Seriously, Oxford?

The first couple times I saw a headline about this, I blew it off. The first one was in the Moonie Times, so I figured it was bullshit. But apparently it’s true. Oxford University Press, the largest academic press in the world, has told authors to avoid any mention of pigs or pork products in their books to avoid offending Muslims.

The Oxford University Press has warned its writers not to mention pigs, sausages or pork-related words in children’s books, in an apparent bid to avoid offending Jews and Muslims.

The existence of the publisher’s guidelines emerged after a radio discussion on free speech in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, presenter Jim Naughtie said: “I’ve got a letter here that was sent out by OUP to an author doing something for young people.

“Among the things prohibited in the text that was commissioned by OUP was the following: Pigs plus sausages, or anything else which could be perceived as pork.

“Now, if a respectable publisher, tied to an academic institution, is saying you’ve got to write a book in which you cannot mention pigs because some people might be offended, it’s just ludicrous. It is just a joke.”…

A spokesman for OUP said: “OUP’s commitment to its mission of academic and educational excellence is absolute.

“Our materials are sold in nearly 200 countries, and as such, and without compromising our commitment in any way, we encourage some authors of educational materials respectfully to consider cultural differences and sensitivities.”

The mind absolutely fucking boggles.

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  • birgerjohansson

    The quran says Muhammed turned the Jews into pigs after they had rejected him as a prophet.

    Some nutcases in the more batshit-crazy subcults even take that to mean that *all* porcine animals in the world are descended from the Jews* Muhammed transformed with his magic wand.

    .

    Here we have a marvellous argument for any who criticizes the mention of pigs in research; If Muhammed did not like pigs, he should not have created them!

    .

    *Creationists believe the strangest things.

  • grumpyoldfart

    How did the likely-to-be-offended communicate the idea that words like pig, sausage, and pork should not be used. Did they play charades?

  • Mr Ed

    … we encourage some authors of educational materials respectfully to consider cultural differences and sensitivities.”

    Let see many people are sensitive to some scientific theories, of course history can rub some the wrong way too. Many people dislike philosophical arguments and almost everyone doesn’t like religion other than their own. Math reminds of our own inadequacies and I’m pretty sure those humanities are a scam. Children’s books are insipid and young adult is too grim. Fiction in general will irritate someone so it is out.

    I guess just to be safe blank diaries, printed on waxy paper so that they can’t be later used to offend.

  • John Pieret

    I hope OUP doesn’t plan on publishing a Bible. Bible Gateway says there are 19 references to “swine” in the Old and New Testament. Would changing all them to “pinkish unclean animal” be good enough? After all, wouldn’t that still be something that could be perceived as pork?

  • Big Boppa

    First of all, I guess I won’t be going to Oxford University Press to pitch my biography of Sir Francis Bacon for young readers.

    Second. “….presenter Jim Naughtie…” Are you sure this isn’t an article from The Onion?

  • lofgren

    Taking in to account the cultural sensitivities of their consumers?! HOW DARE THEY!

  • abb3w

    I think we need a source that has access to a copy of the text of the guidelines in question.

    Because, yes, any writer publishing for Oxford press should be culturally literate enough to know that Muslims are prickly about anything associated with pigs; contrariwise, a categorical prohibition seems to be prioritizing cultural deference over academic excellence.

  • eric

    They have since back-tracked (or “clarified”) somewhat, but the outcome is still oversensitive and ridiculous.

    Evidently, the guidelines are not for all children’s books (i.e., not about novels like Charlotte’s Web or Lord of the Flies), but only things like text books. They’re also intended to be guidelines for examples or paragraphs in which the mention is not critical to the subject. IOW they aren’t going to expunge mentions of pigs from descriptions of farms, they are trying to expunge mentions of pigs from things like English sentence construction examples or math examples (“if Billy had five pigs and Sally takes two, how many pigs does Billy have left?”), where the mention isn’t necessary to the lesson.

    Having said that, (1) its still ridiculous, (2) I don’t approve, and (3) I suspect the backtracking is merely a post-hoc attempt to make themselves look better.

