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Jan 23 2012

Too much conflation of being offended and being intimidated

The LSE Student Union Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society has told the LSE Student Union to take a flying jump. I should think so too.

There are no reasonable grounds for the LSESU’s instruction because we are in no way violating their policies or byelaws. The cartoons on our Facebook page criticise religion in a satirical way and we totally reject any claim that their publications could constitute any sort of harassment or intimidation of Muslims or Christians.

That there was no deliberate intention to offend is illustrated by the fact that the cartoons were posted only on the LSESU ASH page and not in other spaces. But even if some people are offended, offence is not a sufficient reason for certain artistic and satirical forms of expression to be prohibited. A university should hold no idea sacred and be open to the critiquing of all ideas and ideologies.

We want to engage with LSESU and work with them further to resolve the situation, but not in a way that jeopardises the legitimate criticism or satirising of religious and other beliefs. That is a freedom which is indispensable.

And the fact that the LSE Student Union thinks otherwise is appalling.

Andrew Copson of the BHA commented:

The officers of LSESU ASH have clearly been reasonable in their dealings with their union and it is clearly unreasonable for a simple satirical depiction of religious figures to be deemed tantamount to intimidation of religious students. The freedom to criticise all sorts of beliefs and hold them open to satire as well as intellectual critique is a vital generator of intellectual progress – something which universities should safeguard.

Safeguard. Not discourage, not frown on, not scold, not try to terminate; safeguard.

The AHS and BHA also announced that they were beginning an investigation of how Student Unions were approaching issues of free speech and offence in relation to religious and non-religious beliefs with a view to providing guidance to institutions. [Jenny] Bartle [president of the National Federation of ASH] commented, ‘There has been too much conflation recently of being offended and being intimidated, with the implication being that they are equivalent. Such an assumption is a potential threat to free speech and free debate, and we are concerned to address this underlying problem in the long term.’

Good. Exactly so, and good.

Go to Free Expression Day. Sign the statement – along with Jessica Ahlquist, AC Grayling, Richard Dawkins, Jesus and Mo Creator, Taslima Nasrin, Salman Rushdie, Southall Black Sisters, Peter Tatchell, Alom Shaha, Deeya, Farzana Hassan, Gita Sahgal and many many more. Good company.

 

12 comments

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  1. 1
    'Tis Himself

    It’s interesting the comments are moderated at the “sign the statement” thread. Although I doubt anyone will object to my name, my occupation and my country of habitation.

  2. 2
    Saikat Biswas

    Giving offence is intimidation. Criticism is persecution. Violent threats are just protests. Simple enough.

  3. 3
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    “A university should hold no idea sacred and be open to the critiquing of all ideas and ideologies.”

    Excellently put. If a university is not a place where ideas are confronted and questioned in an open manner (a “safe space” for debate, to use this much-abused idiom), then what is it for?

  4. 4
    Ian MacDougall

    Irene:

    “If a university is not a place where ideas are confronted and questioned in an open manner (a ‘safe space’ for debate, to use this much-abused idiom), then what is it for?”

    Generation of self-replicating robots.

  5. 5
    Steersman

    Exactly right: conflating hurt feelings [“aww, pooooor babies ….”] with threats and acts of murder and mayhem.

    For example, I have argued on Islamic Awakening – not too successfully – that the insistence that everyone else has to be prevented from drawing pictures of Muhammad is tantamount to insisting that everyone else has to subscribe to the beliefs of Islam. A little incongruous – hypocritical, actually – for a faith that makes a great show of quoting the “holy” Quran: “There is no compulsion in religion” [2.256]. I guess that is probably only on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

    Which, of course, generated “counter-arguments” that the authors of the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons “should take some or all of the blame” for the resulting deaths. And which is the same value system that is motivating the current attempts at using physical threats and intimidation to restrict free speech in Britain.

    However, I notice that the UK laws – some of them anyway and from what I can find out readily – quite clearly stipulate that:

    The Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006 amended the Public Order Act 1986 by adding Part 3A. That Part says, “A person who uses threatening words or behaviour, or displays any written material which is threatening, is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up religious hatred.” The Part protects freedom of expression by stating in Section 29J:

    Nothing in this Part shall be read or given effect in a way which prohibits or restricts discussion, criticism or expressions of antipathy, dislike, ridicule, insult or abuse of particular religions or the beliefs or practices of their adherents, or of any other belief system or the beliefs or practices of its adherents, or proselytizing or urging adherents of a different religion or belief system to cease practicing their religion or belief system.

    Seems to me to cover the right of the LSE and UCL Atheist societies to ridicule religion in general and Islam in particular. As Thomas Jefferson said of Christianity – which of course can be extended to Islam:

    Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.

    When is the next “Draw Muhammad Day”? I have a clown suit that should fit him to a T.

  6. 6
    Irène Delse, on dry land among seabirds

    Steersman:

    For example, I have argued on Islamic Awakening – not too successfully – that the insistence that everyone else has to be prevented from drawing pictures of Muhammad is tantamount to insisting that everyone else has to subscribe to the beliefs of Islam.

    And not only to the beliefs of Islam, but to a set of beliefs that aren’t even shared by all Muslims. The ban on representations of the Prophet is more specific to Sunni Islam. While they are the majority of Muslims today, let’s not forget that among the other main denomination, Shi’a Islam, only caricatures or insulting representations are strictly forbidden. In fact, images of Muhammad and other prophets of Islam are commonly found in Iran today, a little like portraits of saints or of the Virgin Mary in Catholic countries.

  7. 7
    Steersman

    Irene Delse (#6):

    Thanks for the information – didn’t know that at all. Some more ammunition … :-)

  8. 8
    platyhelminthe

    I bet some Muslims didn’t know it either. Honestly, I sometimes think these people

  9. 9
    platyhelminthe

    …only cry offence becauae they kniw what power they wield as an “oppressed” minirity (ably assisted by the background threat of violent retribution from extremists, even if they themselves are peaceable)

  10. 10
    platyhelminthe

    Oh btw, Ophelia, have you seen Karen Armstrong’s latest nonsense, where she claims the Koran is pro-Jew? Honestly.

    There’s being an accommodationist, and there’s being a despicable, contemptible liar.

  11. 11
    Ophelia Benson

    platy, yup. I was writing a post on it as you spoke, I think.

  12. 12
    peterh

    “In fact, images of Muhammad and other prophets of Islam are commonly found in Iran today, a little like portraits of saints or of the Virgin Mary in Catholic countries.”

    And, similarly, the 3-4-5 story-tall portraits of the Despot du Jour?

  1. 13

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