When certain Muslims voiced their offense


The Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society at University College London is the object of attempted censorship by the university’s student union because the former used an image from Jesus and Mo on its Facebook page, and that, of course, is “offensive.”

 Citing a “number of complaints” regarding both the depiction of Muhammad and the fact that the image shows him with a drink that looks like beer, the union contacted the ASHS president demanding that he remove the image as soon as possible…Pointing out that UCL was the first university in Britain to be founded on secular principles, the ASHS have refused to remove the Jesus & Mo image and have launched an online petitionto defend free expression at the university. The petition, which you can sign, includes the following statement:

“In response to complaints from a number of students, the University College London Union has insisted that the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society remove the following image from a Facebook event advertising a pub social. It has done so on the grounds that it may cause offence to Muslim students.

This is a gross infringement on its representatives’ right to freedom of expression taken by members of the first secular university in England. All people are free to be offended by any image they view. This does not give them the right to impose their beliefs on others by censoring such images.
We the undersigned urge the University College London Union to immediately halt their attempts to censor the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society and uphold its members’ right to freedom of expression.”

And then there’s an unpleasant little update:

Update: one of the Islamic societies at UCL, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association, has put out a statementarguing that the ASHS is wrong to refuse to take down the image from Jesus & Mo. The author argues that there is a difference between freedom of speech and freedom to insult, and suggests that once something has offended someone, it should be withdrawn:

“Once a particular act is deemed to be offensive to another, it is only good manners to refrain from, at the very least, repeating that act. In this particular case, when at first the cartoon was uploaded, it could have been mistaken as unintentional offense. When certain Muslims voiced their offense over the issue, for any civil, well-mannered individual or group of individuals, it should then be a question as to the feelings of others and the cartoons should then have been removed.”

Bollocks.

Comments

  1. says

    Thankyou for making this more publicly known – it’s a disgraceful state of affairs for the UCL Union. Unfortunately, an all too common theme now in the over-hyped PC crowd in England..

  2. julian says

    This looks like a clear cut case of Freedom of Expression. We have a historical figure relevant to today and we have a group that feels he is given undue respect and idolatry. So what’s the problem? Religious figures are not so special that they are removed from the pool of figures to mock.

    I’m sure the offense is genuine but you can’t simply abridge the right to criticize like this. I get pissed whenever I see some jingoistic military poster but I certainly have no business telling the artist to stop making them. Despite the arguable damage they do, no one served that way.

    Better to argue your case (although I’m not sure what it would be in this case) and present your own opposing view point.

  3. Upright Ape says

    Ahmadiyya? The same people who were in a debate with Maryam Namazie recently claiming Sharia was not incompatible with human rights?
    Thanks for making our case for us, boys.

  4. says

    I’m all for freedom of expression and freedom of speech in its many forms. On the other hand, how is this any different from a group of mothers asking a strip club owner to please take down his billboard of a woman [3 words deleted – OB] advertising their great lunch buffet?

    Mock who you want to mock, but I’d no more condone intentional insult of a religious group than I would intentional insult of a particular race.

    Would this be as funny if another UCL group posted an image on their page of Amos taking it up the ass from Andy with both of them in shackles? How is this a more/less offensive image? Why would/wouldn’t this be acceptable?

    It’s one thing to disagree with something. Quite another to openly antagonize a group with whom you disagree…

    Besides, if these are Arab Muslims… even other Muslims are afraid of them. Arabs of any faith are NUTS!

  5. Ken Pidcock says

    In this particular case, when at first the cartoon was uploaded, it could have been mistaken as unintentional offense.

    This is an English school, isn’t it?

  6. Tsu Dho Nimh says

    Once a particular act is deemed to be offensive to another, it is only good manners to refrain from, at the very least, repeating that act.

    Excellent. The following practices that are common in the Muslim community offend me: forced marriages, wearing niqabs, and caning women for driving. Please do not repeat them.

