain who has no notion of academic freedom, nor does he recognize that it’s only fundamentalist Muslims who have the see-no-face policy.

Here’s one more bit describing how at least one Hamline professor spoke up against the lunacy, but was shusshed by the administration:

Mark Berkson, a religion professor at Hamline, raised his hand.

“When you say ‘trust Muslims on Islamophobia,’” Dr. Berkson asked, “what does one do when the Islamic community itself is divided on an issue? Because there are many Muslim scholars and experts and art historians who do not believe that this was Islamophobic.”

Mr. Hussein responded that there were marginal and extremist voices on any issue. “You can teach a whole class about why Hitler was good,” Mr. Hussein said.

During the exchange, Ms. Baker, the department head, and Dr. Everett, the administrator, separately walked up to the religion professor, put their hands on his shoulders and said this was not the time to raise these concerns, Dr. Berkson said in an interview.

But Dr. Berkson, who said he strongly supported campus diversity, said that he felt compelled to speak up.

“We were being asked to accept, without questioning, that what our colleague did — teaching an Islamic art masterpiece in a class on art history after having given multiple warnings — was somehow equivalent to mosque vandalism and violence against Muslims and hate speech,” Dr. Berkson said. “That is what I could not stand.”

Good for Berkson, a voice of sanity in the miasma of cowardice that is Hamline University. The bolding above is mine, showing again that Hamline’s administration DOES NOT WANT A DEBATE. They want others to confirm that they did the right thing by firing López Prater. (The good news is that she says she has other job offers.)

The journalist Kenan Malik, trained in biology as well as the history of science, and now a writer who’s devoted to free speech, has an eloquent piece in the Guardian defending López-Prater’s right to show Muhammad’s face. (He doesn’t name her.) You can read it for free by clicking the headline.

It’s full of nice pull quotes; I’ll give just three. Professor Berkson shows up again (note that the student paper removed his published letter, though you can see the link below):

David Everett, Hamline’s associate vice-president of inclusive excellence, condemned the classroom exercise as “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic”. A letter written by Mark Berkson, chair of the department of religion, defending the instructor and providing historical and religious context for her actions, was published on the website of The Oracle, the university’s student newspaper, and then taken down because it “caused harm”. The instructor was “released” from further teaching duties.

What is striking about the Hamline incident, though, is that the image at the heart of the row cannot even in the most elastic of definitions be described as Islamophobic. It is an artistic treasure that exalts Islam and has long been cherished by Muslims.

. . . Yet, to show it is now condemned as Islamophobic because… a student says so. Even to question that claim is to cause “harm”. As Berkson asked in another (unpublished) letter he sent to The Oracle, after his first had been removed: “Are you saying that disagreement with an argument is a form of ‘harm’?”

That is precisely what the university is saying. “Respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom,” wrote Fayneese Miller, the university’s president, and Everett in a letter to staff and students. In what way was showing the painting “disrespecting” Muslims? Those who did not wish to view it did not have to. But others, including Muslims who desired to view the image, had every right to engage with a discussion of Islamic history.

Universities should defend all students’ right to practise their faith. They should not allow that faith to dictate the curriculum. That is to introduce blasphemy taboos into the classroom.

I think the mantra “disagreement with an argument is a form of ‘harm'” should become the official slogan of the woke. It’s the most concise characterization of the illiberal Left that I’ve seen.

And Malik’s take on the diversity angle of this issue (bolding is mine):

Too many people today demand that we respect the diversity of society, but fail to see the diversity of minority communities in those societies. As a result, progressive voices often get dismissed as not being authentic, while the most conservative figures become celebrated as the true embodiment of their communities.

Here, liberal “anti-racism” meets rightwing anti-Muslim bigotry. For bigots, all Muslims are reactionary and their values incompatible with those of liberal societies. For too many liberals, opposing bigotry means accepting reactionary ideas as authentically Muslim; that to be Muslim is to find the Danish cartoons offensive and the depiction of Muhammed “harmful”. Both bigots and liberals erase the richness and variety of Muslim communities.

