Night of philosophy sparks controversy with Paul Cliteur

Philosophy staff and students were dismayed to discover last week that controversial, prominent FvD member and academic Paul Cliteur had been invited to speak at this year’s ‘Night of Philosophy’.
By Jacob Thorburn

The seventh annual ‘Night of Philosophy’ is on Friday, 5 April. Last week, staff and students within the philosophy department were upset to learn that controversial politician and philosopher Paul Cliteur would be a guest speaker at the event. The controversy centres on his affiliation with the right-wing political party, Forum voor Democratie (FvD).

Faculty of Philosophy Dean Lodi Nauta addressed their concerns in a faculty email on Friday in which he promised more discussion and transparency concerning controversial invitations in the future.

In last week’s elections the FvD won five seats in the Provincial council of Groningen and will probably get thirteen seats in the Eerste Kamer. That’s far more than in 2017, when the party won just two seats in Parliament.

No platform

Martin Lenz, a department chair within the RUG’s Faculty of Philosophy, says he wants to engage in dialogue rather than shying away from it. On Sunday, he wrote over 1000 words protesting the decision to invite Paul Cliteur to the Night of Philosophy.

Lenz calls Cliteur a ‘propagandist’ and questions the factual basis of Cliteur’s opinions on religious terrorism. ‘People like Cliteur… make outrageous claims, while sounding perfectly reasonable. Should we give a forum to such speakers?’ According to Lenz, providing a university platform for controversial figures is tantamount to supporting their positions.

Dean Nauta insists that the point of the Night of Philosophy – which is so popular it sells outs months in advance – is not to provide a platform for controversial opinions but to celebrate philosophy.

Split opinion

He has heard split opinion within the faculty over the decision to invite Cliteur. Some people have deep concerns because the FvD has ‘certain standpoints and tactics that not everyone agrees with.’ Others feel that controversial opinions have a place in the university, but that the procedures around inviting controversial figures should be more transparent to the other invited speakers and the faculty as a whole.

Because of worries about Cliteur’s appearance, Nauta says the Board will arrange a meeting with organisers in the coming months to evaluate how things went and how they should go in the future.

Free discussion

Guus Termeer, programme organiser at Studium Generale, says students and staff have also reached out to him with concerns, but that compared to last month’s Carles Puigdemont event, complaints for the Night of Philosophy have been minimal.

Ultimately, Termeer thinks that the academic community should foster intellectual diversity: ‘It’s important that we give people a chance for free discussion, so long as there is room for critical debate.’

This event is a collaboration between the RUG’s faculty of philosophy, Groninger Forum and Studium Generale. According to the Groninger Forum webpage, more than twenty five speakers from different fields have been invited to speak during the evening.

The event is officially sold out, but tickets might be available on the Facebook page. For more information on the night’s programme, click here. Note: Paul Cliteur’s speech on the night will be in Dutch.

Editor’s note: the wording we used in our original summary of Lenz’s view was too strong; to more accurately represent his view we have changed ‘…providing a university platform for controversial figures is tantamount to endorsing their positions’ to ‘supporting their positions’. 




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