  • http://howlandbolton.com richardelguru

    “Jim Naughtie”

    From Wikipedia ‘Alexander James Naughtie, better known as Jim Naughtie (surname pronounced /ˈnɔːxti/; born 9 August 1951) is a British radio presenter and radio news presenter for the BBC. Since 1994 he has been one of the main presenters of Radio 4’s Today programme.’

    He should neger be confused with Bill Nighy.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Their version of Charotte’s Web is awful.

  • U Frood

    How exactly does mentioning an “unclean” animal offend someone?

  • Big Boppa

    Modusoperandi

    Imagine how tired poor Charlotte must be after spinning a web that says “Some unclean animal with cloven hoof that does not chew cud”.

  • matty1

    The quran says Muhammed turned the Jews into pigs after they had rejected him as a prophet.

    Does it? Not that I doubt that kind of thing might be in there I read a translation a long time ago and one thing I remember is that the Quran is actually addressed to Muhammed not about him. Maybe it’s in the Haddith.

  • Sastra

    I wonder if they’re concerned that casually mentioning pigs in a textbook doesn’t mean that children in Muslim-dominated countries will read about pigs, it means that children in Muslim-dominated countries will either not have any textbooks at all — or will have textbooks written by extremists who will take care to avoid mentioning major facts of science and history along with the pigs. I don’t know. But I can see a potential lesser-of-two-evils excuse lurking here. It might depend on what the likely alternative is.

    And if Oxford Press was afraid of those options, they might also be afraid to mention them where the Islamic leaders can read them.

  • Michael Heath

    This policy is consistent with a popular liberal position. That we should respect religion rather than merely protect other’s freedom of conscience right’s – including religious exercise. I attribute part of this defect to an inability of much of the public to think critically, where too many wrongly conflate respect with tolerance.

    From my perspective no idea or belief systems deserves respect by default. Instead respect should always be credibly earned where continued respect currently and in the future should be based on continually earning such respect, e.g., scientists in nearly all fields. From this perspective religion would fail miserably to earn much respect at all in this day and age; especially the fundie versions.

  • lofgren

    This is not about respecting religion. It’s about respecting people.

  • addiepray

    I’m an atheist Jew, and I have a good number of Jewish friends who are quite religious, and none would even blink to see pigs mentioned in a text. I don’t even think the batshit ultra Orthodox types who Photoshop women out of news articles would have an issue with the mention of a pig in a story problem or whatnot. The prohibition is on eating them, not mentioning them. In fact, many believe it is their duty to go out of their way to say how good bacon smells, how delicious it must be, because they are making a conscious decision to not eat it– it’s not a meaningful act to say “I won’t eat something foul and disgusting,” whereas “I won’t eat that delicious thing” is an actual challenge and personal sacrifice. I suspect Oxford includes Jews in their defense so that they aren’t singling out Muslims, rather than because they have gotten any direct complaints. But then again, there are some pretty deranged Jews (see famous picture of Hasidic guy on plane wrapped in plastic because they are flying over a cemetary)

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    addiepray “But then again, there are some pretty deranged Jews (see famous picture of Hasidic guy on plane wrapped in plastic because they are flying over a cemetary)”

    Deranged and committed. Imagine how much work it must’ve been to wrap an entire plane in plastic!

  • caseloweraz

    I missed hearing about the Hasidic Jew flying while wrapped in plastic. Thanks, Addiepray. Seeing as he had the aisle seat, it must have been fun for the other two seated in that row when they needed to get up.

    Of course there are plenty of reasons to question the logical basis of his actions. But I really don’t think I want to get into that.

  • martinc

    Hmmm. If a Korean publisher of children’s books decided to move into the American market and translate their oeuvre into English through an American publishing company, would you consider that company correct to dismiss any worries about a sentence like:

    “Yummy!” said Kim. “We are having dog for dinner tonight!”

  • lofgren

    Exactly. Any foreign publisher that wants to break into the American market has a list of guidelines exactly like this one for their authors. Ed makes a big point of arguing that Islamaphobia is real while at the same time pretending that he makes only rational criticisms of religion so he should be exempt from that label. But then here we have an perfectly reasonable guideline from a huge publisher designed to help their writers reach out to other cultures, and because those guidelines happen to be based in part on the religious beliefs of the locals he’s freaking out. “Don’t you see that everybody should instantly accept my values without me making any concessions to theirs?” This is 1000x less offensive than the ongoing avoidance of the word “evolution” in American biology text books. Hell, it’s not offensive at all, unless you are the kind of person who gets angry that a corporation might go out of its way to afford other people the same respect that you just assume you deserve as a matter of course.

