Scholars at Risk Ireland special event featuring address by President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins

On 29th November 2016 the Scholars at Risk Ireland section (Universities Ireland) presented a special event featuring an opening address by President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins.

The President’s address was followed by dialogues with scholars from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Sri Lanka, moderated by Senator Ivana Bacik, Dr. Roja Fazaeli and Dr. Jude Lal Fernando of Trinity College Dublin.

The dialogues focused on current conditions for academics and higher education communities in the scholars’ home regions, and the role of the global higher education community in protecting the human rights of scholars and promoting academic freedom worldwide.

Dr. Patrick Prendergast, Provost and President of Trinity College Dublin provided welcoming remarks and Professor Patrick O’Donovan, Head College of Arts, University College Cork spoke on behalf of Universities Ireland. Speakers also included Sinead O’Gorman, European Director of the Scholars at Risk network.

Quote from the President’s speech:

“It is a great honour for me to have been invited to open this important conference organised by the Irish section of the Scholars at Risk Network – a conference that is an important part of the response we urgently need to make to the grave threats that hang over both the intellectual freedom and the physical safety of so many scholars around our world. …

As President of Ireland, and as an academic myself, I fully endorse the assertion invoked by our gathering this morning, i.e. “Ideas are Not Crimes”.

Ideas, the free discussion of ideas, the critique and questioning of received ideas and the articulation of new ones are activities that are fundamental to the shaping of public discourse and to the vitality of democratic life. …

Those who, today as yesterday, use violence to repress scholarly research, teaching and writing seek to subdue, or even eliminate, the spaces in which citizens are free to think, share ideas, and challenge the status quo. Such authoritarian abusers of freedom in any of its senses see the open, pluralist space of intellectual enquiry as a threat to their power, whether this power and its projects invoke a distorted and hateful version of religion and faith, or an authoritarian conception of the state – or both, for that matter.

That may constitute the extreme form of attack on the institution itself and those who teach or study within it. There is, however, the more subtle form of authoritarian oppression against new, different, or intellectually subversive scholarly work. Some of the best known, and funded, institutions have engaged in a type of attrition of morale towards such scholars.

I am delighted, therefore, to have this opportunity to pay tribute to the immensely valuable work of the Scholars at Risk Network in bringing to public attention the sheer scale and gravity of the contemporary attacks on academic freedom globally, and in their proposing strategies of responding to this global crisis. …

As a global network of over 400 institutions in 40 countries, it plays a vital role in monitoring attacks on academic communities across the globe, in campaigning for scholars who are imprisoned or silenced, and, crucially, in offering safe havens abroad for threatened scholars, so that they can carry on with their work until, hopefully, they are able to return to their home university.

May I, too, commend Universities Ireland for ensuring that our island is part of that great network of international solidarity, so that endangered scholars from all regions of the world can find temporary placements in Irish universities. …

The fact that blatant attacks on truth, knowledge and science are now happening in countries that have been bastions of academic freedom is a huge matter for concern – one should serve to mobilise in new ways the international society of scholars.
Caught in the double squeeze of physical attacks on academic communities worldwide and increasingly open attacks on truth in a number of countries – attacks that have grave and immense implications for the future of democracy – how many scholars, and democrats around the world, organise their response?

Of one thing we can be certain. It is important not to be intimidated into any colluding or evasive silence.

May I conclude by wishing the Scholars at Risk Network, and all its sections and partners across the world, the very best in all of their future endeavours. I assure you of my wholehearted support to your work – a work in the service of truth and freedom, and a work that is of such fundamental importance to the present and future of our democracies.”

President’s speech – full text

President’s speech – audio file

Professor O’Donovan, University College Cork – speech

Ideas Are Not Crimes – report