The Hamline controversy shows how the concepts of diversity and tolerance have become turned on their head. Diversity used to mean the creation of a space for dissent and disagreement and tolerance the willingness to live with things that one might find offensive or distasteful. Now, diversity too often describes a space in which dissent and disagreement have to be expunged in the name of “respect” and tolerance requires one to refrain from saying or doing things that might be deemed offensive. It is time we re-grasped both diversity and tolerance in their original sense.

I fear it’s too late, as we’re educating students to be both politically correct and authoritarian, and they will grow up to run America (and perhaps England). It will be decades, I fear, before society comes back to its senses. But by that time I’ll be one with the clay.

Hamline University assailed for firing professor who showed images of Muhammad’s face in class (with a trigger warning)

January 5, 2023 • 9:15 am

As I’ve reported, Hamline University, a small liberal-arts school in Minnesota, recently fired an unidentified professor who showed two images of the body and face of Muhammad to one of his/her classes. The prof even warned the students in advance that the images would be shown, giving them a chance to opt out. And despite that, and despite the fact that some sects of Islam don’t see it as blasphemy (or didn’t used to see it as such) to show the Prophet’s face, some students complained to the administration, and the instructor was summarily fired. The professor had even apologized, but of course that was not enough. It’s never enough in the face of the mob who wants punishment, not expressions of contrition.

On December 27, FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression), wrote to the President of Hamline urging the school to reinstate the instructor, saying that the firing was a violation of academic freedom and an indefensible act of retaliation. Hamline, however, didn’t back down. As AlphaNews reported on January 3, the University is sticking to its guns.

Hamline University President Fayneese Miller responded to the backlash in a campus-wide email Saturday. In her email, Miller suggested that no instructor is allowed to do anything in class if it goes against any student’s faith.

“As has been reported, this past semester an adjunct instructor displayed images of the prophet Muhammad. Students do not relinquish their faith in the classroom. To look upon an image of the prophet Muhammad, for many Muslims, is against their faith,” she said in a prepared statement included in the email.

“Questions about how best to discuss Islamic art have been raised by many academics and is certainly an issue worthy of debate and discussion. For those of us who have been entrusted with the responsibility of educating the next generation of leaders and engaged citizens, it was important that our Muslim students, as well as all other students, feel safe, supported, and respected both in and out of our classrooms. As we have stated, in the immediate aftermath of students’ expressed concerns, the University’s initial response and actions were to address our students’ concerns. And, contrary to what has been reported and become the story, it is important that this aspect be reported. It is also important that we clarify that the adjunct instructor was teaching for the first time at Hamline, received an appointment letter for the fall semester, and taught the course until the end of the term,” her statement continued.

Miller concluded the email by acknowledging that the incident has been “painful for our community.”

This is absurd—even more so given that the students were warned and the works of art displayed were of considerable historic interest. What the university is doing is getting rid of instructors for blasphemy, but blasphemy against only one religion.  Further, I reject the argument that students must feel “safe, supported, and respected” at all times. Were that they case, they could never be subjected to arguments that made them uncomfortable; and then what’s the point of a liberal education? The upshot is that Hamline looks bad, as there have been other complaints, like from PEN America and The Academic Freedom Alliance.

Since Hamline refused to back down, FIRE has escalated its response, reporting the school to the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits Hamline, for violating academic freedom. Click below to read the press release, and here to see the letter to the HLC:

As the letter reports, Hamline has a contractual agreement to protect the academic freedom of its faculty:

Hamline University has made a contractual commitment to its faculty to respect and protect their academic freedom. The Hamline University Faculty Handbook as approved by the Board of Trustees in 2021 is clear. Hamline adopted without reservation the 1940 statement on academic freedom endorsed by the American Association of University Professors and the American Association of Colleges. Section 3.1.2 of the Handbook guarantees that “all faculty members are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” The guarantee extends to every individual at Hamline who is working in an instructional capacity regardless of whether they enjoy the protections of tenure. There is simply no question that introducing students to an important piece of Islamic art in a global art history class is covered by this principle of academic freedom. Hamline’s own stated commitment to academic freedom is unqualified. There is no exception for students who feel offended or disrespected by materials they encounter in the course of their college education.