  • Rasalhague

    I don’t think this is so much about being concerned about offending people. It’s about maximizing the addressable market. IOW, money. Subtle difference, I know, but I don’t think the motivation is so much coming from any cultural sensitivity angle as from the accounts department.

    Also:

    Second. “….presenter Jim Naughtie…” Are you sure this isn’t an article from The Onion?

    Jim Naughtie was pretty much a fixture on Radio 4 back when I lived in England, and that’s over 15 years ago. He’s one of the BBC’s old timers…

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    @lofgren

    This is not about respecting religion. It’s about respecting people.

    Neither. It’s about making people feel comfortable and not offending some people’s highly tuned sensibilities. Fuck that. Pig pig pig pig pig pig pig pig pig pig pig pig pig pig piggy pig. Some sensibilities are ridiculous, and ridiculous ideas are deserving of ridicule.

    There is a difference between respecting a person and respecting a person’s beliefs. If you respect me, you will not coddle me, and you will not remain silent when I am making a mistake. You will speak up, and you will correct me. If you respect me as a person, then you absolutely cannot have respect for my beliefs. You can respect my reasons, and my general person and character, but showing respect for my beliefs is showing disrespect and disdain for me as an adult human being.

    Any foreign publisher that wants to break into the American market has a list of guidelines exactly like this one for their authors.

    Like what?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=153100784 Michael Brew

    martinc @ 20

    If a Korean publisher of children’s books decided to move into the American market and translate their oeuvre into English through an American publishing company, would you consider that company correct to dismiss any worries about a sentence like:

    “Yummy!” said Kim. “We are having dog for dinner tonight!”

    Y’know, you might have a point (though, if you’re going to go this far, why not prohibit references to cows for Hindus, or just go whole hog and make sure all your characters are vegan). Except that’s not what the guidelines are about. It’s not asking to avoid mentions of eating pigs. It’s avoiding mentioning pigs, altogether. Which is stupid because neither Jews nor Muslims have a prohibition against reading about pigs. I would wager that not one person has actually complained about any of their books simply mentioning pigs, but that this is a knee-jerk fear reaction because they think the scary Muslims are going to get them if they provoke them.

  • http://wordsgood4598.wordpress.com/author/wordsgood4598/ wordsgood

    Sigh. I was also hoping the first few times I saw the story that it would turn out to be an false story being passed around. No such luck.

    Until now, Oxford was my favourite publisher. :-(

  • dingojack

    O RLY!?!?!

    You’ve been punked.

    Dingo.

  • lofgren

    Holy shit, people. This isn’t complicated. Soemwhere in Oxford’s offices there is a piece of paper that says “Muslims don’t like reading about pigs. If you’re writing a book for a Muslim audience, don’t write about pigs.”

    I love how 23 and 24 have completely opposite ideas for how this guideline came to be. On the one hand it’s because Muslims are soooo sensitive (and of course the proper way to respond to your audience telling you they don’t want something is “Fuck you!” Oh, but I totally respect you. Your preferences are just stupid.) On the other hand the Muslims are fine and this is all the result of ignorant fear of the Other. It’s neither. Muslims don’t like reading about pigs, so don’t mention pigs unnecessarily. I mean, if you’re in the business of selling books to Muslims, why the fuck wouldn’t you offer that guideline?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=153100784 Michael Brew

    lofgren @27

    No. Seriously. The vast majority of Muslims wouldn’t care about reading about pigs. They have no problem talking about or writing about pigs. They just don’t eat them. The guideline is ignorant.

  • lofgren

    I’m sure thay’s true, just as the vast majority of Americans don’t give a shit about the number 13. But some Muslims are offended by the thought of pigs just as some Americans are offended by the number 13. If you are in the business of writing books aimed at these people, you don’t tell them, “Fuck your superstitious twaddle!” You make a note of their preferences and you put it in a list of broad guidelines. The weirdest thing about this story is that anybody is even slightly surprised. (Or gives a shit at all.)