  7. Ken Pidcock says

    @kreepykritter, you are offering truly offensive images by comparison. There is nothing inherently offensive about the image in question other that it is an image.

  8. says

    I’m glad it’s being said, both by PZ and commenters above, that their reasoning quickly falls apart when a member of another faith comes forward and says, “These church bells are loud and offend me.” or “The call of muezzin is offensive to me, it should be stopped. Take the minarets down while you’re at it.”

    “You’re offended. So what?”

  9. says

    @Ken Pidcock

    I’m offering images that the majority of people would generally find offensive. Trying to dictate to a specific group what they should and should not find offensive is like trying to dictate whether a person does or does not follow a particular religion.

    One person’s civil liberties ought not impinge on the civil liberties of another. One group is not more entitled to exercise their freedoms than another group. That’s the very core of what equality means.

  10. says

    Offense isn’t a matter of civil liberty. There is potentially no end to the number of things that some group or other could seek to prohibit by claiming offense. The group in question, it seems, even recognizes this when they appeal to “good manners.” I don’t know exactly what the principle is that permits the prohibition of sexually explicit images in public, but it’s not — *can’t be* — the mere fact that group G is offended by it.

  11. Upright Apeo says

    Arabs of any faith are nuts? And you are the one complaining that insulting a religion is like insulting a race? You are a racist if ever one ever existed, kreepykritter.

  12. says

    I’ll concede the point that merely being offended isn’t grounds to alter the behavior of others. Consider this…

    If Fred Phelps came, with his herd of nutjobs, and started picketting outside a TAM gathering, while screaming obscenities at you and your friends, and anyone else they saw nearby, would you ask them to stop in civil tones? Would this offend you? They’re entitled to their expression (Because they’re too poor to travel outside of the US, and I’m pretty sure the grizzled old bastard is on several terrorist watch lists), but at what point does it become unacceptable?

    I’m not saying I agree with everything that happens in the Muslim world (mostly because it’s obvious that as many Muslims actually pay attention to the Koran as Christians pay attention to the bible… fucking cherry pickers) but there’s no Us and Them when it comes to individual rights.

    The fact is, in the Muslim world alcohol is forbidden, and depicting Muhammed is offensive. Point blank. This is no more acceptable than depicting Jesus snorting some coke with a male prostitute’s head in his lap. If you’re suprised that this might be found offensive then you’re either devaluing the offended parties, or you’re simply lying to yourself.

    Simply put, in a round about fashion, I’m not only unsurprised that the image was taken down, I’m pretty damned proud of the kids who chose to do so rather than make a big hairy deal out of something that they probably didn’t really mean to go that far.

  13. Upright Ape says

    kreepycritter, the racist and hypocrite, the actions of Fred Phelps only become illegal if they are trespassing or physically assaulting someone. Speech, no matter how offensive, is protected.
    Speaking of offensive, I find your trolling highly offensive. Will you please go away?

  14. says

    One of the primary things wrong with kreepykritter’s argument is that what is stake here is not simply the “us vs. them” or “Muslims vs. non-Muslims.” It’s the enshrinement of a right not to be offended, which if recognized, will inevitably be used by all sorts of groups — many of them more powerful and large than Muslims.

  15. says

    So if the statement issued by Ahmadiyya Muslim Students Association offends me, they’ll pull it down?

    No?

    So this isn’t about the limits of freedom of speech, but about carving out special rights for themselves. Glad to have that cleared up.

  16. jontennant says

    Yes, you’re right. The whole thing, including subsequent comments from supporting muslims, reeks of hypocrisy based on a foundation of undeserved freedom to say whatever you want because you’re religious. Paf.

  17. mirapath says

    So when sunni muslims in Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia (just for starters) are offended by the Ahmaddiya’s “heresies” and kill them or burn down their schools and mosques, it is all fair go?

  18. evilDoug says

    Kreepy, pay attention – the cartoon is on a Facebook page, not on posters or billboards. You can’t see it if you don’t go looking for it.

