Update on Charlie Hebdo censure from the IBDS conference at ULIP

Jane Weston Vauclair has continued pursuing dialogue on the censure of the two panels on Charlie Hebdo from the IBDS conference to be held next week at University of London—Paris. Here is an open letter she has written regarding the current state of affairs:

Dear all,

As you are aware, I was due to deliver a paper on Charlie Hebdo and the events of January at the “Voyages” conference at ULIP in Paris. 3 weeks ago, it was made known to me that these panels needed to be removed from the conference programme. This of course concerned me greatly, amounting as it did to an alarming restriction on the freedom of academic conferences to discuss the events of January in Paris and their aftermath. Despite my efforts to request for the panels to be reinstated, I had to accept after meeting Mr Docherty yesterday, that the panels are officially, unequivocally, cancelled and that it will not be possible for my paper to be delivered. Yesterday’s meeting made that entirely clear. The ULIP venue is, on Mr Docherty’s intractable insistence, subject to a centralised safety policy pertaining to the duty of care he owes to the minors who learn English on site at the British Council. This makes the site utterly unfit for purpose as a venue for an academic conference given the current vigipirate setting in Paris. The Belfast conference reversal set an important precedent: that censorship of legitmate academic debate on Charlie Hebdo and related topics can and must be flagged up and reversed. Both the British Council and ULIP as an institution have, sadly, failed to recognise and mitigate a virtual structural certainty – the cancellation of the panels on safety grounds – given the way their space is shared. The CEO of ULIP has, despite Mr Docherty’s clarity on this matter, stated in email communications dating from yesterday that the conference will, I quote, operate as follows:

“Comme prévu, nous accueillerons la sixième conférence « International Graphic Novels and Comics » ainsi que la neuvième conférence « International Bande Dessinée Society » en juin à l’Université de Londres Institut à Paris. Malgré l’annulation d’un petit nombre de présentations pour des raisons de sécurité ces conférences permettront aux participants d’avoir l’opportunité de débattre sur un large éventail de thèmes en rapport avec la bande dessinée, du moyen âge jusqu’à nos jours, y compris l’affaire Charlie Hebdo et les évènements sans précédent qui ont eu lieu en janvier dernier à Paris.”

With this statement, Mr Gore is, again de facto, indicating that the children will be just as much at risk as if the Charlie Hebdo panels had gone ahead, because there will be almost virtually the same scope for the conference participants to debate and engage – if not more – with the topic of Charlie Hebdo affair and the events of January. Such debate and exchange is exactly what is needed. And the panels should of course go ahead alongside that.

On this, I fully agree with Gérard Biard, the director of Charlie Hebdo, in his article of June 3: “Certes, le British Council est responsable de la sécurité des élèves qui ont cours dans ses locaux. Mais cette honorable institution culturelle a également la responsabilité de veiller à ce que lesdits élèves grandissent et vivent dans un monde riche en cultures variées et en débats féconds. Et anticiper les désirs de fanatiques obscurantistes qui ont pour seuls arguments la violence et la terreur n’est pas forcément le meilleur moyen d’y parvenir”.

The British Council, rather than short-sightedly limiting its role to addressing the question of ‘duty of care’ to children, should be prepared to make the necessary arrangements to support ULIP in holding a conference dealing with a perfectly legitimate topic in an entirely responsible, proportionate way. To do so, they should arrange for the appropriate measures to be taken to secure the building in line with what is fitting for an academic conference. If it does, then I too shall be able, after all, to speak on the programme as was originally arranged. I will be sure to voice this point through all available avenues.

Best regards,

Jane Weston Vauclair