  • paul

    So, is Oxford University Press going to require that any books it publishes avoid mentioning that the Earth is more than five thousand-and-change years old? Because that is also offensive to extremely devout muslims.

    Also, does Oxford University Press publish medical research? A lot of that is done on pigs.

  • paul

    Could someone please clarify–how closely is Oxford University Press connected with Oxford University? Is it just a name? Or are faculty and graduate students at Oxford going to be discouraged from publishing anything that might be offensive to muslims?

  • dingojack

    Nope, you’re STILL BEING PUNKED!!!

    Dingo

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    If you are in the business of writing books aimed at these people, you don’t tell them, “Fuck your superstitious twaddle!”

    What a ridiculous false dichotomy. Do you really believe a UNIVERSITY press can’t publish what they choose without being that overtly offensive?

    You make a note of their preferences and you put it in a list of broad guidelines.

    When a “guideline” is based solely on a superstitious rule, and involves going out of one’s way not to talk about something, a UNIVERSITY press should not let it constrain what they choose to publish in any way. Remember, this is a UNIVERSITY press, not just any popular press — they’re not just about selling books, they’re about selling useful information, and hopefully boosting the university’s reputation as a place of learning.

    The weirdest thing about this story is that anybody is even slightly surprised. (Or gives a shit at all.)

    You care enough to reply to our comments, but then ridicule us for caring enough to comment? Is there a point to this hypocritical carping? If you have a problem with people caring about what happens around us, maybe you should just go back to living with sheep instead. Wading into a conversation, and then acting all surprised when you hear us talking, really makes you look like a moron.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    But then here we have an perfectly reasonable guideline from a huge publisher designed to help their writers reach out to other cultures, and because those guidelines happen to be based in part on the religious beliefs of the locals he’s freaking out.

    Is it really a reasonable guideline? Are you sure you, or the publisher, are correctly understanding the beliefs they’re supposedly catering to? I, for one, have NEVER heard that Muslims don’t want to hear any mention of pigs AT ALL. They certainly don’t eat pigs, or want to live too near them, or have anyone they respect called a pig; but that’s a far cry from saying they don’t want to hear pigs even mentioned in any context anywhere.

  • John Horstman

    What the fuck?

    @lofgren #21:

    Any foreign publisher that wants to break into the American market has a list of guidelines exactly like this one for their authors.

    Yeah, that’s also fucking stupid. And you’re misrepresenting what’s going on here. OUP isn’t trying to break into, say, the Saudi or Indonesian markets specifically, with a set of guidelines for works geared toward those particular markets. It’s a blanket… well, prohibition isn’t exactly right – discouragement? This is more like an American publisher with an American audience discouraging any mentions of animals or animal-based products to be culturally sensitive to the concerns of ethical vegans, most of whom don’t really care about animals in kids books in the first place. Fucking stupid.

  • lofgren

    Is it really a reasonable guideline? Are you sure you, or the publisher, are correctly understanding the beliefs they’re supposedly catering to?

    If they don’t understand the taboo, that only makes the guideline more reasonable. If you’re a publisher and you know that some of the people reading your books are going to be upset by mentioning something, then a guideline to avoid mentioning it seems like the best possible approach. Sure you could appoint a team of researchers to go out and study the issue and determine exactly how upset and how many people, but why take the risk? Just tell your authors to avoid mentioning that thing and move on. Why is this an issue?

    I don’t fully understand the Chinese superstition about the number 4. I know that some people are sensitive to it. So when I can use 3 or 5, I’ll recommend that authors use 3 or 5 instead of 4. That doesn’t mean we’re not going to teach people how to count or do math, it just means we’re going to avoid unnecessary 4s.

    OUP isn’t trying to break into, say, the Saudi or Indonesian markets specifically, with a set of guidelines for works geared toward those particular markets.

    Oh, my mistake. I didn’t realize that there are no Muslims in any of the schools that the largest academic publisher in the world writes textbooks for.

    Yeah, that’s also fucking stupid.

    Why is it fucking stupid? You don’t go out of your way to offend people when you’re trying to teach them. Here are some guidelines I would offer to foreign publishers trying to break into an American market:

    Americans are weirdly touchy about boobs.

    Americans are superstitious about the number 13.