    It is pretty obvious that the complainers aren’t familiar with J&M, and seem to think it is a one-off. Otherwise they would know full well that that is beer, and that the disembodied voice is of an atheist woman who regularly takes Jesus and Mo to task.

    There are a hell of a lot of people that are offended by the fact that meat served in public schools in the UK has be slaughtered according to muslim ritual. I trust that that will all be gone in a day or two.

  19. karmakin says

    Indeed. As well, it’s truly a double standard. I really do find Islam offensive (just like I find Christianity offensive). So what the hell are they going to do about that, hmm?

  20. says

    Otherwise they would know full well that that is beer, and that the disembodied voice is of an atheist woman who regularly takes Jesus and Mo to task.

    And if the complainers were really familiar with J and M they would know there is a rumor – one I have never denied – that I am that atheist woman. So ha.

  21. fromalandofbeardedcherrypickers says

    hi all, new to these blogs but pretty much an atheist. and so far i love your writing, ophelia benson. (and your name!)

    i’m not from the states so i had a quick question about images and suchlike.

    so the image can’t be taken down based on “offensiveness”, which makes sense to me. but then i think about images like the ones that american apparel uses to advertise and i find them pretty damn offensive – they seem to be bordering on illegal sometimes.

    but this freedom of speech thing means i just gotta suck it up and look away yes? no matter how misogynist or objectifying or dehumanizing the image used in an ad?

    or is the main difference here that the image was on facebook and not in meatspace public?

    i hope someone can help me out, would love some clarification on this! thank you.

  22. jontennant says

    The main difference is that here a religion has taken offense, and therefore requires some special response. It’s that simple, and that frustrating. And you know what? I bet the image gets taken down too, and the Atheist Group forced to apologise..

  23. says

    romalandofbeardedcherrypickers:

    “but this freedom of speech thing means i just gotta suck it up and look away yes? no matter how misogynist or objectifying or dehumanizing the image used in an ad?”

    You are free and entitled to be offended.

    In certain countries run by clerical fascists, you are NOT free to be offended by what THEY do and say. Saying you are offended can land you in a lot of bother: like having to reconnect your own head to the rest of you.

  24. says

    fromalandofbeardedcherrypickers: You are free to complain, and to explain why you don’t like it, and even to organize a boycott of the store. Just as the Muslim group is free to complain, to explain why they don’t like it, and to not attend the atheist organization’s events.

    But what you, and the Muslim organization, do not get to do is get the authorities (whether that be police or the university organization) involved to silence the people you disagree with. You don’t get to vandalise the store selling shirts you don’t like, or harass its employees. You don’t get to take away their right to produce t-shirts, no matter how much they offend you.

  25. daveau says

    …they would know there is a rumor – one I have never denied – that I am that atheist woman.

    You sure keep busy… ;-)

    Why does Kreepy think anyone here would be offended by a picture of Jesus snorting coke with a male prostitute’s head in his lap? I should make that my Gravatar.

  26. Brian Jordan says

    I’d have thought Muslims and Christians both were likely to be offended when they for some reason go to an atheist Facebook [age anyway, whatever the scenery. As it is, they’re volunteers who had no need ever to see it in the first place.

  27. platyhelminthe says

    I REALLY don’t know what to think about this.

    I mean, I think Islam is a despicable doctrine (words cannot express the hatred I have for it) and I love the Jesus ‘n’ Mo cartoon.

    But the sad fact of the matter is a hell of a lot of decent people are culturally attached to Islam, whether or not they subscribe to the nasty bits. I have a lot of Muslim friends, none of whom are nutjobs, just good people muddling through like the rest of us. And while I am perfectly happy with Jesus and Mo ‘defaming’ Islam by showing images of the Paedophile Prophet, I do feel that putting up posters of it on a university campus is a little aggressive and unkind. And it would be somewhat unwelcoming of the university to effectively tell its Muslim students to f— off when they get upset about their (irrational but sincerely felt) beliefs being ridiculed throughout the campus.