This is one step short of a lawsuit, but could have even more severe consequences if the school loses its accreditation. I wrote to FIRE asking them if reporting a violation to an accreditation group was new for them, and Sabrina Conza, FIRE’s program officer for Campus Rights advocacy, responded:

Thanks for your questions. FIRE has alerted institutions’ accreditors of their violations of accreditation standards before, including Emerson College and Saint Vincent College. Both colleges’ accreditors chose to investigate our claims. As of now, FIRE’s focusing on our accreditor complaint as well as our faculty letter and take action campaign.
Hamline University violated faculty academic freedom and made clear that it won’t keep its promises. As an organization dedicated to defending free expression and academic freedom, FIRE felt compelled to alert the university’s accreditor. The Higher Learning Commission requires universities it accredits, like Hamline, to be “committed to academic freedom and freedom of expression in the pursuit of truth in teaching and learning.” Because Hamline has shown it is not committed to academic freedom, we urge its accreditor to hold Hamline accountable for violating its accreditation standards.

If you want to send a quick note to Hamline’s President, the screenshot above has, at the bottom of its article, a boilerplate letter that you can sign (or modify), and click to send it automatically. I’ve done so and would urge others who feel likewise to fill in your name and click the link.

There’s another public objection to Hamline’s egregious behavior: a passionate critique in the Chronicle of Higher Education of the University’s behavior—by a Muslim.  Amna Khalid, the author, is an associate professor of history at Carleton College and host of the podcast Banished.

A couple of excerpts from Dr. Khalid’s letter:

As a professor, I am appalled by the senior administration’s decision to dismiss the instructor and pander to the students who claim to have been “harmed.” This kind of “inclusive excellence” permits DEI administrators to ride roughshod over faculty knowledge. The administration’s blatant disregard for and active suppression of the very thing an institution of higher learning is valued for — the specialized knowledge of its faculty — makes this “one of the most egregious violations of academic freedom in recent memory,” in the words of PEN America.

With leadership like Hamline’s, who needs content-banning legislation to limit the scope of inquiry and teaching? It is the ultimate betrayal of the promise of education when institutions of higher learning begin endorsing ignorance. In the end, it is the students who pay the highest price for such limits on academic freedom.

. . . But most of all, I am offended as a Muslim. In choosing to label this image of Muhammad as Islamophobic, in endorsing the view that figurative representations of the Prophet are prohibited in Islam, Hamline has privileged a most extreme and conservative Muslim point of view. The administrators have flattened the rich history and diversity of Islamic thought. Their insistence that figurative representations of Muhammad are “forbidden for Muslims to look upon” runs counter to historical and contemporary evidence.

And the two sentences below have to sting most of all. At the very least, it shows the hypocrisy of Hamline and other Universities whose DEI committees act as promoters of censorship, not diversity:

To add insult to injury: The push to silence and exclude alternative Muslim views at Hamline is driven by the office of inclusive excellence. So much for the role of the DEI apparatus in advancing real diversity on campus.

Somehow I think Hamline is going to lose this one. . .

h/t: Greg, Brian Leiter

Professor fired for showing art class image of Muhammad with his face visible (something not unusual in the history of Islamic art). Students and university go wild with crazy allegations of “Islamophobia”

December 24, 2022 • 11:00 am

This story is unbelievable but is true. The summary piece in New Lines Magazine describes how a professor at Hamline University, a private liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minnesota, was fired for showing an image of Muhammad’s face to their [the prof apparently uses plural pronouns) class. The professor and class are unnamed. This all makes sense only when you read in the Wikipedia article that “Hamline is known for its emphasis on experiential learning, service, and social justice.”