    Americans think puppies and bunnies are cute animals to cuddle, not dinner.

    When a “guideline” is based solely on a superstitious rule, and involves going out of one’s way not to talk about something, a UNIVERSITY press should not let it constrain what they choose to publish in any way.

    The guideline is based on the cultural sensitivities of people who use their books. If you want those people to use your books, you don’t offend them when there is no reason to. Who cares why they believe such things? It’s irrelevant. This is not a prohibition on writing about pigs, it’s a suggestion to be aware of a cultural belief and to sidestep that trigger when it’s possible to do so.

    If you think that Oxford press isn’t already doing this for their Western English-speaking, secular audience, then I’ve got a bridge to sell you.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    If they don’t understand the taboo, that only makes the guideline more reasonable.

    No, it doesn’t. It only means every misunderstood rule results in another stupid and useless constraint on what one is or is not allowed to publish. There’s nothing “reasonable” about censoring oneself for fear of breaking rules one isn’t even sure are important to that many people — or even exist at all. Seriously, IS there really a prohibition against mentioning pigs?

    You don’t go out of your way to offend people when you’re trying to teach them.

    Again with the false dichotomy — if you’re “trying to teach them” about something and it’s relevant to mention pigs, that’s not “going out of your way to offend” when you mention pigs in the places where pigs are relevant.

    Here are some guidelines I would offer to foreign publishers trying to break into an American market:…

    I’m pretty sure a company that ignored such prissy guidelines would have a more interesting lineup than one that didn’t, and that advantage would more than offset any loss due to minor (and, let’s face it, unpredictable) offenses. There’s absolutely ZERO reliable evidence that any of the guidelines you quoted would have any noticeable impact on the sales of any book, or that there would be any noticeable outcry about any of them. There is, however, plenty of experience to hint that a publisher who stuck to such petty rules would be laughed at, and generally avoided on the grounds that they’re less likely to have what a given customer might be looking for.

    The guideline is based on the cultural sensitivities of people who use their books.

    No, it’s based on YOUR UNDERSTANDING of said sensitivities, and that understanding is being credibly disputed. And it’s also a bit racist to think you can’t mention pigs because those dark-skinned heathen savages just wouldn’t be able to handle it like civilized men.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    I suspect the backtracking is merely a post-hoc attempt to make themselves look better.

    Which is what normally happens when a company adopts a stupid rule based on unreliable information, using a decision-making process where deliberation is trumped by fear, emotion, and possibly a bit of prejudice as well.

  • lofgren

    Again with the false dichotomy — if you’re “trying to teach them” about something and it’s relevant to mention pigs, that’s not “going out of your way to offend” when you mention pigs in the places where pigs are relevant.

    If it is relevant to mention pigs, they will mention pigs! This is a guideline for use when it is not relevant to mention pigs. They are saying, instead of a math problem that says “Susan ate four pieces of bacon and Simon ate seven pieces of bacon, who ate more bacon?” you should instead say “Susan ate four apples and Simon ate seven apples.” Whom is harmed? Nobody. Is education being compromised? No. This is not a guideline for teaching farming practices, it is to avoid unnecessary mentions of pigs.

    I’m pretty sure a company that ignored such prissy guidelines would have a more interesting lineup than one that didn’t, and that advantage would more than offset any loss due to minor (and, let’s face it, unpredictable) offenses.

    The fuck? We’re talking about TEXTBOOKS. Nobody cares if they are interesting, only if they are effective.

    Every single publisher in the world has these guidelines for every single book that they write. In some cases they are dangerous, like American textbooks avoiding discussion of evolution. In most cases they are innocuous, like this one. The whole point is to avoid distracting, stupid, ridiculous controversies like this one. Again, why the fuck do you even care what Oxford’s guidelines for their textbooks are, provided they do not affect the actual education provided – a charge literally nobody has made in this case.

    And it’s also a bit racist to think you can’t mention pigs because those dark-skinned heathen savages just wouldn’t be able to handle it like civilized men.

    That WOULD be racist. Since nobody has ever said it, what the fuck relevance does it have to this conversation?

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    Raging Bee defending free speech at the potential minor cost of accidentally offending someone? The world is ending! Also, generally excellent arguments Raging Bee.