    Am I off base here? Is freedom of speech so sacrosanct that we should sacrifice basic human politeness?

  28. platyhelminthe says

    Wow, my bad. Sorry about that.

    In that case – you’re quite right. It is complete bollocks.

  29. says

    platyhelminthe: You are off base. What if some group of people complained that they were offended (on the basis of their cherished cultural beliefs) by a GLBT group’s facebook page posting a picture of a same-sex couple kissing ? What if some group of people complained that it was offensive to see pictures featuring couples (same or opposite sex) with different skin colours? What if some students started complaining that they were offended by other students in modes of dress that they considered immodest?

  30. jontennant says

    Indeed Theo. Where does it end? South Park covered it quite nicely in one episode actually, where EVERYTHING about Christmas down to mistletoe was considered offensive and forcibly removed. Then there was a morale that people need to calm down.

    It doesn’t particularly matter what you think of either Mohammed or Islam, what matters is that the religion thinks it has the authority do censor what it wants based on this undeserved value of their beliefs. Theo got it spot on here. So what if a few people went out of their way to find it offensive? These guys need to seriously re-assess the way they think and operate.

  31. Brian Jordan says

    Platyhelminthe said
    “I am perfectly happy with Jesus and Mo ‘defaming’ Islam 2by showing images of the Paedophile Prophet”
    It might just, at a stretch, be considered ‘defaming’ Islam if it showed Mo up to some of the deeds he’s (dis)credited with. But objecting just to ASH showing images (not that anyone, now, knows what distinguished his appearance from that of any other mediaeval Arab) is absurd. Any prohibition is laid on Muslims, only (and relatively recently at that) from a fear of his being idolised. I can’t imagine anyone from ASH idolising Mo!
    Theo Bromine said
    “What if some students started complaining that they were offended by other students in modes of dress that they considered immodest?”
    Careful now!

  32. Art says

    Old joke:

    A man and a woman are waiting at a bus stop. The man starts humming a tune. The woman starts beating the man with her handbag. Police show up, restrain both, and ask why she is beating on him. She tells them ‘he was humming an offensive tune’. The police ask her how she could be offended by a tune and she answers back ‘But, I know the words’.

    As for the “Jesus snorting some coke with a male prostitute’s head in his lap” Assuming it was artistically done I’d pay good money to buy a painting, and especially a sculpture, of that scene. Valuable unto itself I might resell it, at a significant profit. I know the sacrilegious owner of a bar catering to the LGBT community that would love to have something like that for decoration. He is all over transgressing boundaries and gay anti-religious kitsch would be right up his alley.

    The fact is that no matter what you do, or how you do it, someone somewhere will find offense. I was once accosted by a girl who took offense at my eating a hamburger and drinking coffee. Evidently “meat is murder” and the coffee beans were harvested from burned over rainforest by slave labor. She was even more offended when I smiled and told her both were tastier because of the embodied cruelty and injustice. At which point she started screaming and had to be restrained by the store manager. A little later the police hauled her off, still screaming. for ‘evaluation’. The later half of this happening after I had left.

    Those easily offended usually end up exhausting themselves, and their welcome. I’m open for discussion but another person’s offense isn’t, by itself, any reason to modify my behavior.

    I find Muslim treatment of gays and women to be highly offensive but I don’t waste my time very often telling them that. Even though this reaction is well known to them they don’t sound ready to change those things to keep from offending western sensibilities. Evidently offense only counts when it is a Muslim being offended and change is only required of those not claiming to be speaking for God.

  33. Tim Groc says

    Someone on the New Humanist thread claims Mohammed is perfect. If so, he won’t at all be bothered about his image or cartoons depicting him.

  34. jontennant says

    I’d like to think my counter-response to him saying that pretty much destroyed any delusions the chap had of Mo’ being ‘perfect’ (1000x better than a perfect man, I believe he said).

  35. says

    Yes, all of the above.