So here’s what they mean by “social justice” at Hamline.

You’ll get angry when you read the piece, not only because depictions of Muhammad with a face were common in the Islamic world, but because the professor warned the students in advance what they were going to show them and let them opt out if they wanted to. Nevertheless, Muslim students watched, saw the images, and then complained to the Hamline administration, which deemed the incident Islamophobic and summarily fired the professor without giving him a chance to defend himself.

The article below is written by Christiane Gruber, professor of Islamic Art in the Department of History of Art at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and she, unlike the reprehensible and faux-offended students, knows something about the history of depictions of Muhammad:

Her primary field of research is Islamic book arts, paintings of the Prophet Muhammad, and Islamic ascension texts and images, about which she has written three books and edited several volumes of articles. She also pursues research in Islamic book arts and codicology, having authored the online catalogue of Islamic calligraphies in the Library of Congress as well as edited the volume of articles entitled The Islamic Manuscript Tradition. Her third field of specialization is modern Islamic visual and material culture, about which she has written half a dozen articles. She also has co-edited two volumes on Islamic and cross-cultural visual cultures. Her most recent publications include her book The Praiseworthy One: The Prophet Muhammad in Islamic Texts and Images and her edited volume The Image Debate: Figural Representation in Islam and Across the World, both published in 2019.

She takes the University and its administration to task, and also gives us a good lesson on depicting Muhammad, which is not, contrary to some Muslims’ assertions, invariably an act of blasphemy. Click below to read and be enlightened:


From her piece. The “Oracle” is the Hamline student newspaper, and I’ve put below two articles from it about the incident (also click to read). From Gruber (bolding is mine):

On Nov. 18, Hamline University’s student newspaper, The Oracle, published an article notifying its community members of two recent incidents on its campus in Saint Paul, Minnesota, one indubitably homophobic and the other supposedly Islamophobic. Both occurrences were placed under the same rubric as “incidents of hate and discrimination.”

Islamophobia — which involves hate speech against Islam and Muslims and/or physical violence or discrimination against Muslims — has indeed proven a blight in the United States, especially after 9/11, the rise of the militant far right and the recent political empowerment of white supremacy.

The “Islamophobic incident” catalyzed plenty of administrative commentary and media coverage at the university. Among others, it formed the subject of a second Oracle article, which noted that a faculty member had included in their global survey of art history a session on Islamic art, which offered an optional visual analysis and discussion of a famous medieval Islamic painting of the Prophet Muhammad. A student complained about the image’s inclusion in the course and led efforts to press administrators for a response. After that, the university’s associate vice president of inclusive excellence (AVPIE) declared the classroom exercise “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.”

Neither before nor after these declarations was the faculty member given a public platform or forum to explain the classroom lecture and activity. To fill in the gap, on Dec. 6, an essay written by a Hamline professor of religion who teaches Islam explaining the incident along with the historical context and aesthetic value of Islamic images of Muhammad was published on The Oracle’s website. The essay was taken down two days later. One day after that, Hamline’s president and AVPIE sent a message to all employees stating that “respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.” The essay’s censorship and the subsequent email by two top university administrators raise serious concerns about freedom of speech and academic freedom at the university.

The instructor was released from their spring term teaching at Hamline, and its AVPIE went on the record as stating: “It was decided it was best that this faculty member was no longer part of the Hamline community.” In other words, an instructor who showed an Islamic painting during a visual analysis — a basic exercise for art history training — was publicly impugned for hate speech and dismissed thereafter, without access to due process.

These incidents, statements and actions at Hamline will be for others to investigate further. As a scholar specializing in Islamic representations of Muhammad, however, it is my duty to share accurate information about the painting at the heart of the controversy. I will provide a visual analysis and historical explanation of the image in question, in essence reconstituting the Hamline instructor’s classroom activity. I will then explore these types of depictions over the course of six centuries, with the aim to answer one basic question: Is the Islamic painting at the heart of the Hamline controversy truly Islamophobic?

