Thursday, October 26, 2006

Interdisciplinary Workshop - The Place of Religion in the European Public Sphere

The Law School has organised a workshop regarding 'The Place of Religion in the European Public Sphere. 'The single most important issue in the future of our polities.''

The workshop will take place on Friday 3rd November at the Advocates Hall Concert Court and on Saturday 4th November at MacKay Hall, King's College. Please click here for further information. A copy of the programme can be downloaded by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Thoughts on freedom of expression

The first roundtable discussion held by the Society was certainly thought provoking. A number of important and indeed fundamental issues were raised regarding the possible limits to the right of freedom of expression and the manner in which those limits should be policed. The following is a personal account of what I understood and took from the debate. This does not reflect the Society’s position or that of any of the participants at the discussion. I hope that this post will serve to stimulate further discussion.

Perhaps the most important notion forwarded throughout the course of the discussion was that human rights are not values-free. It is inevitable that there will be political overtones when discussing the manner in which the law should or should not regulate society. Clearly there is some tension between freedom as a cornerstone of democracy on the one hand, and respect as a building block of a coherent and integrated society on the other.

Several participants at the discussion felt that the Jyllands-Posten controversy evidences the failure of unfettered freedom – that the freedom to offend was a catalyst for the accentuation of tensions and the stereotyping of segments of European society. Some participants proposed that the cartoons actually amounted to hate speech, and as such fall foul of the legal limits of freedom of expression.

However, the discussion generally revolved around the assumption that the publication of the cartoons was perfectly legal but editorially irresponsible and sensationalist. In this context it was asked whether legal limitations should be imposed or if the current regime of self-regulation is a better option. The predominant view was that it is dangerous and cumbersome to prescribe limitations to freedom of expression based on the extent to which offence may be taken. Others felt that religious freedom and dignity are values of equal importance and should not be sacrificed at the altar of freedom of expression.

One participant raised the question of how one would draft a law that would limit the right to offend religious sentiments. The fact that religion is often a personal belief creates a possibly insurmountable obstacle to precise definition. Perhaps the solution could be the prohibition of the stereotyping of racial, ethnic and religious groups. Yet, might this not render religion and religious institutions immune to criticism? Most participants felt that allowing the State to determine what is or is not offensive is too high a price to pay. The participants expressed the hope that the media would refrain from harmfully stereotypical publications, as indeed has been the case in respect of other groups.

In the final analysis most participants felt that limiting fundamental freedoms should not be taken lightly. It is certainly true that proponents of unfettered freedom of expression attach a value thereto in much the same way that religious persons attach a value to their faith. However, the empowerment that freedom of expression grants to individuals and groups also has the practical implication of limiting the powers of the State and acts as a check on majority rule. It was felt that it would be wiser to allow social perceptions to evolve through the use of a free press, rather than by limiting what may or may not be said.

Many thanks to all those who participated in an informative debate. Thanks especially to Derek Fincham who chaired the discussion.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Self-censorship in Berlin - Artists and Religion

Just in time for our debate the Deutsche Oper Berlin cancelled the performances of Mozart's 'Idomeneo' causing a huge row amongst politicians.
In the epilogue added to the original version, Idomeneo, King of Crete, was supposed to pull the heads of Poseidon, Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed out of a sack. Police advised the Deutsche Oper about potential disturbance due to the showing of Mohammed's head. They had no concrete evidence, though.

Many (eminent) German politicians criticised such self-censorship in "anticipatory obedience) (as one commentator wrote). As a consequence the Oper now plans to stage "Idomeneo" once a security concept is found.

The following links give an overview:

On another note, Madonna was mounting a cross in her concerts, but this will not be shown on NBC.

Despite the general conflict between freedom of speech and religion these examples seem to raise questions as to a potential different position regarding artistic freedom.

Should there be more freedom for artists than the general public?


"A leader of the Turkish community in Germany - the country's largest Muslim group - Kenan Kolat was quoted as telling Bavarian radio: 'This is about art, not about politics. We should not make art dependent on religion - then we are back to the Middle Ages.'

The head of Germany's Islamic Council, Ali Kizilkaya, was quoted as telling Berlin's Radio Multikulti, that a depiction of the Prophet's severed head - 'could certainly offend Muslims,' and that cancelling the opera was the responsible thing to do. 'Nevertheless,' he continued, 'I think it is horrible that one has to be afraid... That is not the right way to open dialogue.'" (cf. here)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Censorship Roundtable Discussion

Next Tuesday, October 24th at 17.00, the University of Aberdeen Legal Research Society will hold its first roundtable discussion on the topic of freedom of expression and censorship. The meeting will take place in Taylor Building room A15.

The discussion will examine the tension between censorship and freedom of expression in the context of the recent Jyllands-Posten Muhammad editorial cartoon controversy. For those who want to look at the cartoons, this website has posted all of them, with English translations. This is an image of the page layout as they originally appeared in the Ryllands-Posten. We have decided not to show the cartoons at the meeting, out of respect to our muslim colleagues. Here are two very different opinions of the controversy:

Here are a number of other links meant to spark intellectual debate. If there are other materials which you think might foster an informed debate, please post them in the comment section below. The Legal Research Society looks forward to an intelligent and informed debate about this issue. Please come along for a respectful and informed discussion.


Welcome to the Legal Research Society’s space on the web. The Legal Research Society organises symposia where students and staff present their work to colleagues and get valuable feedback in an open and friendly environment. We also organise roundtable discussions on topical matters where a lively debate and a healthy exchange are always the order of the day. In addition, we've hosted learned guests who have come to the University of Aberdeen to discuss their work with research students and staff at our Law School. Finally we organize occasional film nights where we watch movies and discuss their legal and political implications.

We are mainly focussed on postgraduate research students in law but we are open to anyone who is interested.

This site is used to create discussions of legal interest and to keep you updated on the Society’s activities. There are also a number of links to legal blogs and other resources that we hope you might find useful.

Committee members for the year 2009-10 are: Khaled Ramadan Bashir, Ahmad Torabi, Philip Bremner, Oyinkansola Chukuka Tasie . Ahmed Hassanein is our blog administrator.

Committee members for the year 2008-09 are: Khaled Bashir, Yongqiang Han, Paula Herm, Malik Hafeez and Yin Bo. Ahmed Hassanein is our blog administrator. You can find our contact details here.

A (very) Brief History

The Society was set up in October 2006 by a group of research students at the University of Aberdeen’s Law School. The founding committee was composed of Derek Fincham, Gerd Koehler, Jernej Letnar Cernic, Justin Borg Barthet, Ole Windahl Pedersen and Yona Marinova.

The members of the committee for the 2007-08 term were Alessia Vacca, Gerd Koehler, Justin Borg Barthet, Ole Windahl Pedersen, Paula Herm and Thushara Kumarage.


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