    One can hold an idea or a belief up to ridicule, and if a believer of it takes offence, well that’s their problem. History tells us enough of where banning critique or ridicule of belief and ideas leads us.

    Ridiculing people because of their race or sex is a different matter. We also know where that leads.

  36. says

    “Bollocks” pretty much sums it up.

    Having seen the image in question, I’m just… gods, these guys are trying too damn hard to find offense, and it’s bloody ridiculous.

  37. says

    As a committee member for the UCLU Atheist, Secularist & Humanist Society I would like to point out that our issue here is with the actions of our student union in attempting to censor us rather than with those students who have been offended.

    While the image was not used with the intention to offend, it is understandable that some people may find it to be so due to their religious beliefs. They have the right to be offended and to voice their opinions about it just like everybody else.

    However, when authorities overstep their bounds and attempt to prevent the possibility of such offence being caused there is a serious problem.

  38. GordonWillis says

    I declare that the demand for respect for this “Islam” or whatever they call it is an egregious offence against everything that I hold sacred, a contradiction of all that I believe to be compassionate, humane, truthful, just, honourable, generous, honest, human-hearted and right. I am deeply offended by these despicable and exorbitant demands, and in my turn I demand that these “muslims” cease their arrogant dictats forthwith and respect my beliefs. I believe firmly in democracy and I am outraged that anyone should show disrespect to my sincerely held beliefs. Extradition is too good for them. Lock them up and throw away the key.

  39. Roger says

    Whatever we think of public displays of offensive imagery, an important point is surely the fact that the image was not on public display but on a Facebook page. Muslims had to go and be offended if they were going to be offended.

  40. dirigible says

    UCLU ASHS – Yes I understand your fear, but the fact is that these acts are being taken on their behalf and they have not spoken out against them. Have they?

  41. Iain says

    I am offended by AMSA’s demands to have the image removed. Of course, they will respect my feelings with their renowned good manners and civility and desist from such intolerant behaviour forthwith.

  42. says

    @kreepykritter

    If Fred Phelps came, with his herd of nutjobs, and started picketting outside a TAM gathering, while screaming obscenities at you and your friends, and anyone else they saw nearby, would you ask them to stop in civil tones?

    Nah, wouldn’t bother. They’re not going to stop anyway. I might point and laugh.

    Would this offend you?

    I’d consider it stupid and possibly annoying, but I take more offense at the idea that they’re teaching their children this bullshit than at the fact that they’re yelling in the streets.

    They’re entitled to their expression (Because they’re too poor to travel outside of the US, and I’m pretty sure the grizzled old bastard is on several terrorist watch lists), but at what point does it become unacceptable?

    When they resort to violence or physically block the entrance. Of course, there are already laws in place to handle such a situation.

    @fromalandofbeardedcherrypickers

    but this freedom of speech thing means i just gotta suck it up and look away yes? no matter how misogynist or objectifying or dehumanizing the image used in an ad?

    Of course not. You’re welcome to speak out against it; to collect signatures to appeal for the company to change their practices; to write letters to newspapers to turn public opinion against the; to try to organize a boycott, even.
    However, as long as they don’t break the law, they have the right to put up whatever they want. Just like you. That’s a good thing.

  43. Not Surprised says

    I am not at all surprised by this, nor by the attitude displayed by Kreepy-Kitty.

    Mohamed was quite fond of date wine, by the way.

    And the levels of sugar in dates being what they, date ‘wine’ is more comparable to what we call mead.

  44. Jurjen S. says

    Huh, you should see the number of muslim Gulf Arabs who have zero compunction about drinking whisky, on the basis that whisky was invented after Muhammad died, so he couldn’t possibly have forbidden its consumption.

  45. stonyground says

    The complainants should have been told right from the start that if they want to live and work with grown ups they are going to have to grow up.