This is absolutely unbelievable, and I’m going to write to Hamline’s Dean objecting to the firing. It’s not though the pictures, innocuous though they were, were sprung on unprepared students. Gruber goes on to discuss the history of depiction of images of Muhammad, and it’s a good and edifying read.  She concludes that the students, given the history of Islamic art, had absolutely no reason to consider showing the paintings in class as an “Islamophobic” incident. That is, she says, an “ultraconservative Muslim view on the subject.”

Nevertheless, the student newspaper The Oracle, in its article below, and also in the op-ed below that, sees showing the paintings as a direct attack on Islam. The administration, of course, launched a six-alarm attack, damning the incident, deeming it as a hate incident, and even calling for education in “Islamophobia.” All I can say is that everyone involved in this sorry incident, save the professor himself, is a blithering idiot.

Click to read the student newspaper report.

An excerpt from the article (my bolding):

Hamline undergraduate students received an email from the Dean of Students on Nov. 7, condemning an unnamed classroom incident as “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.” In the month since, the email and the event it references have reignited discussions about the persistence of such incidents at Hamline.

The email, signed by Dr. David Everett, Associate Vice President of Inclusive Excellence at Hamline, did not identify the nature or date of the incident.

The Oracle has since learned that the event in question occurred on Oct. 6, when a professor shared two depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in class, while discussing Islamic art. One was a 14th century depiction of the Prophet and the other was a 16th century depiction of the Prophet with veil and halo.

Within Islam, there are varying beliefs regarding whether the representation of the Prophet Muhammad is acceptable. The majority of those practicing Islam today believe it is forbidden to see and create representations of Prophet Muhammad.

Aram Wedatalla, a Hamline senior and the president of Muslim Student Association (MSA), was in the class at the time the photos were shared.

“I’m like, ‘this can’t be real,’” Wedatalla told the Oracle. “As a Muslim, and a Black person, I don’t feel like I belong, and I don’t think I’ll ever belong in a community where they don’t value me as a member, and they don’t show the same respect that I show them.” 

Deangela Huddleston, a Hamline senior and MSA member, also shared her thoughts with the Oracle.

“Hamline teaches us it doesn’t matter the intent, the impact is what matters,” Huddleston said.

“Hamline teaches us”, she parrots. Why doesn’t Huddleston think for herself? Of course intent matters, and it did in this situation.  Then the punishment occurred:

After class, Wedatalla spoke to the professor but did not feel that the conversation was productive.

Wedatalla emailed MSA’s leadership team and members of the Hamline administration on Oct. 7, the day after the incident. On this same day, she met with President Fayneese Miller. Dean of Students Patti Kersten also called Wedatalla and apologized for her experience.

And yes, the professor apologized, though they shouldn’t have (after all, they gave a “trigger warning”):

The professor of the class emailed Wedatalla that Saturday, Oct. 8.

“I would like to apologize that the image I showed in class on [Oct. 6] made you uncomfortable and caused you emotional agitation. It is never my intention to upset or disrespect students in my classroom,” the professor wrote in the email to Wedatalla, who shared it with the Oracle.

. . .In the Oct. 8 email to Wedatalla, the professor stated that they “[let] the class know ahead of time” what would be shown and to give students time to turn off their video.

“I did not try to surprise students with this image, and I did my best to provide students with an ‘out,’” the professor wrote in the email.

“I also described every subsequent slide I showed with language to indicate when I was no longer showing an image of the Prophet Muhammad. I am sorry that despite my attempt to prevent a negative reaction, you still viewed and were troubled by this image.”

So what were the offensive works of art? You want to see them, right? Here’s how the paper identifies them:

The Oracle was able to identify these two images using video of the lecture. The first was a 14th century depiction of the Prophet receiving his first revelation from the archangel Gabriel, created by Rashīd al-Dīn, a Persian Muslim scholar and historian.

