Jordan Peterson has had his visiting fellowship at Cambridge University rescinded over a picture of him with someone wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “I’m a Proud Islamaphobe” [sic]. Does this mean that Jordan Peterson is an Islamophobe? Tim Dieppe comments.
World famous Canadian psychologist and best-selling author Jordan Peterson requested a visiting fellowship at the Faculty of Divinity at Cambridge University. Visiting fellowships are unpaid and allow the fellow to make use of University research facilities and to attend faculty seminars, but not to teach. The fellowship was initially granted on an academic basis.
The fellowship was later rescinded after a further review. A statement put out by the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University explained that the Faculty became aware of a photo of Professor Peterson posing with a man wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “I’m a Proud Islamaphobe” [sic].
The Vice-Chancellor explained that “The casual endorsement by association of this message was thought to be antithetical to the work of a Faculty that prides itself in the advancement of inter-faith understanding.”
However, the picture was taken when Professor Peterson was on a tour in New Zealand by a company which offers fans the chance to meet and have a photo taken with celebrities. Peterson has now explained that this photograph was one of 30,000 taken with fans at live events in the past 15 months, and among 150 taken in New Zealand last month. He may not even have paid attention to what was written on the T-shirt. Peterson cannot therefore be said to be endorsing the views or slogans of the people he was photographed with. He subsequently stated in an email to The Times:
“I also have a strong belief that people should be allowed to express themselves as they see fit, and I haven’t invoked a dress code at my lectures, feeling that free people who have taken the time and trouble to attend and travel and pay have the right (as they clearly do) to wear whatever they choose,” he wrote in an email.
“Having said that, and despite the low base rate and my feelings about allowing those who attend my lectures their freedom of dress, I have now asked the company that handles the photos to politely ask those who are photographed with me to refrain from more provocative political garb, given that the fallout can be used by those who are not fond of me (a serious understatement) to capitalise on the opportunity the photos provide, particularly in isolation and context-free.”
What is an ‘Islamophobe’?
Earlier this month I wrote an article What is Islamophobia? about attempts to define Islamophobia. It appears that Jordan Peterson is now the latest casualty of unfair allegations of Islamophobia. As I argued in that article, Islamophobia is hard to define in a way which does not restrict valid criticism of Islam as a religion. If I think that Muhammad was not a prophet and that Islam is a false religion – does that make me an Islamophobe?
Since I wrote that piece, Peter Tatchell has weighed in with a letter to The Times headlined “Free speech is under threat over Islamophobia.” Jewish News columnist, Maajid Nawaz, has also criticised the proposed definition as intended to shield Islam from criticism.
Is Jordan Peterson an Islamophobe?
Peterson has made clear that the university didn’t even ask him about the picture or his views on Islamophobia. A short video of Peterson discussing Islamophobia online may have enlightened them on this point. In the video Peterson is asked what should be done about the spread of radical Islamic movements that utilise the victimhood mentality. The first thing Peterson advises is to learn as much as you can about Islam so that you know what you are talking about. In the meantime, he argues that you should be on the lookout for any move by governments or other organisations to limit what you are allowed to say. In this respect, he criticises the passing of Motion 103 in Canada which condemns ‘Islamophobia’. He explains that he doesn’t like the word ‘Islamophobia’. He is sceptical of ‘phobia language’ in general, which he regards as manipulative. He says, “It is not a word with integrity, … it is ill defined, it isn’t obvious what those who are using it mean.”
I agree with Peterson on this. As I explained in my article on defining Islamophobia, there has been a proliferation of ‘phobias’ arising from competing victimhoods. For exactly this reason I am not a fan of the term ‘Christophobia’ either. Better and more precise terms are ‘anti-Muslim’ and ‘anti-Christian’.
Peterson is concerned about ‘Islamophobia’ for the same reason that I am concerned about it – allegations of Islamophobia tend to inhibit free speech. This does not mean that he is anti-Muslim. Nor does it mean that it is fair to allege that he is ‘Islamophobic’ – whatever that may mean.
