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Media, faith and security

Protecting Freedom of Expression in Religious Context

ESRC.jpgThis project builds on research conducted at the University of Cambridge  to facilitate dialogue on the concept of freedom of expression and security in a religious context. It links the expertise of three research centres at the University: The Centre for the International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa (CIRMENA), the Woolf Institute of Interfaith Studies and the Centre of Islamic Studies. The approach is interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral, and aims to foster sober debate divorced of emotions. In a world being redefined by technological advancement and globalisation, it is imperative that we build on research to reach an understanding and respect for religious practice.  After all, the biggest threat comes from the conversations that never take place.

On January 28, the project was invited by Baroness Sally Hamwee to hold a Roundtable at the House of Lords (programme).  The Roundtable brought together key contributors to this debate in order to explore the challenges, responsibilities and dangers surrounding freedom of expression highlighted not only by the events of Charlie Hebdo, but also the violence that occurred in 2015 in Paris, Beirut, Ankara, Brussels and Mali.  Roundtable participants included members of parliament, representatives from both British and Middle-East media, officials of the Judiciary and Protection Services, leaders of Faith communities and scholars from both Cambridge and other universities.  The conversation was designed to develop in-depth understanding regarding the right to defend versus the right to offend, the language of incitement to violence and the safeguarding of domestic faith-based and ethnic communities.

The outcomes reflected  stakeholder engagement in a process designed to develop policy and media awareness and promote networking.  This included constructive and directed knowledge-exchange that led to the development of a Ten Point Action Brief.  Six Cambridge-based research presentations were delivered;  to facilitate knowledge exchange among the participants, an innovative method for discussion and output development was incorporated after consultation with Dr Lucy Kimbell, director of the Innovative Insights Hub at University of the Arts London (UAL).  This insured that the final points were tested while in camera, to see whether they were context sensitive and could address the security issues, minority and community linkages and cross-cultural and generational vulnerabilities that would effect their efficacy.  Ideas advanced by participants, were therefore thematically structured and linked, emerging as practical policy inputs that synthesised "field" and expert knowledge  in the course of the debate. 

Several unexpected and salient points emerged from the research and the resulting stakeholder input, such as the importance of media illiteracy for Muslim community control over their narratives, fear at the linkage between the exercise of free speech and the restraints incorporated in the Prevent Strategy, and the relationship between mass media and minority communities. The Policy Brief developed to present these points, and the points themselves, reflected both the practical and scholarly considerations that surfaced during the debate, contributing thereby to promoting best practices in this area of social science research.

FreeExpression Blog



This project is designed to open up debate on a difficult subject: A debate about freedom of expression and freedom of belief and how to balance freedoms with protections, rights with limits?

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