The other depicts the Prophet with a veil and halo. It was created by Mustafa ibn Vali in the 16th century as part of an illustration of the Siyer-i Nebi (the Life of the Prophet), an earlier, Ottomon Turkish epic work on the life of Muhammad.

I am very sure that this is the first one, from Wikimedia Commons (see also here):

And here’s what I think is the second one, also from Wikipedia commons. Here Muhammad is veiled.

Wow, those would certainly harm you as a Muslim, wouldn’t they?  I refuse to believe that this outrage is genuine: it is a manufactured sentiment ginned up by those taught (wrongly) that it’s an insult to Islam to depict the Prophet’s face.

But the Staff of the Oracle, like Hamline’s administration, also sees it as hate speech:

An excerpt:

Staff Editorial, Staff

In the past year, members of our community have experienced hate speech incidents and microaggressions that have resulted in much-needed conversation.

Recently this year, The Oracle has been made aware of two such incidents. One of which included an Islamophobic incident that happened a few weeks ago and the Dean of Students office informed Hamline about via email on Nov. 14.

. . .Already these two incidents have occurred and communities have been harmed and traumatized. While historically The Oracle’s coverage of hate speech and incidents of discrimination have not always been present, we hope that any and all coverage we do now and moving forward can be a means of platforming voices and experiences and informing readers of steps to move forward and ways of supporting their peers.

We hope that our coverage and our means of communication and publishing can be a resource to our community at all times and in no way do we want to further the impacts and harm of these situations.

This is, to put it mildly, a crock. What a horrible, oppressive, and joyless place Hamline University must be! I wish somebody would snap up the fired professor.

In the meantime, I’ll write an email to Dr. David Everett, Associate Vice President of Inclusive Excellence at Hamline.  This incident is neither inclusive not demonstrative of excellence. It’s divisive, shows the students and administration to be hateful as well as ignorant, and is as far from “excellent” as you can get.

h/t: Stephen

Evolution falls on hard times in Turkey

November 17, 2022 • 12:15 pm

Although Turkey is a member of NATO and is one of the most Westernized countries in the Middle East, its government is becoming increasingly conservative and, since the election of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan as President in 2014, increasingly Islamicized.  By law it’s a secular state, but with 95% of the population Muslim and President Erdoğan seemingly devoted to bringing back religious values, secularism is under siege. One object of religiously-inspired government animus is evolution.

This came clear to me when the late Aykut Kence, perhaps the most famous evolutionist in Turkey, invited me to give a talk at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara on Darwin Day in 2008. Never have I seen a more enthusiastic group of students, professors, and the public (the lecture I gave against creationism had 1200 attendees!). They loved evolution, and one reason is because every student who loved evolution was pretty much drawn to this school, for evolution wasn’t widely taught. METU is also one of the best and most selective schools in Turkey.  I was inspired, but little did I know that evolution was soon going to be squeezed by the government.

In an eLife article (click on screenshot below), anthropologist N. Ezgi Altınışık, at Hacettepe University (also a very good university in Ankara) recounts the increasing marginalization of evolution in Turkey.

It began in the Seventies when conservatives in the government tried to ban the teaching of evolution in schools. They lost—for a time. Then, slowly, creationism crept into government and schools. 

The infamous Adnan Oktar (aka Harun Yahya) published his Atlas of Creation, a series of glossy and expensive-to-produce books that were sent to nearly every biologist in America. Then in 2009, the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, the government banned an issue of the science magazine Bilim ve Teknik devoted to Darwin:

For me, the breaking point came in 2009. To mark the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, the science magazine Bilim ve Teknik decided to dedicate its front cover and several articles to the famous naturalist. The government banned the issue: the cover was changed, the articles were removed, and the editor-in-chief (one of Turkey’s leading archaeologists) was fired. I still remember my outrage when I heard the news. Bilim ve Teknik is run by TÜBİTAK, a state agency that grants scientific funding. For a long time, it was the only science magazine widely accessible in Turkey. Many people in my generation, myself included, first encountered science through its pages. Massive demonstrations were held across the country in solidarity with the editor. My friends and I visited every professor in our department, encouraging them to join the protest outside of our university. Thousands of young people eagerly attended events that encouraged the defence of the theory of evolution. It was so exciting to see.