Free speech restricted
The Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, with apparently no sense of irony, in his explanation of why Peterson’s fellowship has been rescinded said:
“As a university community, we place a paramount value on the free and lawful expression of ideas and viewpoints. As scholars, we believe that discussion across boundaries and across pre-conceptions is a necessary condition for the resolution of even the most intractable conflicts. At the same time, we are a community that values respect for all others, even those with whom we disagree fundamentally.
“For a university, anything that detracts from the free expression of ideas is just not acceptable. Robust debate can scarcely occur, for example, when some members of the community are made to feel personally attacked, not for their ideas but for their very identity.”
So, let me get this straight. Professor Peterson has his fellowship withdrawn, and the explanation is the importance of free and lawful expression of ideas and viewpoints? Just what has Peterson done that is unlawful here? Where is the respect that Cambridge University should be extending to Professor Peterson with whom we assume they disagree fundamentally? How is withdrawing Peterson’s fellowship aiding the free expression of ideas? Even if we accept the view (which I don’t) that someone’s identity is above criticism, whose identity has Peterson personally attacked?
The Vice-Chancellor’s statement is appalling. It has only served to expose the illogical thinking of the university.
Peterson posted a response to the rescindment of his fellowship. He explains that he was not formally notified of the decision by any representative of the Divinity school. Furthermore, the Cambridge University Student Union tweeted about the rescindment before the Divinity Faculty did so! The Faculty had not even previously announced the granting of a fellowship but chose to make the rescindment public. He concludes with characteristic bluntness:
“I believe that the parties in question don’t give a damn about the perilous decline of Christianity, and I presume in any case that they regard that faith, in their propaganda-addled souls, as the ultimate manifestation of the oppressive Western patriarchy, despite their hypothetical allegiance to their own discipline.
“I think that it is no bloody wonder that the faith is declining (and with it, the values of the West, as it fragments) with cowards and mountebanks of the sort who manifested themselves today at the helm.
“I wish them the continued decline in relevance over the next few decades that they deeply and profoundly and diligently work toward and deserve.”
Peterson standing for Christianity
While not formally a Christian, Peterson is ably defending Christianity and Christian principles far better than most Christians are. I reviewed his book, 12 Rules for Life last year, and noted the respect he has for the Bible and Biblical principles. I have since watched his debates with Sam Harris about whether there is a God and what is the source of morality, and found it fascinating to see them both attempt to find an objective source for morality without an objective God. A quest that is doomed to failure. I pray and hope that one day Peterson will accept his own need for God.
Meanwhile, faculty members of Cambridge University have made themselves look foolish. If they had any real integrity and respect for free speech, they would rescind the rescindment. I am not holding my breath.
Jordan Peterson: Cambridge University Rescinds my Fellowship https://www.jordanbpeterson.com/blog-posts/cambridge-university-rescinds-my-fellowship/
Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge statement on the rescindment of visiting fellowship https://www.cam.ac.uk/news/rescindment-of-visiting-fellowship-statement-from-vice-chancellor-professor-stephen-j-toope
Melanie Phillips: Universities teach the suppression of ideas https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/comment/universities-teach-the-suppression-of-ideas-l28ln285q
Tim Dieppe: Jordan Peterson, original sin, and the lost art of parenting https://www.christianconcern.com/our-issues/family-and-sexual-ethics/jordan-peterson-original-sin-and-the-lost-art-of-parenting
The Times: Jordan Peterson says his lectures prevent suicides https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/jordan-peterson-says-his-talks-prevent-suicides-wcqmsg2m3
Jordan Peterson and Sam Harris debates:
- Vancouver moderated by Bret Weinstein https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jey_CzIOfYE
- Vancouver moderated by Bret Weinstein https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEf6X-FueMo
- Dublin moderated by Douglas Murray https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PqpYxD71hJU
- London moderated by Douglas Murray https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aALsFhZKg-Q