  46. Jurjen S. says

    Re: the original topic, the nature of the internet and the means by which people interact with it is unclear to a lot of authorities. I remember a case several years ago in which someone sued an American magazine (Barron’s, IIRC) for libel in an Australian court; the magazine moved to dismiss on the basis that it’s not published in Australia, but the court overruled the motion, arguing that the magazine’s online edition could be accessed from an internet-capable computer in Australia. In my opinion, the court thereby betrayed its lack of understanding how the internet and internet browsers work. Internet-based content doesn’t just come to your computer; you have to instruct your browser to go and retrieve it from the server where it’s housed (in this particular instance, the server was in New Jersey). In effect, what you’re doing is the electronic equivalent of putting someone on a plane to an airport in the U.S. to pick up a copy of the magazine at an airport newsstand, and bring it back to Australia. While that makes it possible for you to read the magazine in Australia, it does not mean the publisher has made it available there.

    The UCL student union similarly fails to grasp that, to see something on the internet at which one takes offense, one has to have sought the offending material out oneself. To find the offending Jesus & Mo image, the muslim students in question had to actively go looking for the ASHS’s Facebook page.

  47. says

    UCLU ASHS @48

    While the image was not used with the intention to offend, it is understandable that some people may find it to be so due to their religious beliefs. They have the right to be offended and to voice their opinions about it just like everybody else.

    Yes and no. It depends what you mean by “right.” They have the legal right, certainly – but then the Student Union also has the legal right to ask you to take the image down, or even to tell you to.

    You’re arguing that the Student Union doesn’t have the moral right to ask or tell you to take the image down. I disagree that people really have a moral right to make an “offended” fuss about the image either. I agree (of course) that that’s a different matter from requesting or demanding censorship, but it’s still morally questionable.

    In other words I don’t think we should exaggerate the nature of the “right” people have to make this kind of fuss. The fuss itself is enough to get people silence – it leads to the kind of request or demand that you face. We need to point out why it’s a bad stupid fuss that has bad effects on free speech and free thought; we don’t have to throw up our hands and say they have the right to make the fuss, and leave it at that.

  48. mirax says

    And this is the same UCL whose islamic societies have gained some notoriety for hosting extremist preachers – so where was the SU then? There are some very blatant double standards being exposed here.

  49. Dan says

    “Offence” is a curious word. There isn’t actually any real emotion of “offendedness”. When someone is “offended”, they mean they are upset, or embarrassed, or angry, or irritated, or displeased, or just that they’ve found something disagreeable.

    “Offence” is a political term. What it boils down to is “offending against” something – a principle, a dogma, a deeply held belief.

    Once you realise this, many of the arguments become so much hot air.

    Whenever anyone says “I’m offended”, ask “what has upset you and why?” Then, in this case, the answer would have to be, “I’m upset because you’ve depicted the prophet Mohammad, disrespectfully and I don’t think the prophet Mohammad should ever be depicted, let alone disrespectfully.”

    I presume it wouldn’t usually be our aim to glory in upsetting as many people as possible for no reason, so the answers could be various. Maybe you didn’t mean to do this, in which case you might apologise. But maybe you would say, “well, I disagree that the prophet Mohammad should never be depicted, or that he should be treated only respectfully, I want to open up a space where satire and parody become tolerated forms of religious criticism, and this involves satire and parody of the prophet. That’s why I did it.” Or you might say “I’m trying to desensitise believers to the depiction of the prophet.”

    I’ve decided to refuse to assess claims of “offence” on their own terms. Let’s translate it into meaningful language, it can only help.

    Dan

  50. Tim Groc says

    Someone from ‘theartofmisinformation’ (ironic!) blog says

    I will post a few links where this controversy is raging. On many of these AMSA response above is being ridiculed. It is recommended that these are visited and Islam defended.

    Ophelia’s site is listed, along with RD, PZ and a couple of others. Thing is, I can’t see much in the way of the defence of Islam. What’s up with them? Can’t form a defence of this petty and silly offence taken at a cartoon? Let us hear their best defence. We’re waiting.

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