That in turn led to organized “protests,” including translating Berkeley’s “Understanding Evolution” website into Turkish, and a series of conferences named after Aykut Kence, who died in 2014. (Tthey continue, and I’ve been invited to participate.)

My own breaking point, at least in fighting the incipient Turkish theocracy, came in 2017, when the government entirely banned the teaching of evolution in secondary schools. A I wrote at the time:

There is no doubt why this is happening: it’s part of the increasing Islamicization of Turkey by the theocratic strongman Erdoğan, who is increasingly demolishing the secular government set up by Kemal Atatürk in favor of Muslim habits and strictures. Besides arresting 50,000 perceived opponents, arrogating more power for himself, imposing more restrictions in alcohol, and reintroducing religious (i.e., Islamic) education in schools, Erdoğan’s now attacking science education.

Since the Qur’an states that humans were created like this:

And certainly did We create man from an extract of clay
Then We place him as a sperm-drop in a firm lodging
Then We made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot, and We made the clot into a lump [of flesh], and we made [from] the lump bones, and We covered the bones with flesh; then We developed him into another creation. So blessed is Allah, the best of creators.

. . . and because many Muslims believe the Qur’an should be read literally, teaching evolution can be seen as anti-Islam, and few Muslim-majority countries teach it in secondary schools. (I once had a Turkish cab driver lecture to me about evolution and how the Qur’an says that humans were created, though he didn’t know I was an evolutionary biologist.)

And so a Turkish student can go all the way through high school and not learn a word about evolution—the central organizing theory of biological diversity. It is banned, and since the alternative is Islamic creationism, that’s the default option. Fortunately, the ban doesn’t apply to public universities—the Turkish government is smart enough to know how that would look.

Altınışık ends on a note of hope, but the best hope for evolution in Turkey is to get rid of Erdoğan and his government, which isn’t a likely prospect. In the meantime, we in the West will continue to visit and help the local scientists fight the good fight. 

As we dream of a better country, we continue to resist. Following meetings at the ministerial level, board members of the Society have managed to get some basic evolutionary concepts reinstated to the curriculum. Volunteers have been organising the Aykut Kence Evolution Conference for over 16 years now, passing it on from one generation of students to the next. It attracts over a thousand attendees every year; when they invited me as speaker, I was amazed by the ambitions of those in attendance. Together with my peers, I still join and organise online and on-site events to promote scientific thinking and enlightenment to students and the public – for example, an online series on human evolution has already received several thousand views and is still getting attention. We also do not limit ourselves to evolutionary biology anymore. As in other parts of the world, anti-vaccine movements rose in Turkey during the pandemic, aided by the recent decline in basic science education. Communicating scientific thinking is more important now than ever.

As a scientist, I believe I have a responsibility towards the people whose taxes funded my education and now fund my research. I am indebted to those who have guided me in the dark as a young student, and to those who cherish the dream of becoming a scientist in Turkey one day. I cannot say that our careers as evolutionary researchers have all been easy, but they may not have been as difficult as one could think. My journey has taught me that when oppressed people stop being alone, they also stop being afraid. To those who need hope and believe in the idea of change, you are not on your own. Our stories will also be your story.

Masih Alinejad discusses her women’s and human rights campaigns on Bill Maher (watch before they remove the video).

October 1, 2022 • 12:30 pm

By now, thank goodness, people are growing aware of what is going on in Iran, particularly how the Islamic theocracy oppresses its women; and we are learning how anti-government protests, by both men and women, are spreading across Iran. The original cause of these protests, now being covered by Western news, was the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, apparently killed by Iran’s “morality police” after being arrested for not wearing her hijab properly. The incident now has its own Wikipedia page.

One of the biggest critics of Iran’s treatment of its women has been exiled Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad, whose tweets and writings I’ve featured for a long time on this site. She launched the Facebook page My Stealthy Freedom and instituted the custom of “White Wednesdays,” when women in Iran wear white to protest oppression and misogyny. If you follow people on Twitter, do follow Masih, as she posts daily updates on Iran and often features videos and photos conveyed to her from Iranian women. The Iranian government considers her so dangerous that they confected a plot to kidnap her, but this was foiled by the U.S. government.

Reader Enrico called my attention to the fact that Alinejad appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher this week.  The full interview (about ten minutes long) is below, and Enrico says that this video will probably disappear within two days, so watch it now. If you click on the video, it begins when Alinejad appears, but the video contains the full show, which is why it will soon be taken down.

At 12:05 Maher asks her, “why are liberals so moronic about the problem?” Why does he ask this? Because Alinejad has been quite vocal and critical about Western feminists ignoring the oppression of women in Iran (discussing the issue is considered “Islamophobic”, as she says below). Further, the Biden administration is cozying up to to a regime that spits on human rights and regularly kills its citizens. (In my view, the “nuclear deal” that Biden is trying to make with Iran is ludicrous and will be ineffectual—except in enriching Iran as Iran enriches uranium).

He also sent the link below, a 6-minute extract from the interview which, Enrico says, probably won’t disappear within two days.

Sarah Haider on World Hijab Day

February 2, 2022 • 3:19 pm

Yesterday was World Hijab Day, a day to celebrate a symbol of misogyny and oppression. In its honor(?) we have a thoughtful 15-minute video by Sarah Haider, Executive Director of the Ex-Muslims of North America, about the hijab. Needless to say, she’s almost entirely critical of reasons for wearing the headscarf.

My own view about it has been given many times (e.g., here): to see whether it’s a “choice” or a “mandate,” remove all social, religious. and political pressures to wear it, and see how many women still wear the headscarf.

That’s not an impossible experiment because it’s pretty much what Iran and Afghanistan were like in the 1970s. And most women let their hair fly free.  Sure enough, when the theocracy began in Iran in 1979, a mandatory hijab law was enacted, and women protested by the thousands. It was of no use. They were forced to wear it, and violators were beaten or even jailed for long periods.

Further, if it’s a “choice”, why would you need “morality police” in Iran and Afghanistan to beat women whose hijab doesn’t fully cover there hair? What kind of monstrous culture dictates the beating of women who, exposing a wisp of hair, are supposed to excite the libido of men?

To tell the truth, I think that women who say that their wearing the hijab is a “choice”, a sign of modesty, are largely dissimulating. Many are wearing it to make it obvious that they are in the class of the victimized, a point articulated clearly in Haider’s video by the odious Linda Sarsour, who says “Before wearing a hijab, I was just an ordinary white girl from New York City” (12:57). Now she’s a public victim as a Person of Color. Sarah doesn’t make this point, because she’s too nice to, but listen again to Sarsour.

Many have been forced to wear the veil since they were little girls, and it’s now a habit—no more of a choice than Amish wearing suspenders and black clothes. A sure sign that it’s bogus is shown by those who wear hijabs and then tons of makeup and other fancy garments. How is that supposed to be modest?

It is a sad irony that Western women, including feminists seem to valorize the hijab, for they are valorizing oppression. For that’s where the garment came from: the misogynistic idea that women must cover their hair (and bodies) to avoid exciting the uncontrollable lusts of men. Why shouldn’t the men control their own damn lusts? Again it’s an instance of MacPherson’s Law: when two “progressive” tenets collide—in this case feminism versus Muslim dictates (the culture of the Oppressed)—the women always lose.

My favorite take on the hijab comes from Alishba Zarmeen:

And now the estimable Sarah Haider, who makes a number of good points, many of them related to Zarmeen’s remark above. BTW, I just discovered that Haider has just started a Substack site, “Hold that Thought” that will be a repository of her essays and thoughts.